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Manu’s Grab Bag: Derby d’Italia sweep

If Inter Milan loses in an empty stadium and no one is around to see them, are they still frauds? Yes, the answer is yes.

Juventus v FC Internazionale - Serie A Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images

I will not walk back from my statement of wanting this team done a couple weeks back. They were bad, uninterested and, worst of all, boring. I was ready to skip the games and do Grab Bags for the rest of the season just talking about whatever random subject was interesting to me that week.

With the prolonged break due to the coronavirus outbreak in Italy, we almost did resort to writing about random stuff here at your friendly neighborhood blog. However, after a ton of disorganization, the Derby d’Italia was played behind closed doors at Allianz Stadium and as I sat down fully ready to hate Juve once again, them black and white SOBs proved me wrong.

Not only was this by far the best performance this team has put forth in the entire calendar year, it might be one of the best performances of the season period.

After a fairly even first half, Juventus completely throttled Inter Milan in the second half to finish with a 2-0 score line that puts the reigning Italian champions back at the top of the table and Inter Milan 9 points back with a game in hand.

Unlike the last game we talked about, much of what we need to discuss was actually good, let’s cook.

MVP: Rodrigo Bentancur

You could talk me into a number of players for this spot, but we are giving it to the young Uruguayan who finally got his shot replacing a badly slumping Miralem Pjanic and shined. His passing was accurate, was all over the pitch and defended perfectly as well.

This was probably his first start in a big-time Serie A game and despite the uncommon circumstances he did not disappoint, looking like a poised veteran and being the dynamo that was sorely missing in Juventus midfield. Providing steady support and ball distribution to Blaise Matuidi and Aaron Ramsey, he allowed the two maligned midfielders to play their game and made the whole midfield look better.

It’s just the one game, but if he continues to play like this, its going to be hard to find an argument to give Pjanic his spot back in the lineup.

Runner Up: Juan Cuadrado

Observations about the closed-door game

I had so many thoughts about the watching experience in a closed stadium that I’m just going to run through them, rapid-fire style:

  • Incredibly funny that Serie A insisted on having the whole anthem ceremony despite there being nobody there. The hilarity only continued after Juventus scored and they played the designated pump up music “Song 2” by Blur to a completely empty stadium.
  • In the middle stand, where a massive mural might have been shown for TV broadcast there were tons of tiny flags that in a world with no imminent pandemic would have been waved by fans to form a giant Italy flag. I’m assuming this because despite the evident — you know — lack of people, they still put all the flags there for reasons I don’t quite understand.
  • With no actual fans, each team’s bench became their de-facto curva and it was pretty amusing to hear the few players in each side react to the actions of the field. A side effect of this was Inter Milan’s backup keeper Daniele Padelli being shown a red card after the bench reacted to a ref’s call. It is unclear what he said but it was probably something everyone has called a ref once or twice. However, when there are no fans, the ref actually listens to you.
  • How happy you are to be a steward for this game? For the first time ever, you actually get to see a game in a primo spot for free — good for them.
  • Players did not partake in the usual pre-game handshake to avoid contagion. They then proceeded to sweat all over each other in group hugs after goals, thoroughly defeating the purpose.

Winner: Cristiano Ronaldo

The Portuguese star tallied his 1,000 professional appearance an amazing feat that should be enough to make him a winner in the Grab Bag any day. He earns this one, however, because of just how hard he fought the entire game, chasing and harassing Inter players all game long and displaying the same hunger on his 1,000 appearance as the first one.

Biggest proof of this was the play he got yellow carded after fouling Inter defender Milan Škriniar chasing a loose ball. It was for sure a foul, and a completely unnecessary one at that but it was proof of that hunger that was badly needed for a game like this.

It is worth mentioning, he also just barely missed breaking the record for consecutive Serie A games scoring when he put his shot just wide of the goal on a clear-cut chance in the dying minutes. Can’t get them all, my guy.

Winner: Paulo Dybala

He didn’t get the start, but once he got on the pitch he proved to be a massive difference maker substituting a lackluster Douglas Costa. I get the appeal of playing Costa and Gonzalo Higuain was solid with his hold-up game and distribution, but it’s unconscionable to me that Dybala is not a first-name-on-the-team-sheet type of guy.

He has been consistently one of the better players in the team and Juventus always plays better when he lines up.

Also, what a goal, holy smokes.

Loser: Romelu Lukaku

As the BWRAO Twitter handle pointed out, it’s never a great look when your starting striker touches the ball fewer times than the opposing goalkeeper. Lukaku was man marked by either Leo Bonucci or Mathijs de Ligt all game and it showed, as the Belgian international failed to have any impact on the game.

It was in general a great showing by the Juventus backline who kept Inter scoreless for just the second time in Serie A play, a cherry in the top of the Serie A table cake if you will.

Parting Shot of the Week

Beating Inter Milan is always a great, beating Inter Milan after the drama that enveloped this whole game was even better. Beating Inter Milan after all the smack they talked related to the rescheduling of the game is sublime.

Essentially eliminating them from title contention without the advantage of home field advantage and in such a dominating fashion might be one of the better wins over Inter in the last couple of years.

So, remember, as always …

See you next Friday. Maybe.