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Manu’s Grab Bag: Final Bound

We talk defense, defense and more defense. Also the Conte “scandal” and trolls on the pitch.

Juventus v FC Internazionale - Coppa Italia Photo by Stefano Guidi/Getty Images

You are who you are.

Sometimes you might try to change some aspects of your core identity, but in the end you are who you are for better and for worse. And what we saw on Tuesday evening at the Allianz Stadium is exactly who Juventus are at the end of the day.

Sure, we might try to play stylistically beautiful offensive football with free-flowing passing and a position-less identity on occasion. We might even try to bring in a different coach to do whatever Sarriball is every now and then. But at our core, Juventus is defense, defense and some more defense. A defense that led Juve to a 0-0 draw against Inter — who are frauds — in the second leg of the Coppa Italia semifinals and sent the Bianconeri to the Coppa Italia final.

It was a bend not break, gritted teeth, white knuckle performance, but a decidedly good one for Juventus, who find themselves in the first final of the Andrea Pirlo era.

(I know they already played the Supercoppa final, but that was not a Pirlo accomplishment per se as they got there because of the Scudetto win of Maurizio Sarri’s era. The win in said final is a Pirlo win since he managed. Whatever, we are splitting hairs here really.)

Let’s cook.

Winner: The Next Great Juventus Backline

As per Grab Bag policy, we do not hand out awards for a draw. A win gives out an MVP (2 points) and a Runner Up (1 point) and a loss bestows an LVP (-1 point), so, despite this particular draw feeling like a win because of the two legged factor of the game we will still adhere to the rules. The sanctity of the Grab Bag MVP will not be compromised.

With that being said, if we had given out points they would have gone to Merih Demiral and Matthijs de Ligt. In that order, in my opinion, but I’m not going to fret over who was best in what was a sublime shift from the two young center backs.

The stats alone are incredible, but they fail to convey just what an overpowering performance they put forth. With Demiral — a Juve fan favorite even if he hasn’t seen the field as much as a lot of people would like — it has always been clear he has skills to develop into one of the game’s premier center backs, but he also has shown that he has a lot of growing to do. At times, he’s looked unsure with the ball on his feet and committing mistakes in Pirlo’s passing heavy system.

Those shaky moments were nowhere to be seen on Tuesday. This felt like a coming out party for the Turkish international, as the tantalizing potential he has shown in spurts was finally crystallized into a full 90-minute performance. He was everywhere — blocking shots, winning aerial duels and was instrumental in preserving the shutout.

Demiral’s performance was so good that it got to this point to even talk about his counterpart performance in de Ligt, who we already know is really good but it sometimes leads to forgetting that he’s one whole year younger than Demiral.

Put it this way: If he doesn’t get a lick better from this point to the end of his career, he will still be a top 10 center back in the world. We are literally witnessing the floor of what he can achieve with this club, and that floor is a shutout perfect performance in a big semifinal game. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; Give that thick Dutch kid a blank check, let him sign whatever amount he feels is right, double it and make sure he stays a Juve player for the rest of his career.

Bear in mind, this was not against some also ran lower-table Serie A side. Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez are one of the premier attacking duos not only in Italy, but in Europe. And outside of a couple of chances on counters, they kept them completely bottled. In a game in which Inter — who are frauds — needed two goals, they never really threatened for one.

I’m overhyping them, but:

Juventus v AS Roma - Serie A Photo by Giorgio Perottino/Getty Images
SS Lazio v Juventus FC - TIM Cup Final Photo by Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images

I’m just saying, it feels right.

Public Enemy No. 1

There’s details galore about what supposedly transpired between the head honchos of Juventus and former Juve manager Antonio Conte moments after the game ended. The money shot is the one above and it really says all you need to know about how frustrated Inter’s — who are frauds — players and coaching staff had to be after the game.

With that being said, I don’t particularly get the hate for Conte from Juve faithful. Do you mean to tell me that the notoriously hot headed, irascible, passionate dude — who we once praised for those exact qualities when he was on the team — shockingly remains that way?

He left Juve on relatively amicable terms and then took over the Italian national team. He did his job there, moved to Chelsea and found moderate success and after his firing took the best available job at reportedly astronomical wages. What’s the dude supposed to do? Not take the job because the team is a rival of the club he previously managed almost six years before?

Conte is the classic example of someone you love when he’s on your team but hate when he’s not. All that fire and passion that we praised is now seen as a guy who’s unhinged and insane. Conte is Conte, he will always be Conte for better and for worse.

Speaking of polarizing guys.

They are Trolls, but they are our Trolls

Do you know which player’s I’d hate if they were on a rival club?

Juan Cuadrado and Federico Chiesa. They do all the exact same stuff I hate seeing from players.

Johnny Square legitimately believes he has never committed a foul in his entire playing career. He’s also never been cleanly dispossessed, and if he lost the ball then that means someone fouled him — there is no other logical explanation. It is this belief system that makes him argue with all refs whenever a call doesn’t go his way — sometimes at the detriment of a play that’s still happening — he’s just trying to make them see what he sees, that’s all

For all his considerable talents and skill, Chiesa seems to have an acute case of a strange disease in which any contact with his lower extremities will cause him to jump, curl up and recoil in massive pain. Luckily for him, the disease subsides quickly when a foul is given and he’s back on his feet in no time.

Now, just because I find it annoying that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work! Blame the game, not the players, is what I say. Refs tend to call more fouls when guys overreact, it is what it is. Just a week ago I was praising Cuadrado for doing exactly what he does all the time and calling it a savvy veteran move. I’m not above being a shill for my guys.

I’m just saying, when and if either of them are no longer Juve players there is a 100% chance they play a team I root for, pull those shenanigans and I get unreasonably upset about it.

(Another dude who has to be super annoying to play against? Gianluigi Buffon. He always seems to be joking around, smiling and patting opposing strikers in the head when they get close to him. Lautaro got called for a foul on Buffon at one point and while he was pleading his case to the ref, Buffon went to him hugged him and patted him on the back in the most paternalistic, condescending way I have ever seen. It was a joy to watch, but I’m sure it’s annoying if you are playing against the GOAT and can’t score a goal for the life of you. Getting sonned is what the youth calls it.)

Winner: Andrea Pirlo

After his first true, bad defeat as a manager, Pirlo’s team bounced back to win six games in a row and the latest draw to get him to his first Coppa Italia final.

That streak included payback over the very same Inter — who are frauds — that soundly beat them with a win in Milan and a draw by design to secure their rivals demise in the competition. A competition they haven’t even made the final for a decade and the fifth year in a row that they get eliminated in the semifinal round.

It’s fair to still have doubts about the Pirlo era with Juventus, but the facts are the facts and so far he has the team on pace. They’re Supercoppa winners, Coppa finalists, finished first in their Champions League group and decidedly in the mix for the league. Add a couple of good results against his former manager and things are looking very up for il Maestro.

Parting Shot of the Week

Despite the positive result, there’s another outrageously short turnaround on deck for Juve as they prepare to face Napoli on Saturday.

Their southern rivals haven’t been doing spectacularly well as of late, and with a good part of their defense unavailable this might be a good time to give Napoli their first crack at payback after their Supercoppa loss.

(There’s a real scenario in which Juve face Napoli four times this year if the Partenopei make it to the Coppa final. Shame this year Napoli are in the Europa League, imagine if things broke right and Juve got to play Napoli a whooping six times?)

Not to scoreboard watch too much, but with Inter — who are frauds — facing a surging Lazio and despite AC Milan playing Spezia, this might be a good week to gain some ground in the Serie A race.

See you Saturday.