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Manu’s Grab Bag: Ups & Downs

Juventus continued their inconsistent displays, drawing against Sassuolo but beating Lazio to get closer to the Serie A title.

Juventus v SS Lazio - Serie A Photo by Chris Ricco/Getty Images

There’s this city in my home state of Puebla, México, called Cholula.

It’s an old city with history dating all the way back to Mesoamerican times and home to the largest pyramid by volume in the world. In fact, it is so big that people constantly confuse it with a small mountain; that confusion also has to do with the fact that since the pyramid was a dedication to old Aztec gods, the Spanish Conquistadores’ allowed foliage to engulf it and built a church on top of it when they conquered Mexico. The Spanish were a lot of things, but subtle was not one of them.

Mexico. San Andres de Santuario de Nuestra Senora de los Remedios. Popocatepetl Volcano
Yup, that’s a pyramid with a church on top.
Photo by: Mahaux Charles/AGF/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Anyway, since my town has grown rapidly, Cholula is now relatively close and part of the larger Puebla metropolitan area. It is also where I went to college, and as any college town worth its salt, Cholula also counts with a long street — colloquially known as “La 43,” 43th street in English — that is littered with bars and clubs that are so close to campus that I’m certain they are technically illegal.

Given the sheer number of bars all packed in a relatively short stretch, La 43 became the fashionable place to be when I was a college student. Every Friday and Saturday night this little street became a true melting pot of young, idiot, college kids from all walks of life.

Despite the steadiness of our weekend routine — go to Cholula, drink, see what happens — the experiences we had were vastly different every time we went there. There were times when you would run into a bunch of friends you hadn’t seen in a while at a nice rooftop bar, get on a hot streak at the beer pong tables beating strangers or even inadvertently crash an end of the year toast for a beer company and drink for free the entire night.

Other times you’d walk around aimlessly for hours, sipping lukewarm beers or shoddy cocktails at cramped dingy dive bars while getting shot down by girls and waking up the next morning with nothing but a bad hangover and no money in your wallet to show for your night.

Following Juventus these last couple of weeks has been eerily reminiscent of those long-gone college days. Sometimes, you’ll get a team that plays a fast, sharp game that presses smartly and takes advantage of their opponent making mistakes like the majority of the Lazio game. Other times, you get a team that looks gassed, disinterested and completely lacking ideas or creativity like large stretches of the game against Sassuolo.

Anything goes with this Juventus team that thanks to the aforementioned good display against Lazio is now on the cusp of winning their ninth straight Scudetto. They didn’t make it easy on the fans, but it looks like despite the below-average nights, the Serie A season will end on a high note and not with a metaphorical bad hungover.

Let’s cook.

MVP: Paulo Dybala

While this is the highlight, Dybala had a number of moments against Lazio that made me openly chuckle at the level of confidence the Argentinian striker is displaying right now.

Sometimes you can just tell when a guy is in the “zone,” and Dybala continues to reside firmly in said zone at the moment. It was a travesty that Maurizio Sarri even for a moment considered benching him for this game, and while it was rough for Gonzalo Higuain that he couldn’t start, it was fate saving Sarri from himself.

The fate of the Sarri era at Juventus is still relatively in the air, but one thing that he can hang his hat on has been rescuing La Joya’s career in black and white.

People forget the club tried like hell to get rid of him last summer for Romelu freakin’ Lukaku of all people. Lukaku is a fine player, but I’m glad he’s not a Juve player and Dybala remains one.

Runner Up: Cristiano Ronaldo

10 questions I have about Mathijs de Ligt shoulder injury

  1. How much pain is he playing through right now?
  2. How is it possible that he can run all game if the shoulder is as busted as it looks like it is?
  3. Will he need surgery?
  4. How long do shoulder injuries take to heal for footballers?
  5. Is it a ligament or a muscle type of thing?
  6. Is de Ligt planning to play the rest of the season with this issue? Won’t that make it worse?
  7. Is the injury worse due to him having to carry the entire defense by himself these last couple of games?
  8. Can I donate my own shoulder to aid in his rehabilitation?
  9. If so, how can I do that before the Lyon second leg?
  10. How heavy is that bag of ice? Also, how long do we have to wait for these two to lead the backline on a daily basis?

Better than it looks … (Maybe)

Midway through the first half against Lazio, Adrien Rabiot busted a long, controlled run right through the heart of the Lazio midfield that ended in a strong shot deflected outside by the keeper. It was a run eerily similar to the one that ended in a goal against AC Milan a couple of weeks ago, and a run that showed the type of player Rabiot can be when he’s firing on all cylinders. This is something that has become a common theme since Serie A restarted.

The good play from Rabiot and the continued development of Rodrigo Bentancur prompted the following thought: Is the midfield really as bad as it seems?

Please, hold your rage filled comments for a second, let me make the case.

As it’s currently constructed, yes, this midfield is not good. But there is a scenario in which Juventus could turn around and have a much-improved unit whenever the next season starts. They already made the first move, with the imminent incorporation of Arthur Melo. Couldn’t you see a scenario in which a unit consisting of Arthur, Bentancur and Rabiot provides strong consistent play in Sarri’s 4-3-3 formation?

That doesn’t sound too farfetched now, does it? Keep Blaise Matuidi as an energy guy off the bench to see games out and rotate in and out whenever he’s needed and Aaron Ramsey as a rotational starter for Coppa Italia/low-level Serie A clubs and it’s not sounding too bad. Maybe cap it all off with a couple of depth signings like rumored transfer target Manuel Locatelli and you can kind of talk yourself into that as a reasonable plan.

Because, let’s face it, once Real Madrid head honcho Florentino Perez said that big-money transfers are out of the question this year, you can bet that the hopes of Paul Pogba coming back or a big boy move for a dude like Sergej Milinkovic-Savic went right out the window. If Real Madrid ain’t spending ... who is?

Granted, this plan assumes the seamless incorporation of Arthur and him fixing all the issues that led to him being considered expendable by Barcelona. It also assumes that Bentancur will continue to develop and that Rabiot’s current form is not just a flash in the pan but more what we can expect from him coming forward. All big, massive, capital letter If’s.

Still, stranger things have happened and we know Rabiot has the pedigree to continue being this type of player and we know Bentancur is low-key the best overall midfielder Juve has had all year and Arthur … well, sometimes you just gotta believe.

Kit Ranking

US Sassuolo v Juventus - Serie A Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

I gotta make a confession: I really freaking like Kappa kits.

I know, at this point, Juventus is too much of a mega club/soulless corporation to ever go back to a smaller manufacturer such as the Italian outfitter, but something about their designs have always resonated with me. It’s mostly due to the logo, which was one of the happiest accidents ever and is now one of the most creative and unique logos in sportswear. It’s also the fact that because they outfit smaller clubs they can take bigger chances which lead to cooler designs — and a lot of clunkers too, I bet, but the good outweighs the bad in my opinion. And, they just have too much goodwill stored in my nostalgic side with all the work they did in the old days with Juve kits, the Italian national team and even AS Roma in the early 2000’s.

Anyway, they win; the best kit of the stretch was Sassuolo’s.

Playing with fire

Imagine, for a second, having a job and being on really thin ice with upper management.

It’s a competitive gig, well paid, comes with a lot of perks but it’s super competitive and you are expected to perform from day one. You have struggled, it hasn’t been easy, you’ve shown flashes but rumor has it they are seriously considering cutting you loose because they have a young hot shot lined up to come in and take your place.

Now, imagine that in that situation you decide that the best course of action at a pivotal moment is to do a dumb unnecessary tackle from behind against some dude from another business unit and get suspended for the biggest meeting of the fiscal year.

The analogy kind of stops making sense in the last part, but that’s pretty much what we saw Federico Bernardeschi do against Sassuolo after getting cheaply dispossessed, throwing a tantrum and childishly fouling the Sassuolo player from behind to earn a yellow card suspension against Lazio.

Of course, Douglas Costa went on to start, the team looked great for the most part and they picked up the W while the Italian chatted it up with Giorgio Chiellini in the stands. He shows flashes, he has moments, but Bernardeschi continues to miss golden opportunities to convince the board to keep him for next year and at this rate, it’d be shocking if he actually did stay.

Carlo’s and Gigi’s Excellent Adventure

I’m sure he’s a competitor at heart and a guy like him is probably always chomping at the bit to be on the field, but I’m also pretty sure there’s a part of Gianluigi Buffon that is really enjoying chilling on the bench with Carlo Pinsoglio, watching the games and supporting his teammates.

Jalen Rose, a former NBA player, had this saying that the best thing you can be called when you are in the league is being a veteran not an all-star, but a veteran and I kinda like that way of thinking. You’ve paid your dues, you’ve reached the pinnacle and now you take a backseat and focus on having fun, being a good teammate and enjoying the show.

Parting Shot of the Week

With Juventus’ win against Lazio they are now four points away from mathematically securing the league title contingent on what Inter does later in the week and while it wasn’t the de facto championship decider a lot of people thought it would be, the game itself is probably the most enjoyment I’ve had watching Juventus in the last few games.

The optimist in me wants to think that the quicker Juve can secure the league, the more rest they can give their key players as they look forward to the second leg of the Champions League Round of 16 tie against Lyon in early August. Maybe, with more rest, we can see good Juve more often?

The pessimist in me remains baffled at a team that consistently underperforms and can’t be counted to deliver good football when it matters most.

Whatever the case might be, the sooner we can celebrate that ninth straight ‘ship, the better.

See you next week.