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Manu’s Grab Bag: Statement Game

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We talk Chiesa’s MVP performance, Dybala getting his swagger back and the COVID-19 conundrum.

AC Milan v Juventus - Serie A Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images

A few games back one of the ESPN Deportes announcers mentioned that Juventus was not looking like the Juventus of a few years back. They were not looking like a team that imposed on their opponents, that could go to any pitch and make their presence felt.

The fear is gone now” was the exact phrase he used, and I do remember agreeing with him on that point.

However, Wednesday’s 3-1 win over AC Milan was decidedly a vintage Juve performance. It was a season-saving performance and one that they needed.

I don’t know if the fear is quite back, but that was a fist on the table statement by the still reigning champs. We are not leaving.

Let’s cook.

MVP: Federico Chiesa

KEEP CHIESA ON THE RIGHT FOREVER.

Talk about a coming out party for the splashiest signing of the season. While he had been far from awful up until this point, I think it’s fair to say the Chiesa experience had been pretty underwhelming with a couple of positive flashes here and there. Kinda like going to see a band you sort of knew at a big festival — remember those? — and the couple of songs that got you riled up and then just a whole bunch of nothing.

A lot of it had to do with the former Fiorentina player lining up on the left wing — a position he wasn’t completely unfamiliar but wasn’t his bread and butter — mostly because of Juan Cuadrado’s swashbuckling start to the season. However, due to Cuadrado being suspended and then being diagnosed with COVID-19, Chiesa has been getting more shots on the right and did it pay off on this one.

He trounced Theo Hernandez in the 1-on-1 battles, used his speed and athleticism to prowl the right flank and had two superb scores to give Juventus the win. He was clearly upset getting subbed out, but something tells me he will find himself playing more and more. Don’t worry, kid.

Runner Up: Wojciech Szczęsny – Was massive in the sticks on a big game. Had nothing to do on AC Milan’s opener, but outside of that let nothing got past him. Huge performance when the team needed him most.

Season Leader: Cristiano Ronaldo (7 Points)

Winner: Paulo Dybala

I was conflicted about giving him or Woj the runner-up spot and that’s a testament to how well both of these guys played in Milan.

The statsheet will say he had two assists, but it was bigger than just the two assists. Going back to the last game and this one it’s the first time this season we have seen Dybala have some confidence, some swagger back in his play and it was noticeable.

Late 2020 Dybala doesn’t even attempt that backheel pass. Late 2020 Dybala doesn’t put that much pace and accuracy on his passes and sure as hell doesn’t impact the game as much as he did. A lot of it has to do with him getting his strength and form back — something Andrea Pirlo has mentioned about a 3,256 times give or take at his press conferences — after coming down with a litany of injuries, sickness and freakin’ COVID-19.

I like 2021 Paulo Dybala, let’s have more of that please.

VAR/Ref Controversy of the Week

I gotta give props to Massimiliano Irrati — his performance refereeing this match was so ghastly that it made me slightly tweak this section of the Grab Bag because this time it wasn’t a VAR controversy it was just institutional failure.

What I do like about what transpired Wednesday night is that both teams can be equally pissed off about the refereeing shenanigans that took place.

In fact, let’s run them down:

Ways that Juventus got hosed by Massimiliano Irrati

  • Adrien Rabiot got fouled on the play that directly led to AC Milan’s lone goal of the match.
  • Danilo, the GOAT, made a perfectly timed tackle to stop a Hernandez counter but was yellow carded instead.
  • Hernandez trying his very best to beat the hell out of Chiesa early in the first half with two fouls that should have been called and probably booked.

Ways that AC Milan got hosed by Massimiliano Irrati

  • Rodrigo Bentancur should have seen his second yellow card of the game after wiping out Samu Castillejo with a sliding tackle during a counter.
  • Rabiot brought down Brahim Diaz in the box on the dying minutes of the game which should have probably been a PK.

Still, despite the mistakes I think the result was probably fair considering what we saw on the pitch. But, fine twist my arm, if all the correct calls are made the Davide Calabria goal is disallowed and Milan gets a PK in the dying minutes which we will assume they convert. Final score, 3-1.

My guy, Irrati, was out here playing chess, not checkers. Speaking of …

Winner: Andrea Pirlo

Chiesa had his face in his shirt in sheer disgust, he was upset as all hell and while he didn’t show it as much I bet Dybala wasn’t happy either about being subbed out early in the second half to bring in Weston McKennie and Dejan Kulusevski.

And I don’t blame them! They were balling out, they had just scored the second goal of the evening — what’s up, Pirlo?

On Twitter, I made the case that I liked the guys they brought in, but that I thought they should have subbed out Cristiano Ronaldo and Aaron Ramsey instead. Well, that’s why I don’t manage an European super club, I guess.

Kulusevski and McKennie immediately paired up for the third and decisive score of the evening and made Pirlo look like a genius. That’s why Il Maestro makes the big bucks and I remain a guy on the Internet.

Speaking of making Pirlo look good ...

Winner: Gianluca Frabotta

Frabotta has been overall unspectacular during his time with the senior Juventus team. The former U-23 standout had chances to seize the left wingback position, but while he wasn’t awful, he didn’t force Pirlo to play him as a consistent starter.

Still, due to force majeure, he had to start in the biggest domestic game of the season and he was pretty dang good, too. He had a couple of missed passes and wasn’t perfect by any means, but for a guy who we were talking about getting loaned out mere hours before kickoff he stepped up and delivered a good performance when the team needed him most.

The COVID-19 Situation

A major talking point of this game by fans of both sides was how players testing positive for coronavirus would affect the result of the game.

AC Milan was down pretty much their entire midfield and Juventus was down their starting fullbacks. You obviously never want to see guys get infected and we hope everyone makes a fast and full recovery. But it is worth talking about the fact that this will keep happening and will most likely happen before a big game for any of the teams currently vying for the Serie A title.

It’s apparently part of the current reality that we just have to accept that at any point with no prior warning key players in championship winning caliber teams will miss undetermined amounts of time that could significantly affect the title race.

I don’t like it, but them’s the breaks.

Parting Shot of the Week

*Haughty, Arrogant Juve fan cap on*

Y’ALL WERE TALKING ALL THAT SMACK, HUH?

3-1 in your own backyard, how about that? FEED ME ALL YOUR TEARS.

*Haughty, Arrogant Juve fan cap off*

So, yeah, this was a pretty good game, I’d say. For as much as we have doubted and second guessed the Andrea Pirlo era, it is worth pointing out that in their two biggest games of the year they have come out guns blazing and gotten the results they needed in both European competition and now domestically. It’s still a long season and a long way to go, but you have to imagine that this result will not only make a difference in the league table, but for the mentality and mood of the locker room in general.

Juventus are still seven points off the lead, but with a game in a hand and a decisive victory over the league leaders in their pocket those seven points look a lot more manageable than before.

See you Sunday.