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Manu’s Grab Bag: End of the Road

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We talk luxury cars, the most cursed kit in history and where does Juventus go from here?

Juventus v FC Porto - UEFA Champions League Round Of 16 Leg Two Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

You got to give it to them: It had been two years since this team was eliminated in a devastating manner in European competition. In their own Juventus way, they were due.

The real bummer, however, is how easily this all could have been avoided. Out of the four goals Juventus allowed against Porto in the two-legged tie, only one came on the run of play. Silly penalties, defensive lapses and just plain boneheaded moves cost Juventus in the tie against Porto.

We can sit here and talk all we want about who’s more to blame for the result — as many people already are! — but the plain fact is that this team had over 60 minutes against 10-man Porto and were still eliminated. If you can’t pull off a result under those conditions, you legitimately don’t deserve to be counted among the top 8 clubs in Europe, something that Juve by all intents and purposes is not.

Tuesday’s 3-2 “win” over Porto might reverberate and trigger massive changes in the team, but it left a lot to talk about in the short term as well.

Let’s cook.

MVP: Federico Chiesa

It ended up being an elimination, but they did win the game itself. And as with any win, we give out points. The core values of this here Grab Bag will not be betrayed by the fact that our team bottled it the hell up.

Points or not, it was clear who was the biggest player on the team on Tuesday night. We talk a lot about the players who have sacrificed and played other positions, but sometimes we don’t even mention Chiesa, who has also played in positions that are not as natural to the former Fiorentina player. Count me in as one of the people who early on in the season was as lukewarm as anybody whenever I saw Chiesa lined up on the left flank instead of his usual right flank spot.

But, credit where credit is due, the young Italian international just posted one of the best performances in his career while playing on that much-maligned left side of the pitch. The two goals will get the headlines, but they underscore how massive he was to the overall performance of the team. Just playing effectively on the left alone, allows for Juan Cuadrado — who has proven over and over again to be one of the most important players on the team — to play on the right and gives Andrea Pirlo a lot more options to play with when setting the lineups.

There will be a lot of talk about big changes in the club, but one thing has become clear from this tie: Those changes have to involve Chiesa as a fundamental part of this club moving forward.

Runner Up: Juan Cuadrado – Cuadrado had a vintage performance peppering the Porto backline with deadly crosses all game long. He had a few defensive mishaps especially early in the first half, but that’s par of the course for the Johnny Square Experience.

Season Leader: Cristiano Ronaldo (12 Points)

Winner: Porto

Lost in all “woe is me” talk from the Juventus world, it bears mentioning just how much of a massive performance the Portuguese team had.

Sure, that might sound weird considering they did allow three goals on the evening and barely made it through on the away goals rule, but to go down to 10 men and manage to find a way to pull the result off is nothing to sneeze at. They held off a Juve attack that came at them in droves in the second half masterfully, and in the end they rightfully deserved their ticket to the quarterfinals.

(Also, it’s worth noting this Porto team has had the same manager since 2017 in Sergio Conceição. Maybe there’s something to keeping a project going for longer than a year, huh?)

The Muddy Middle

The most painful part of this elimination is that it leaves Juventus exactly where you don’t want to be: They’re a team that is way too expensive, but also not good enough to go all the way.

The same main skeleton of the team has now failed in the biggest stage for three straight years under three different managers. At some point, you have to look in the mirror and come to the conclusion that this team as currently constituted is just not good enough.

With that being said, it’s hard to see a path in which they can quickly turn things around. With the current financial standing of the club, a bunch of wheeling and dealing is probably not in the cards. Even a fire sale would probably net less money than you would think. Looking at the roster, who has real, needle-moving value? Paulo Dybala is coming off his worst season as a pro and the injury concerns with him are bigger than we originally thought. Do you sell your No. 10 at his lowest value? What would that value even be at this point?

Merih Demiral is another guy that could net significant funds as his name was brought up in numerous transfer rumors and reportedly has a lot of Premier League suitors. Do you part with him and rely on the ageing bodies of Giorgio Chiellini and Leo Bonucci for big minutes next year again? Do you spend a significant part of whatever money Demiral nets to bring another defender into the fold, or convince Atalanta to renounce their option to acquire the much improved Cristian Romero? Is … is, that … DANIELE RUGANI’S MUSIC I HEAR?!

The biggest asset in the roster, however, is Matthijs de Ligt, who could easily fetch a 100 million-plus transfer fee tomorrow from any number of teams, even in a COVID depressed market. But any plan that involves selling de Ligt is null and void and should be thrown into the fire as well as whoever suggests it.

Which brings me to the elephant in the room.

The Luxury Car Dilemma

Imagine your favorite car, just your all-time most desired vehicle. The sky is the limit for this exercise, it could be any exotic supercar or a freaking Tesla rocketship — whatever your wildest dream is. For me, it’s an Aston Martin DBS, the one James Bond has in “Casino Royale,” and since this is a hypothetical I want the exact same one they had in the movie. With all the bells and whistles. I want an emergency medical kit in the glove department in case I get poisoned for firing off too many hot takes.

I don’t really expect to ever own this car — it’s too expensive, is currently owned by James Bond and there is nothing that leads me to believe he will part with the car. Yet, for a serendipitous reason, the car goes out for sale and they reach out to me specifically to acquire it. Now, I already own a car, it’s not quite an Aston Martin, but it ain’t a clunker, either. It’s a perfectly serviceable car that I acquired not too long ago, though it does have a — slightly unwarranted — reputation for breaking down whenever you need it most.

It wasn’t really on my plans to acquire a new car but this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance, and owning this type of car would put me in a different echelon in society and being at that level is my biggest goal. So, I redo my finances and my monthly expenses, I find some extra money, I unceremoniously ship my current vehicle to whoever wants it and I become the brand new owner of an Aston Martin DBS with rocket launchers very much included.

For the first few months I’m the talk of the town, the dude with the James Bond car after all. In fact this new found notoriety leads to me getting a few gigs for auto centric publications as a spokesperson/influencer. I recoil at the thought of being considered any sort of influencer, but the extra money helps with the monthly payments for the car — which are massive, by and large the single biggest expense in my budget.

This isn’t the car’s fault necessarily, it performs marvelously, and it’s a joy to drive. I really couldn’t ask anything more from it, it has fulfilled every single expectation I had from it. But despite that, I have had to neglect some other things in my life to make the payments. The fridge has been on its last legs for a while, but I can’t afford to get a new one so I pay an unreliable Welsh technician to try to give it some new life. The water heater has been worked to death and in desperate need of service, but I roll the dice and hope it doesn’t crap out on me.

Things are going fine for the first year and a half of the four-year contract I signed when I acquired the car. Things are tight, but everything is working out, not to the extent I wanted — MI6 hasn’t reached out to me once, which was one of the main purposes of me acquiring the car in the first place — but my level of life has slightly improved. It’s at this point that disaster strikes, the COVID-19 pandemic starts and the crap hits the fan.

(Both in real life and in the metaphor, COVID-19 ruins everything. That’s a little thing I like to call realism.)

My salary gets cut in half due to the company facing financial hardships, which throws my plans completely out of whack. I still have to make the payments, so I’m getting more and more into debt to make them. This isn’t going to last forever, the company assures me, and things will be back to normal in no time. With that knowledge, I soldier on, knowing that the debt I’m accumulating will only be for a few months tops.

The pandemic continues, however, and there is no end in sight. At this point, I have record debt and my monthly income is hilariously ill equipped to handle all my monthly expenses. The fridge and water heater finally give in. Despite the car being as functioning as ever, the balance of my life makes no sense. My food is rotting and I’m taking cold ass showers every morning, this is an unsustainable situation.

People in my life point out that the car is the answer. It still has tremendous value on the market and you are sure that some rich French or English guy will pay fair money for it, not only that but you will get out from the insane monthly payments that you could barely afford in the best of circumstances. I don’t want to sell the car, I don’t want to bail on owning it, MI6 still hasn’t called and if I part with it now without achieving all that I wanted with it, the whole thing will be considered a failure.

Still, this is no time for ego, there are more important things to take care off. You’re catching colds from the freezing showers every morning for god’s sake. With some luck your salary will be back to normal later this year and the funds you’ll get from the sale of the car could go a long ways to fix all your broken down daily life appliances.

I sell the car as soon as possible — say, somewhere between early July and early September — while appreciating all the good times we had together. And, sure, some of the friends I made through the Aston Martin Fan Club will probably stop talking to me and my influencer revenue will disappear or diminish dramatically. As time passes I will recognize that I flew too close to the sun when acquiring my dream vehicle and that bad luck played a big role in the failure of my plan.

C’est la vie, I will ponder, hoping that with some luck and savvy spending I might take warm showers and eat fresh food again in no time, with little need of sketchy Welsh technicians in my life.

Anyway, Cristiano Ronaldo played poorly against Porto on Tuesday night.

Ranking Juventus defensive lapses from least to most egregious

4. Moussa Marega’s Goal in Portugal – Adrien Rabiot lackadaisically gives Marega all the space in the world, Demiral doesn’t get there on time and Wojciech Szczęsny does a piss poor job to stop a shot that is not particularly well struck. Insane this is the most defensible one.

3. Sergio Oliveira’s PK – It’s a soft PK, it’s also a correct PK and Demiral has to know better than to do that. At some point all the “youthful” errors Demiral does will just become errors. I’m not quite there yet, but we will get there at this rate.

2. Rodrigo Bentancur assisting Mehdi Taremi for the opener in the first leg – I have no words, just maybe don’t give it to a streaking opposing striker?

1. Sergio Oliveira’s Free Kick from the clouds –

It’s hard to find an instance in which just standing there while not doing anything would have literally solved all issues. Just don’t move and we might be talking of Juventus in the quarterfinals. Literally be a still, corporeal object — that’s all that was needed and they couldn’t do it.

Kit Ranking

Juventus v FC Porto - UEFA Champions League Round Of 16 Leg Two Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

There was a sense of déjà vu on the pitch Tuesday night against Porto and it wasn’t the fact that that an early PK gave all the momentum to the visiting side in a do or die matchup in Europe. It also wasn’t that Juventus ended up being eliminated by the away goal rule at home or that it was against a team that on paper they should have beat.

It was that they got bounced from this year’s Champions League, wearing the exact same kit that they wore when they got bounced in last year’s Champions League. Out of all the silly things the club and Adidas do marketing wise, debuting next seasons kit in the closing matches of the current season has always been one of the silliest.

Most of the time, it didn’t matter as they wore it in the last, usually meaningless game of Serie A for the trophy presentation. But, last year given all the COVID-related shenanigans, they wore it in the Champions League decider against Lyon, making this year’s home kit one of the few kits of the modern era to be worn in two heartbreaking exits from European competition.

I’d be fine if they decided to only wear their Halloween special and the blue kits the rest of the way. I don’t much believe in curses, but I root for Juventus so maybe there’s something to them.

Parting Shot of the Week

In the coming days, the onslaught of takes will be truly something to behold.

The blame will be put on Andrea Pirlo, on Cristiano Ronaldo, on the board led by Fabio Paratici and on anyone that has even the slightest influence in the club.

Some of it will be fair, some of it will not. It’s a little more than a week into March, so whatever changes happen will probably have to wait until the season is over. With that being said and like last year, the Maurizio Sarri firing was unjustified from my point of view after face planting against Lyon, I also believe that firing Pirlo would be a bad move. Successful clubs are usually not built by changing managers every season, and with no brand name superstar manager available, yet another firing would bring this club to square one again.

Here in Juventus land we are getting used to unceremonious exits from European competition. This isn’t something particularly new and I can count on one hand the people who legitimately thought this team was going all the way in the Champions League this year. If we are going to change that at some point it will be by having a carefully executed and planned out idea for organizational growth, not by splashy signings of superstars and reactionary changes in direction.

One thing I do feel pretty confident in predicting though is that if we thought last summer was wild, this one will make it look like child’s play.

See you Sunday.