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Manu’s Grab Bag: Job Half Done

We talk Ronaldo’s brace, some measure of revenge and a sad goodbye.

Internazionale v Juventus - Italian Serie A Photo by Mattia Ozbot/Soccrates/Getty Images

I’m not going to say it. Not yet. There’s still another game to go in the Coppa Italia semifinals and Inter Milan are still ahead in the table. But the urge to utter the F-word is getting stronger and that’s always a good thing when dealing with Juventus’ eternal rivals.

After Juve’s solid, if unspectacular, 2-1 win over their Neroazzurri counterparts on Tuesday night, there’s a sense of relief and a bit of payback in the air. Considering the way they had been outclassed not one month ago by this same team, it was a much-needed result from both a psychological standpoint and when it comes to the actual Coppa Italia tie as the two away goals are huge for a possible tiebreaker.

Life is just better when the natural order of things is restored with Juventus beating Inter. That’s how it always should be, folks.

Let’s cook.

MVP: Cristiano Ronaldo

These are the type of games as to why you sign Cristiano Ronaldo if the opportunity to sign Cristiano Ronaldo becomes available to you. It wasn’t particularly showy or spectacular, but on a day when the team just needed to find a way to win, you could count on No. 7 to come through and deliver the W.

(Neither here nor there and it doesn’t take away from his performance, but this was a perfect encapsulation of the Ronaldo Experience at Juve. Good game on the pitch, ruined by press discourse and a mini drama about him being subbed out late in the game. Seriously, what other player warrants so much attention for just being subbed out with 15 minutes to go in a game they are winning? And as a coach how annoying that has to get? I digress ...)

He was his usual confident self as he tied the game up with a frozen rope of a shot on the PK and while it was technically an open shot on goal for the go ahead score that was not an easy play to pull off. He had to be there to disposes Alessandro Bastoni — showing great effort on the press — and then had to take a shot with little angle from a significant distance away to sneak it in there while Samir Handanovic was tracking back. Legit impressive stuff.

Runner Up: Juan Cuadrado – Same as the rest of the team where his performance doesn’t jump off the page, but he was solid defensively and won the PK on a straight up veteran move. Because the cross is so bad — more on that in a second — at first the foul is not immediately noticeable, but because he stands up and makes a whole ruckus and tries to fight the entire Inter team by himself it draws more attention to the play which then gets VAR reviewed and the call is given. That’s just smart footballing.

Season Leader: Cristiano Ronaldo (10 Points)

Redemption (For Some)

If this here Grab Bag was one of those student papers in high school, here is where I would state that the central theme of this piece is redemption.

I won’t do that because mercifully I’m not in high school anymore and when you write, the central theme should be immediately clear without having to point to it. Provided — of course — that you’re worth two cents as a goddamn writer. It’s called subtlety you two bit fraud of a teacher, no one has ever read one of your generously called “novels,” how dare you send me to summer school, you son of a …

Sorry, things got carried away there, the point is, redemption!

And it was a game of redemption not only for the entire team as I alluded in the top, but also in game, with guys that made mistakes early having a chance to make up for them.

Both Merih Demiral and Gianluigi Buffon shoulder some blame for Inter’s lone goal of the evening. Demiral got twisted around by Alexis Sanchez in the buildup of the goal as he held the young Turkish international just enough to set off the counter attack. On the business end of said counter, as Lautaro Martinez beat Matthijs de Ligt to get a shot on goal, Buffon should have made the save. The shot was not particularly strong and he did get a hand on it, but it just squeaked in under his body.

Later on in the second half, however, both Demiral and Buffon managed to make key plays to maintain the lead. With Merih making a goal line clearance — and unleashing a trademarked Giorgio Chiellini fist bump after it — and Gigi saving a point-blank shot from Matteo Darmian.

(Which by the way, if you’re not unreasonably excited about the potential of another 10 or so years of elite center back play with Demiral and de Ligt in the back for Juve I don’t know what to tell you. Imagine the transition from Bonucci, Chiellini and Barzagli to those guys, what team would have had more uninterrupted years of production at the back?)

Now, for the guy who didn’t find much in the redemption department. Yeah, my guy, Federico Bernardeschi, that was rough. Less than one week after I was banging the drum on his decent play he goes out and unleashes some of the worst crosses I have ever seen. Those things were not even close.

(It reminded me of when I used to play football and I was so scared of not being able to power a strike through that I would just put all my effort into kicking the ball as hard as possible whenever I had to do a long pass or a cross, with zero regards to accuracy. All I wanted was to not shoot a sad, little squib. So, the crosses were bad but they always traveled which was fine by me at the time.)

The real bummer is that Bernardeschi didn’t even play that bad. He was getting in position for those crosses after all and for the most part he defended fine, but he always has one of two really bad plays that just spoil the rest of the day for him.

Midfield Ranking

  1. Weston McKennie — Didn’t have a banner day specifically, but he still did the job he was assigned to do. Still comfortably leading this ranking.
  2. Arthur — Legitimately thought a number of times during this game, “Man, this game really needs Arthur.” Didn’t think we’d get there, but thems the breaks.
  3. Adrien Rabiot —Straight up cannot play with Bentancur because they are too similar and neither of them can hold and distribute the ball well enough in this formation. Was slightly better than his counterpart against Inter, though.
  4. Rodrigo Bentancur — At this point, maybe the whole idea of him developing into a true regista is probably a wash, right? Maybe with more time, maybe with an actual offseason, who knows. But, whenever he’s given that role this season, he’s been dreadful.
  5. Aaron Ramsey — Didn’t play, but you can’t say he was particularly missed, either.
  6. Sami Khedira —You know what? Let’s take it to the parting shot, I got a bone to pick here.

Parting Shot of the Week

As the signing was formalized over the weekend that our old friend Sami Khedira was leaving Juventus for Hertha Berlin, a legitimately shocking amount of people in the Juventus world responded with straight up elation at the news.

He was bad and slow and overpaid and injury prone and did nothing for the club and a whole bunch of other slander was thrown Khedira’s way and that is just a woefully awful take.

While his last two-plus years with the club were forgettable to say the least, that doesn’t simply erase all the objectively good performance he had for the club. He finishes his Juve career with 145 appearances, 46 of which came in the 2016-17 season in which he was instrumental to obtaining the domestic double and an appearance in the Champions League final.

I went into more detail here, but just because injuries and the passage of time ruined his last moments as a Juve player does not mean he was a bad signing or player for that matter.

Khedira was actually good, that’s my take and the correct one.

See you Saturday.