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Manu’s Grab Bag: Faceplant

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A lacking Juventus team loses the Coppa Italia final on penalty kicks.

FBL-ITA-CUP-NAPOLI-JUVENTUS-HEALTH-VIRUS Photo by FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP via Getty Images

One-hundred-eighty minutes.

Juventus have played 180 minutes of football since coming back from the coronavirus suspension of play and they have not been able to score a goal. You could honestly have given them another 90 minutes on Wednesday and the situation was not going to change.

As Napoli celebrated their Coppa Italia win over Juventus following a penalty shootout, the worst of all feelings came through my mind: They deserve it. Juventus were thoroughly outplayed, outclassed and outcoached by Rino Gattuso and a feisty Napoli side that, outside of some early moments, was the superior team in the match.

One-hundred-eighty minutes — my god, how putrid.

There’s a lot to talk about, almost none of it good, so let’s stop wasting time — we all wasted enough sitting through that game — and let’s dive right into it.

LVP: Maurizio Sarri

I know the measured, reasonable take is that it takes time.

The team is coming off a long layoff, the players are not in peak form and injuries are taking a toll on the squad’s depth. These are all reasonable, measured points.

With that being said, it is still an absolute embarrassment to have the attacking talent this team boasts and not being able to consistently threaten — let alone score — for 180 minutes.

Both AC Milan and Napoli have shown the formula to beat this Juventus team; sit back, defend and counterattack. It’s a rather easy formula, and if I’m Lyon or any other Serie A team with games to play against Juventus, I’m taking note. There doesn’t seem to be any sense of creativity, of attacking idea or a general answer from Juventus when an opposing team deploys this strategy.

Almost a season into Sarri’s tenure and it is hard to be confident that this is the right direction for the club to be taking. Despite having some of the most talented attackers in Italy and arguably the world, Sarri has failed to make the team significantly better.

With two out of the four possible trophies to be won this season now gone and after being outcoached for two games in a row, it’s fair to say that Sarri might as well be coaching for his job once the Serie A season and then the Champions League resumes. And unless there’s a major turnaround for this squad, I don’t know if it’s a safe bet to say he will keep it.

Runner Up: Cristiano Ronaldo

To whom much is given, much is tested

Ronaldo had himself quite a game. In all the worst ways possible.

It is a bit unfair to put it all on the Portuguese star, especially considering that after the initial 20 minutes of the game there wasn’t a lot to highlights from any Juventus attacker. But out of all the starters, he looked the worst out there.

Paulo Dybala had some moments early on, but faded as the game went along and missed the first PK of the shootout. Douglas Costa, who is as fun as anyone when he’s being defended one on one, also failed to be a difference maker. Ronaldo, though, looked sluggish and decidedly out of rhythm the entire game with very few bright spots to talk about. He got dispossessed far too easily and failed to amount to much whenever he got the ball.

To end his forgettable evening, he didn’t even get a chance to kick a penalty as Juventus didn’t even get to the fifth turn in the shootout, a penalty kick that I’m assuming he was slated to take.

Brief aside: Slating your best shooter at the fifth position is a dumb idea. You are supposed to be able to get to the fifth shooter in the first place. Danilo is not a better shooter than Ronaldo, so why have him take a shot before him, essentially killing the series if he misses and leaving your theoretical best taker on the sidelines? Wouldn’t you have felt much better with Ronaldo walking up to the spot after Dybala’s miss? Was I the only one thinking that it was a wrap once I saw Danilo — freakin’ Danilo — step up?

Ronaldo was not brought in to sell shirts and gain Instagram followers, despite some thinking that was the main purpose behind the signing; he was brought in to give a team that was considered to be on the edge of greatness that final push. This is when you want your star to bail you out, this is why he’s the highest paid player on the roster and allegedly the best.

Yet, he failed to show up against AC Milan in the semifinals and he failed to show up again in the final.

Bright Spots: Matthijs de Ligt and Gianluigi Buffon

From all the wreckage, there were two players that are worth mentioning.

The Dutch international continued his impressive form, looking as solid as ever at the back, snuffing out a couple Napoli counters and being perfect in all his passes for the day. He is one of the few players out there who looks more and more like the type of guy you can build your squad around. I sincerely hope he is a Juventus player for many, many more years.

There are no words left to describe what a transcendent player Buffon is. He kept the team afloat through several Napoli attacks and saved the team in the last minutes of regulation after Napoli was as close as you can possibly be to a goal in the final corner kick of the match. The man is a legend and deployed in a strategic manner as he has been this season, he can still be a superb keeper.

Not meant to be …

More and more it looks like Federico Bernardeschi’s time as a Juventus player is coming to an end. Between injuries, a lack of form and just never finding the right spot in the squad, Bernardeschi’s time in the black and white stripes has been more forgettable than anybody would have liked.

This latest appearance for him was more of the same he looked slow, unsure and creatively barren. Gone was the dynamic winger he was at Fiorentina and has shown he is capable of being when he plays for the Italian National team.

The encapsulation of his day was gifting Napoli a late corner kick after a bad dribble while trying to clear the ball in defense. A late corner kick that if not for Buffon would have meant the win for Napoli.

Parting Shot of the Week

It is with a whimper, not a bang, that Juventus loses their second final of the season.

Penalty shootouts tend to be unpredictable and sometimes not reflective of the better team on the pitch, but this time it was clear that the right team won.

Juventus now move on to resume Serie A play, facing Bologna away on Monday as they try to quickly bounce back after two grueling, disappointing Coppa Italia matches.

It is make or break time for Juve as they have everything still to play for in Serie A.

See you Monday.