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Manu’s Grab Bag: Stunner in the City of Romance

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We debut the LVP award, talk VAR, Cristiano Ronaldo’s streak and the key flaw in this Juventus team.

Hellas Verona v Juventus - Serie A Photo by Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images

Something funny happened during the dying minutes of Hellas Verona’s massive upset of Juventus on Saturday.

As Hellas’ players celebrated their go-ahead goal with less than five minutes remaining in the 2-1 win over Juventus, I did not think, for one second, that the Italian champions could come back.

That’s an odd feeling to have and a feeling I’ve had more and more watching this team play this season and for large stretches of last season as well.

There’s a lot to discuss and very little of which is good, so let’s get right to it.

LVP: Miralem Pjanic

Much like we award MVP recognition every time Juventus win, when Juve loses, a Least Valuable Player award is in order. So, Miralem Pjanic, come on down!

Not only was he mostly anonymous on Saturday, but whenever he wasn’t, he was objectively bad. Pjanic brought very little in terms of ball distribution and struggled mightily with Verona’s high press. (More on that later.)

He was directly at fault for the first goal, with an assist from Rodrigo Bentancur and his cavalier attempt at a freakin’ backheel while being hounded by Verona’s entire midfield. The Bosnian had one of the worst games we have seen from him as a Juventus player.

Maybe it is fatigue, maybe an undisclosed knock, I don’t know, but Mire has been bad for a while now. Considering most Juve faithful had him pegged as the only “sure” thing in our midfield, this is less than ideal.

Pjanic can play better, obviously, and we saw it early in the season as we have seen it myriad of times in his Juventus stint. He needs to figure it out and in a hurry.

Runner Up: Gonzalo Higuain

VAR Controversy of the Week

Saturday, we saw VAR show its two sides and put on display, in a nuthsell, why its use is subject of controversy and a not insignificant number of drunk, football-related arguments.

Hellas Verona’s Marash Kumbulla, a player to keep an eye on for sure, seemed to have opened the scoring for the hosts as he timed his run perfectly and scored on a header from a dead ball situation against Juventus lackadaisical defending. (Dear reader, color me shocked that Juventus defended a dead ball play poorly.) However, VAR judged him to be slightly, almost minimally offsides, as replays showed his shoulder was barely out of line with Juventus defense. This was a call that benefited Juve, obviously, and while it was technically the correct call by the rule of the law, it was also objectively against the spirit of the rule and disallowed a goal that in any other VAR-less scenario would have stood to scrutiny.

In the second half as Verona was pushing for the win, Kumbulla was yet again the subject of a VAR reviewed play, as his header off a corner kick was deflected by Leo Bonucci’s arm as he forgot for a second that using your arms in such a manner as a defender is not allowed. At first glance, the play was waved off, but as soon as we saw the VAR replay you could tell that giving a PK was the right call. Moments later Giampaolo Pazzini scored said PK to win the game for Hellas.

VAR was ostensibly created to review blatantly missed calls and it actually does that job really well. However, it’s also being used to “correct” ticky-tacky calls that are imperceptible unless being reviewed in a super slow-mo take, frame by frame. In the long run, I don’t know if VAR is going to end up improving the game or not, but for what its worth in a VAR-less world, the game probably ends 2-1 for Verona either way.

Mistakes are meant for learning, not repeating

A big part of this defeat is that Juventus struggled badly against Hellas’ relentless high pressing.

The real depressing part of that statement is that it could have been written in 2017 and it would have been just as true as it is today. Since the legendary MVPP midfield was dissolved before the 2015-16 season, Juventus has consistently struggled against teams that press them high. It doesn’t matter if it’s a mid- to low-table team or if it’s in the Champions League, Juventus play badly when facing that tactic.

Different coaches, different personnel, it doesn’t matter — it keeps happening. At what point is it just considered an institutional flaw? How is it that one of the top teams in the world struggles so badly, so often, when facing a relatively common tactic?

I don’t know, but if I’m Lyon I’m drilling all of my players on the “intricacies” of the high press and preparing myself for a heck of an upset.

Winner: Hellas Verona

Juventus played poorly, sure, but Verona played a big role in that level of play as they punched Juventus in the mouth from the get-go and never backed down as their impressive performance on the field was backed by a raucous crowd that lived and died with the actions in the pitch for the entirety of the game.

The Cinderella story of the championship, Verona is now within spitting distance of European play spots and just reeled off their most impressive result in what is now a string of impressive play.

LIBERAL SNOWFLAKE TAKE ALERT INCOMING

I would almost be very happy for them if not because of the fact that a significant part of their fandom are virulent racists.

Winner: Cristiano Ronaldo

One of the very, very few bright spots for Juventus was Ronaldo, as the Portuguese striker bagged another goal to surpass David Trezeguet’s record of nine straight league games scoring a goal.

Seeing him go 1 on 1 against Amir Rrahmani in the breakaway that led to the goal was a truly delightful display of strength, speed and technique. You knew right away Rrahmani had no chance in hell to win that one on one as Ronaldo calmly slotted in the record breaking goal.

There’s a number of things that are broken with Juventus right now, thankfully, Ronaldo is not one of them.

Parting Shot of the Week

There’s a great article by Danny Chau about the Toronto Raptors, a team that, at that point, had never won an NBA title and was considered a bit of a snakebitten team.

In it, Chau quotes a fan that utters one of the most true things I have ever read as a sports fan.

“Sometimes a win is not a win,” she says. “Sometimes a win is the blueprint that’s showing you how they’re going to lose when it matters.”

I know that quote refers to winning “ugly” games, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot this past month. Sure, Juventus is still top of the table and at worst, depending on the Derby Della Madonnina result, would share that spot at the top of the table. They are also on the semifinals of the Coppa Italia and are slated to face a manageable opponent in the Champion’s League Round of 16.

But this past few performances have shown the severe, fundamental flaws that this Juve team has, flaws that are not easy, quick fixes and that despite the change in the manager position are still as evident today as they were last year when Juventus was unceremoniously dumped from the Champions League quarterfinals.

It’s unclear how or even if Juventus can fix those flaws, but the answer to that question will determine whether or not Juventus will arrive in July of this year and consider this season a success of a failure.

This wasn’t even a win, but it is a blueprint that’s showing us how they might lose when it matters, again,

See you next weekend.