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Manu’s Grab Bag: The New Normal

Juventus are through the Coppa Italia final, we talk VAR, those first 15 minutes of the game and how it felt to have Juventus football back in our lifes.

Juventus v AC Milan - Coppa Italia: Semi-Final Second Leg Photo by Daniele Badolato - Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images

Quick note, the name Manu’s Grab Bag got grandfathered in despite the change to my actual name. Much like old hockey players being allowed to play without helmets because they were just used to that, the Grab Bag remains the Grab Bag because it would feel weird for it not to be the Grab Bag.

You know how when you haven’t had something or done something in a while your mind starts to idealize it?

It’s happened to me a bunch of times. Like that one beer I had when I was living in Switzerland that I remember being incredible. Or the college bars and parties I frequented that I swore were the best nights ever. Of course, we tend to forget the nights where it was just a crowded, sweaty, over-packed joint where you could barely hear your friends speak. Sometimes you get to try the same beer brand again and think to yourself, “This is just fine, I guess? Did they change the formula?” even though, no, they didn’t.

Same thing happened to yours truly Friday while watching the second leg of the Coppa Italia semifinals between Juve and Milan that ended in a rather dull 0-0 scoreline. Both teams were coming off long layoffs, were lacking form and the first game wasn’t exactly good, so why would this be any different? Still, I allowed myself to forget all the bad moments of Juventus football this season and only thought of the good ones. Plus, it was the first live match we’ve had for over three months, so if you don’t get excited about watching your team again after that kind of layoff, football fandom might not be for your thing in general.

Still, despite the general disappointment, it was good to have Juve football to talk about and write about. Plus, getting a one way ticket to the Coppa Italia final and continue or hegemony over that provincial club in Milan will always be a nice thing no matter the circumstances.

For the first time in what feels like forever, let’s cook.

MVP: The first 15-20 minutes of the game

The first moments of the game felt like a breath of fresh air for the football-starved masses. Juventus came out roaring, playing exciting, sharp football that generated multiple chances against a Milan side defending for their lives.

Optimism was high as Douglas Costa and Alex Sandro danced through the Rossoneri defense and the offensive trident for Juve looked as impressive as ever. There was an iffy VAR call that went to Juventus! Cristiano Ronaldo stood up to take it, Juve were surely going to go ahead! FOOTBALL!

Then Ronaldo missed, and during the ensuing missed PK mayhem the ball was cleared and AC Milan striker Ante Rebic tried his hand at some light manslaughter as he flew studs first against the humanity of Juve fullback Danilo, who was just happy to be playing and did not deserve that. MAYHEM!

The red card was rightfully and quickly shown to Rebic and the ensuing moments allowed a bit of a breather for what had been exciting, chaos filled minutes to welcome us back to football. The rest of the game would play out in a significantly less exciting way, but those early moments reminded us of all the good stuff we had missed.

Runner Up: Rodrigo Bentancur

VAR Controversy of the Week

Your beloved section is back for another VAR call that left the affected side outraged and the beneficiary side thinking it was a fair call. Just like every single VAR call has ever gone in the long, tortuous history of VAR assisted calls.

During those blissful early minutes we talked about earlier, AC Milan defender Andrea Conti attempted to deflect a potential shot by Ronaldo who was hunting down a cross. He achieved said deflection through elbowing the ball out of the way of Ronaldo. After review, the play was called a PK.

Pretty hard to find any way, shape or form, that is not a PK. The ball is deflected by the elbow, the elbow is clearly removed from the body, so if you want to get into the argument of whether there was intent or not, it becomes irrelevant as we have seen multiple times this season. Especially when Matthijs de Ligt had a severe case of handballitis in the early months of the season, I can assure you there was no intent on any of those plays, but they were called nevertheless.

The galaxy brain take here, though, is not to argue if the call was right — it was — but to invoke the Butterfly Effect and say that if the PK isn’t called then the Rebic foul doesn’t happen in the ensuing clearance and then the entire game goes a different way. That is a top notch spin zone and I applaud Milan fans trying to make that narrative take hold on the timeline during the game. The lengths the human brain will go to when you haven’t beaten Juventus in Turin for what feels like a decade plus is impressive.

Winner: Gonzalo Higuain

The ripped jeans, the distracted scroll through his cellphone, the misplaced mask that renders it essentially useless. Between this and Giorgio Chiellini revealing that Arturo Vidal was playing hungover during preseason matches, I have never related more to two Juve players ever.

I will miss Gonzalo when he’s gone.

Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds

Parting Shot of the Week

I remember mentioning after the first game behind closed doors — Juventus’ victory over Inter Milan back in March — how amusing and enjoyable it was to watch a game with no one in the stands.

The players didn’t milk fouls as hard, you could hear the voices of encouragement coming from the bench, and the thud of the ball was audible whenever a player made a long drive or a shot. It was a fun diversion, something to be appreciated because of how unlikely it was that this would happen again.

It’s hard to think back at that time, when even people in Italy thought the game could have been played with fans and people in the Americas thought that the COVID-19 pandemic was nothing to really be concerned about.

Three months later, a game without fans wasn’t a novelty; it might be the new norm for the foreseeable future.

It is almost a necessary disclaimer every time someone writes about football or sports in general to mention how “unimportant” they are. How in the large scheme of things sports don’t matter and they are not the biggest thing we lost during this pandemic. While any sensible person agrees with that statement, seeing sports back was more meaningful than I could have thought.

Yes, players wearing masks, the minute of silence before the match and the lack of spectators were all ever-constant reminders of what was lost during this shutdown and what we will struggle to get back. But watching a live match of your favorite team was also a reminder of what life used to be.

Everyone has been affected during the pandemic; some people might have lost jobs or if they are lucky might be working remotely. We’ve missed birthdays and special dates, we miss our families, our friends our loved ones, and a few even lost those people that mattered to them. Yet, for precious 90 minutes we could be again concerned about Miralem Pjanic’s lack of form and marvel at how Rodrigo Bentancur keeps getting better and once again be upset that Sami Khedira is playing important minutes and doing nothing.

It felt meaningless, it felt normal.

I am so happy to have some normalcy back in my life.

See you Wednesday.