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Manu’s Grab Bag: Strange Times

Two weird, disjointed games to close out what has been one of the oddest seasons to date. One constant remains, though.

Juventus v AS Roma - Serie A Photo by Stefano Guidi/Getty Images

Considering the wildly disjointed, theoretically still-meaningful-but-not-really play we saw from Juventus in their last couple of games, it’s only fair your trusty Grab Bag also pulls a loopy, mildly invested version of itself. As some other blogger on this website might describe, here are some Random Thoughts and Observations, if you will.

It’s never easy or fun to watch Juventus lose. I don’t care if it’s in a scrimmage or say, two completely consequence-free games at the end of a wild Serie A season. With that being said, people calling for the head of Maurizio Sarri on the basis of these two games have to take a step back and relax a whole bunch because that makes no sense.

Breaking news, folks: A team filled with mostly depth and Under-23 players can’t really cut it in Serie A play ... who knew? Does this look like a team that cares in the slightest about the result of the game?

You can make the argument that Juventus is Juventus and they should always try to win every single game while taking pride in the shirt and history of the team. Not just because two games don’t matter in the standings doesn’t really mean they have no meaning in a larger, esoterically meaningful type of way. Like I said, you can make that argument, but it’s a bad argument and I won’t allow it.

They could have started the entire Under-23 team and gotten blown out 5-0 every game and I wouldn’t have cared. They could have done a contest in which a fan could get the chance to start at left back for Juventus and it would have been fine. Juve won the league already, so these are the games you sim on FIFA. Let’s get real here, people.

Hell, I think they actually used these games for a relatively useful purposes. Give Aaron Ramsey some extended play and see if he can find something resembling a form, throw Daniele Rugani out there and be 100% convinced that he is not for real once and for all. There is value in having Merih Demiral play some minutes after his ACL injury to see how the recovery is going. And, if you squint a little and are feeling generous, some of the U-23 kids looked kind of decent! At times! Maybe!

Really, this whole stretch was worth it just for two things. Seeing the human victory cigar and man with literally the best job in the world Carlo Pinsoglio get some playing time in the last few minutes of the season finale against Roma and Gonzalo Higuain getting a chance to lead the frontline again in what might be his last appearance as a Juventus player in Serie A.

Speaking of Pipita ...

It’s a sad fact of life that we might have seen the last of a few players that were truly emblematic era of Juventus football. (In Serie A, at least.)

We’ve known Miralem Pjanic’s days as a Bianconero were numbered, and while there is nothing official yet, it’s almost a sure thing that we have seen the last of Sami Khedira and the aforementioned Gonzalo Higuain in a Juve shirt. These three players were key performers the last time the team made the Champions League final and have been stalwarts in the last half decade of Juve football.

Father Time is undefeated, and it’s a sad ending for a guy like Khedira who, while he became a bit of a punchline in his last couple of seasons, was an honest to goodness great midfielder for the Italian champions. At his best he had the smarts and physicality to hold down his side of the midfield and was consistently effective with his forward runs. Injuries really took a toll on him and it might be with a whimper and not a bang that the big German says goodbye to the club.

Pjanic is still an elite player, I know this and we have seen this. Unfortunately, we didn’t see it enough in the last months and while the highs were really high for him I can’t shake the feeling that we never saw the full spectrum of what a guy like Pjanic can do while he was at Juventus.

I wanted to keep Higuain for last, because I don’t think there’s been a player that’s been more effective and productive as him, that has also been as easily discarded and unappreciated by a club. When Juventus signed him ahead of the 2016 season with a massive €90 million splash of cash, it was broadly seen as an overpay for a guy whose peak had probably been his previous season. He arrived overweight to preseason training and the jokes were very quick to follow. Jokes that, I will admit, I have also indulged in.

Despite that rocky start, Higuain did nothing more than score and produce during his time at Juventus. While he never did match his goal scoring tally in a season like he did for Napoli — it’s the single-season Serie A record for a reason — he scored 50 goals in two seasons while being as dependable as they come appearing in no less than 40 games in both seasons.

As a reward for that, the club brought in Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the best goal scorers in football history, and he was quickly and unceremoniously loaned out to AC Milan and subsequently to Chelsea. It was a foregone conclusion that he was not going to come back to Juventus for the current season. However, he worked, stuck around in Sarri’s squad and while he was nowhere near the elite striker he once was, he still helped the team with seven goals and four assists in a part-time role.

All in all ,he finishes his Juventus career with 65 goals, three league titles and the gratitude of all Juve fans. Not a bad career at all.

Much like the kits Juventus wore this year, it was a weird, atypical season.

We saw a team that, for the most part, struggled to come up with any sort of consistent, cohesive play. A team that was clearly in the middle of a generational turnover, and not really sure of what they are both philosophically and on the pitch. That we were still trying to figure out new manager’s Maurizio Sarri style with 10 games to go into the season. That as we go into what could be the last game of the season — Champions League Round of 16 second leg against Lyon on Friday in Turin — might have been one of the most vulnerable Juventus teams of the last decade.

And yet, despite everything, the season ended the same way it has for the previous eight years — Juventus lifting the Serie A trophy.

Even in the weirdest year of the new millennium, one thing remains a constant.