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Manu’s Grab Bag: Identity Crisis

We talk failing upwards with Mattia de Sciglio, bad hairstyles, old GOATS and an iffy route to a trophy this season.


We are coming to you live, from Tapachula, Chiapas, Mexico!

That’s because the first leg of the Coppa Italia semifinal between AC Milan and Juventus landed smack dab in the middle of a business trip by yours truly. Despite the seemingly unfavorable circumstances, somehow, between the 4 a.m. wake-up call, the two-hour flight and the three-hour meeting but before the two-hour flight back, I managed to have enough time to nestle down at a surprisingly good seafood restaurant and watch the boys play mediocre — at best — football.


Slowly but surely, Juventus has managed to build for itself an impressively terrible streak of one win in itself last four games and, despite the lineup reshuffling, it was more of the same for a slumping Juve squad against Milan on Thursday night.

So, as I work on my third beer in this humid as hell day and go to town on some fresh shrimp, let’s get right down to it. Shoutout Chiapas, shoutout corporate expenses credit cards, so let’s cook.

LVP: Mattia De Sciglio

I know we usually award the LVP in a loss, but spiritually, this sure felt like an L. And that was in large part to the play of the one and only De Sciglio, who continues his extraordinary career of playing ghastly for large parts of time and still hang on to a spot in one of the top clubs in Europe.

De Sciglio was a non-factor offensively and a liability defensively as he did little more than you or I did in terms of defending on AC Milan’s opening goal.

Let’s have a thought experiment: When was the last time you could conceivably say De Sciglio played a full, competitive, high-level season? By games played, you could argue last year, when he suited up for 28 games in all competitions — which sure, for De Sciglio that’s a lot. But I dare, I double dog dare you to say there was one moment of inspired play in those 28 games. For what it’s worth, he did have one whole assist in those 28 games, which holy crap, I expect little of you, Mattia, but even that is jarring.

The 2012-13 season was his season with the most appearances, coming in at 33 in all competitions for Milan and more and more looking like the peak of his career. Even then, he was considered more of a defensive specialist who could one day develop into a top fullback, spoiler alert he didn’t.

I actually admire De Sciglio’s ability to fail upwards, the fact he is so valued by Juventus brass is baffling to me. I get, in a vacuum the fact he adds some modicum of defensive flexibility, but how’s being able to play two positions mediocrely all that alluring?

I don’t think Layvin Kurzawa was all that, but could he have been much worse than De Sciglio? This humble correspondent’s opinion is a sure no.

Runner Up: Miralem Pjanic

Turning back the clock

One of the few impressive performers on Thursday was Gianluigi Buffon — he of the 42 years of age, No. 77 on the pitch but No. 1 in your hearts — and he had himself a hell of a game.

After looking like father time had finally caught up to the legend in his last few outings, he came up big for Juventus against Milan, making several key saves. There was not much he could do on the goal, but other than that he was spotless. On a team that is suddenly facing an escalating identity crisis, to have the old standard of Buffon might prove to be more important than just his performance on the pitch.

The Johnny Square Experience

Juan Cuadrado is that one friend you have who has absolutely everything he needs to be successful, but he can never quite put it together. He’s the kind of guy who will sweet talk a girl at a bar all night and then right when it’s time to close the deal will say something aggressively idiotic and ruin everything. He’s the one guy who had the promotion all but sealed up but got liquored up at the company Christmas party and blew it.

You know that it’s right there with him, if he just let that pass go a bit earlier, if that cross was just a tad deeper, if only he could complete that last dribble.

The only reason Cuadrado is so damn frustrating is because he is right there. You have to wonder if one day he will ever actually do it, but so far, it was another frustrating performance by the Colombian winger/fullback/whatever.

A battle of questionable hair style decisions

We saw Diego Laxalt come on as a sub for Milan late in the second half and just completely blow me away with his continued decision to wear cornrows despite the fact he is clearly and evidently balding. I one day hope to have that type of confidence to look so patently ridiculous in front of so many people and still rock something I, and only I, enjoy.

Diego Laxalt of AC Milan looks on prior to the Serie A... Photo by Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images

For Juventus, it was Cristiano Ronaldo and his fade/manbun/ponytail hybrid that once again came out on top as the Portuguese striker bagged another goal thanks to a VAR-given PK in the dying minutes of the game. It was a fitting reward for one of the few players who did anything positive on the pitch Thursday night. It wasn’t a banner performance, but it was OK — and with Juventus’ current form, that is good enough.

Cristiano Ronaldo of Juventus FC during the Coppa Italia... Photo by Marco Canoniero/LightRocket via Getty Images

Parting Shot of the Week

In a vacuum, a 1-1 draw away from Turin in a two-legged tie is not that bad. It’s almost a good result if you squint a little and only look at the box score after the game. But you are fooling yourself if you think this Juventus team has improved even one iota since, arguably, their best performance of the season back in October against Inter in Milan.

The players look sluggish and uninterested, the “system” is non-existent (if there is one at all) and there is very little indication that this team will turn a corner. I don’t think Juventus will change horses mid-stream and sack Maurizio Sarri as some of the wonkier media outlets in Italy have suggested, but what is certain is that the he is doing very little so far to dissuade the people who criticized his appointment back last summer.

With no reinforcements on the horizon, Sarri’s going to have to find a way to get something different out of this team, because with the Champions League knockout rounds looming and a battle at the top of the league standings against Inter (and maybe Lazio), what we are seeing right now is just not going to cut it.

See you on Sunday.