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Manu’s Grab Bag: Wasted

We talk Sorrentino Award, chances gone by and Juventus no good, very bad, day.

SSC Napoli v Juventus - Serie A Photo by MB Media/Getty Images

You got to give it to Juventus.

Just when you thought that they were on their way, just when you thought that it was the start of a vicious run of games won, they pull this. Say what you will about Juve, but they keep you on your toes, that’s for damn sure.

The worst thing is that I can’t even say that what we saw on the field was that bad. When Juventus has been beat like the first league matchup against Inter or their first game against FC Barcelona, at least you know they lost because they were the worse team. That’s somehow easier to swallow than the exercise in frustration that was Saturday’s 1-0 loss against Napoli in Naples.

In a game in which Napoli had literally zero starting center backs, the much-vaunted Juve attack could not score once.

Like I said, they keep you on your toes!

Let’s cook.

LVP: Federico Bernardeschi

Let me go ahead and take full blame for Bernardeschi’s recent form.

Not long ago, I was passionately — read: halfheartedly — defending his OK-ness. That he was an average player in a team filled with really good ones, coupled with the expectations from his move from Fiorentina, it was obvious he would be unfairly maligned.

I think we can safely say that the criticism is now warranted.

In little over 60 minutes he added legitimately nothing in any facet of the game. Bringing Weston McKennie on was the purest addition by subtraction move that could have been done. Just an all-around poor effort from a guy that really, really needs another team to get his mojo back. If he can.

Stefano Sorrentino Memorial Award: Alex Meret

I feel the need to remind people that Alex Meret was supposed to be really ‘effin good. Just a couple of years ago, Napoli was out here shelling out €26 million for the young Italian keeper. And while he hasn’t really settled like a lot of people hoped as David Ospina still plays a lot, Meret showed flashes of why he was so highly thought off not two years ago.

Granted, a couple of the shots he stopped in the second half were struck right towards him. So the only real talent he had to show on those was an ability to occupy physical space and not duck out of the way.

(Easier said than done as any friend of mine who has seen me goal keep can attest to.)

With that being said, he did make some really good saves and led an all sub Napoli defense to a shutout and a win.

Stats Corner

Look, I’m as lukewarm on football stats as the next guy.

While I think there are some valuable insights to them I still think that as far as football is concerned there is still a long way to go to put as much weight to them as in other sports. However, if you think I’m above cherry picking them at my leisure to prove a point when I want to, well, buddy, you are sorely mistaken.

xG is a relatively flawed stat, but in this case it definitely helps illustrate how one-sided the actual chances were on the game. This wasn’t some sort of Napoli defensive masterclass, while they held tougher than one would expect out of a team with a patchwork defense, there were chances to be had. Only for them to either be wasted with poor finishing, bad luck or good keeping.

Of course, at the end of the day, this means nothing as far as the point tally for Serie A is concerned. All we have left to do is sigh and rue if Cristiano Ronaldo had hit the ball just an inch to the left in this shot or Federico Chiesa had been a tad more accurate with another we could be celebrating a win or at the very least a draw away at a tough opponent.

Speaking of which ...

Winner: Gennaro Gattuso

Look, if you didn’t feel at least a little bit happy for Rino when Napoli players mobbed him when the whistle sounded, I don’t know what to tell you.

I’m a sucker for old players coaching, so yeah, even though this was a bad Juve loss you could tell it meant a lot to the players and staff of Napoli who were very much fighting for his manager’s job and isn’t that what football is all about?

You’re right, I was trying to make myself feel a little better. It all sucked.

Wasted or Second Chances?

In last week’s Grab Bag I mentioned that this was as good a week as any to get some points back in the Serie A race.

With Inter playing Lazio there was a potential for the Neroazzurri to drop points and Juve to shorten distances in what is looking more and more like a really tight title race. What I sure didn’t expect was for league-leading AC Milan to get convincingly beaten by newly promoted Spezia.

Thanks to this result, Juve didn’t lose ground in the battle for top of the table. (Inter are playing Lazio at the time of this being published on Sunday.) While this is a relative sigh of relief, it’s also worth asking, how many more of this chances are they going to get?

While that looming game in hand against the very same Napoli that just defeated them weighs heavy on the math needed to get a champion, they are still at best, four points off the lead.

(Five if Inter were to beat Lazio, which means, I guess, go Lazio?)

I’m not going to call the season over yet again. While the result on Saturday didn’t go our way, I didn’t see a particularly catastrophic performance as much as I saw an unlucky game. Shades of those early first half draws that were infuriating to everyone in this here blog.

We know Juve is playing better, we know they are a good team. But with the math working heavily against them, leading teams dropping points unexpectedly has to be something they start capitalizing from now on.

Parting Shot of the Week

The only good thing about the constant onslaught of games is that whenever a game leaves a bad taste in your mouth there is another match ready to go in a few days to cleanse your palate.

It’s a pretty important one this week as the most elusive competition for Juve comes back with Porto lining up on Wednesday to kick off the round of 16 of the Champions League for the Bianconeri.

Much like they did winning the Supercoppa after a deflating loss against Inter in league play, I can’t think of no better balm for the awfulness that transpired on Saturday than a confident win at the Stadio do Dragao against the Portuguese powerhouse.

See you Wednesday