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Manu’s Grab Bag: Knocked Out

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We talk whether this is the end, Giorgi Chiellini dueling Romelu Lukaku and the 2015 Boston Red Sox starting rotation.

Cristiano Ronaldo of Juventus Fc looks dejected during the... Photo by Marco Canoniero/LightRocket via Getty Images

It’s bonkers to say it, but we might have just seen the death knell to Juventus’ title aspirations one game before the midway point of the 2020-21 season.

Mathematically, we are really far away from Juventus no longer being the reigning champions of Italy, but it sure feels that way after Inter Milan thrashed the Bianconeri 2-0 on a night in which arguably nothing worked for the visiting team.

It wasn’t even the loss, it was how they lost. This team has looked bad, but it had never looked worse than it did on Sunday. They could have played 180 minutes and Juve was never going to score. Inter wasted more chances in the first 30 minutes than Juventus had in the entire game, and I legit lost count of how many times the team misplaced passes and lost possession with remarkable ease.

Juventus is still one good through pass away from allowing a score at any time.

I could go on, but y’all saw it. This was worse than the Fiorentina game. It was worse than the first Barcelona match. It was the worst game of the season so far and it wasn’t particularly close. If this was the knockout punch, it was a highlight reel-worthy punch.

Let’s cook.

LVP: Aaron Ramsey

Ramsey is a symptom, not a cause, for the current state of Juventus.

I’ll elaborate more on that in the next section, but even without that he was truly dreadful in this game. Everything he could do wrong he did defensively and offensively he was ineffective at best and actively harmful at worst.

It was just a complete implosion for a guy that I’m still not sure why he is on this team.

Season Leader: Cristiano Ronaldo (7 Points)

Who’s the Ace?

A few years ago, in 2015 if I recall correctly, my beloved Boston Red Sox went into the MLB season with an extremely underwhelming starting pitching rotation. Sports media being what it is, latched on to this fact and questioned the team constantly on who was supposed to be the team “ace.”

(For the less baseball inclined folks here at BWRAO, an ace is your best starting pitcher, the guy you trust to start big games and usually your Opening Day starter — which is a big deal in theory, but a lot of the time it ends up being more of a symbolic thing than anything else.)

Then-Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz, understandably tired of answering questions about the ace-dom of himself and his teammates, had t-shirts made printed with the caption “He’s the Ace” and gave them to all of the starting pitchers on the team. A nice sentiment and a team building trinket for sure — hey, anyone of us could be the ace! — but unfortunately for them the shirts were little more than that as they ended up with the worst mark in the division and missed the playoffs.

This doesn’t mean that individually they were not good players — in fact, most of the members of that starting rotation went on to have very good careers, and in baseball especially just to get to the MLB level is a massive, incredibly hard thing to achieve — but none of them were good enough at that point to actually anchor a team by themselves. Nobody was an Ace.

I feel the same way about the current state of the Juventus midfield, the most maligned position group that I can recall in the last few years and the biggest culprit of Sunday’s evisceration.

In a vacuum, I legitimately believe that the players currently in the roster for Juventus are good players. But I don’t think any of them are good enough to anchor the midfield, I don’t think they are good enough to perform the role that they have assigned to them at an elite level on Andrea Pirlo’s system and ultimately I don’t think that they are good enough to get the job done.

Adrien Rabiot is a functional player, Rodrigo Bentancur is a functional player, Weston McKennie has been far better than advertised and should definitely be part of Juventus’ future. But unless you bring in a true elite midfielder that can take those guys to the next level, they are nothing more than good, not great players.

That generally does not win you a title.

Loser: Andrea Pirlo

This was finally the game where he looked like a legit rookie coach.

Antonio Conte ran circles around his former player as he seized on every single thing this team does poorly and exploited the hell out of them. In and of itself that is not particularly surprising since, despite his fiery personality, Conte is a veteran, experienced and most importantly winning coach. That he is a better coach at this point than a dude who has less than half a season under his belt is understandable.

But what is worrying to me is that Pirlo played right into his hands by deciding to die by his system and his ideology despite not having the players to do so successfully. It feels like we have said something similar to that about another Juventus coach recently.

Playing a high line that is heavy on possession but vulnerable to counterattacks with such a feeble midfield is a bad idea and doing it with two old, slow veterans as center backs is suicidal. As a concept I like what Pirlo is trying to implement, but this game was further proof that as currently constructed Juve cannot play that way well enough.

Shades of déjà vu in Juventus land.

Winner: Giorgio Chiellini

Despite being put in an unfavorable position, this game was proof that when healthy, Chiellini still has some fuel left in the tank. His duel with Romelu Lukaku was one of the few — if not only — enjoyable aspects of this game as they both battled and scraped for 90 minutes in what I considered an individual draw.

I particularly enjoyed a sequence in the first half in which Lukaku bodied Chiellini to win possession of the ball, Gianluca Frabotta made a sliding tackle that somehow resulted with Lukaku still in possession of the ball but that gave Chiellini just enough time to recover and execute a surgical tackle from behind to dispossess the Belgian international in the nick of time.

Romelu Lukaku (R) of FC Internazionale is tackled by Giorgio... Photo by Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images

There’s maybe five to 10 players who can make such a tackle in the game right now. True, he can’t be out here playing a high line and tracking back to stop speedy wingers on counters anymore, but you’re crazy if you came out of that game thinking anything else other than Chiellini can still help this team moving forward.

Parting Shot of the Week

I like to poke fun at Inter and call them frauds because they like to think of themselves as a big team but haven’t won a trophy in any competition for over 3,600 days which in my opinion disqualifies you of any conversation about anything ever.

But credit where credit is due, they dominated Juve on Sunday. In my opinion, no team had completely blown Juventus out quite like Inter did in a good while and, if this is the game that marks the beginning of the end for the Juve domestic hegemony, they did it in style.

Now more than ever, Juventus is at a crossroads — their title hopes are not dead yet, but they are on life support. They have a team in clear transition, helmed by a rookie coach with massive expectations but little chance of achieving them. They’re not quite ready to rebuild for the future, but not with the right team to win now either.

On deck they have a surging Napoli team that is the exact type of team that could give Juventus hell and would love nothing more than to keep burying their eternal boogeyman. The Supercoppa is little more than a glorified friendly, but if you wanted to believe in Juventus’ chances going forward, a win and a trophy to show for their troubles would be a much needed balm and an injection of confidence for a reeling Bianconeri squad.

See you Wednesday.