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Manu’s Grab Bag: Taking Care of Business

We talk the youths, the veteran and the most disrespectful thing that happened against SPAL

Gianluca Frabotta (R) of Juventus FC celebrates with Dejan... Photo by Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images

Juventus is, at worst, a top 3 team in Italy and arguably anywhere between top 10 and top 15 in the world. When you have a team like that face a squad that is barely in the first five places of Serie B, it is tough to make the case that it is going to be competitive matchup.

Alas, the reigning Italian champs defeated an overmatched SPAL squad in the Coppa Italia quarterfinals and stamped their ticket to the semis in style with a 4-0 victory. With a nice mix of veterans and youngsters, the team avoided any pratfalls against a lower-seeded team — hello, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid! — and had a smooth, mostly drama-free performance.

Does that mean there is not that much to talk about this game? A little bit! But there’s still some meat on the metaphorical game recap carcass.

Let’s cook.

MVP: Dejan Kulusevski

I have to give credit where credit is due and shout out fellow writer Hunter Sharpless for making the perfect analogy to Kulu’s game and comparing him to NBA superstar James Harden.

They both have weird, funky mechanics that make it seem like they are less athletic than they actually are, while still being supremely talented and getting the job done. Watch Kulusevski taking on any number of SPAL defenders or making runs into space was a freakin’ adventure every time on Wednesday night. He looks graceless and downright chaotic whenever the ball is in his feet and, while you are distracted by this, he already dribbled through two dudes and is getting a shot off.

He doesn’t have a natural spot in the lineup so we haven’t quite seen the very best of Kulu, but he seems to be adapting as a second striker and will probably remain a constant member of the rotation. Good shift from him.

Runner Up: Adrien Rabiot – He has been passed over in favor of Rodrigo Bentancur as of late but this was a vintage Rabiot performance. I still think he should get more minutes instead of the Uruguayan national, but with the crunch of games coming up I’m sure both of them will see the field plenty.

Season Leader: Cristiano Ronaldo (8 Points)

Winner: Nicolo Fagioli

I named him a winner in the Supercoppa Grab Bag because of the infinite amounts of IG clout he acquired that day, but this time he’s a winner because he straight up had a good game.

The 19-year-old (!!) started in midfield and held his own, distributing the ball well, making aggressive runs whenever needed and generally looking like he belonged. He had one mistake in the second half that could have led to a SPAL goal, but honestly, for a kid making his very first start for the Juventus senior team, I think he played quite impressively.

He’s now being talked about as a trade chip and that’s life as a Juve prospect, I guess, but I wouldn’t mind it if they kept him around and gave him a few more shots. With that in mind …

The Kids Are Alright

Let me be the first to ever make the joke that Andrea Pirlo’s time as the Under-23 team manager is really paying off!

With that overused joke out of the way, it was honestly pretty refreshing to see a lineup with so many academy prospects holding their own in serious competition. It comes with the usual caveats of this being against a Serie B team in Coppa play, but still.

Radu Dragusin, Gianluca Frabotta, Alessandro di Pardo, Marco da Graca and the aforementioned Fagioli all saw some playing time. And while Frabotta has played more this season than the others, he’s still technically a guy that could be playing for the U-23 squad.

It’s not nothing to suddenly conjure depth out of thin air for matchups like the one Juve had on Wednesday. With a bunch of kids available to play, you can afford to give veterans much-needed rest while not sacrificing competitiveness in the pursuit of more silverware in the season.

All in all, good stuff from the young guns.

Winner: Gianluigi Buffon

Speaking of a guy who is decidedly not a young gun!

The recently turned 43-year-old started and kept a clean sheet, he had very little to do so it wasn’t a particularly challenging outing for the veteran but it was great seeing him captaining the team once again.

(Plus, having Buffon leading a team filled with kids who weren’t even alive when he made his debut was high comedy. Dragusin, de Ligt and Demiral are all 20 years younger than him and were his starting center backs. Dude might play until he’s 50, I swear.)

The real treat, though, was seeing him trot out his favorite gimmick: using a field player kit instead of the keeper one.

I love it so much, especially when it is a fire kit like the blue steel away from this year. He’s done that a bunch of times, most recently last year when he broke the all-time appearances record while wearing their smurf blue third kit. I hated that kit with a passion, but you’re nuts if you don’t think I got it exclusively due to Buffon wearing it when he broke the record.

(At the end of the match I saw someone from the SPAL bench quickly hurry to Buffon and ask for his jersey. Gigi pointed to the exit tunnels motioning that he would give it to him off the pitch. Couldn’t make out who it was precisely, but that’s a solid move from that SPAL player, if you can get the GOAT’s kit you get it.)

Kit Ranking

I mostly wanted to use this section to talk about the most disrespectful thing Juventus did to SPAL on Wednesday. No, it wasn’t the four goals, nor the fact they heavily rotated and still won. It wasn’t even Federico Chiesa hustling to score a last, deflating score in the dying seconds of added time.

It was this:

Sergio Floccari of SPAL looks on during the Coppa Italia... Photo by Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images

If you can’t make it out, that’s SPAL having a little cutout on the chest of their kit referring to the details of the matchup. So, teams playing, the stage of the competition, the date and location of the match. Teams do this whenever they play a “big” game, Juve does this too when they play an important final like a Champions League or Coppa Italia or what not.

Juventus v Real Madrid - UEFA Champions League Final
Pictures that immediately preceded tragedy.
Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

The messed up thing was that while SPAL thought of this as a big enough game to have their kits engraved with all the details, Juve very much did not and just played with their usual kits. That’s cold man, come on do SPAL a solid, if they are going to do it you have to do it, its etiquette. Even before the game started SPAL was already losing.

Parting Shot of the Week

Coming up Juve face up Sampdoria in the first game of the second half of the Serie A season on Saturday. What’s really interesting is the run of games they have coming after that: Inter twice in Coppa play, Roma, Napoli and the first leg match against Porto for the Champions League.

If you thought January was nuts, February is not going to be any easier my friends.

See you Saturday.