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Manu’s Grab Bag: On-field W. Off-field L.

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We talk Matthijs de Ligt, Ronaldo and his epic struggle against free kicks, Juan Cuadrado and the aftermath of the Super League.

Juventus v Parma Calcio - Serie A Photo by Massimiliano Ferraro/NurPhoto via Getty Images

After the whirlwind week we just had here in Juventus land, you’d be excused if you had forgotten that football was something that’s actually played on a field instead of a board room.

Amid all the controversy that emanated from the Super League debacle, Juve was scheduled to play Parma in a midweek fixture. And despite how deliciously ironic it would have been for the Super League-bound Bianconeri to lose against a close to relegated Parma squad, the still reigning champs handled their business with a comfortable 3-1 victory over I Crociati.

In a match day that saw AC Milan drop points, it was imperative that Juve got three points to keep pace in the Champions League race — and they delivered the goods. Because, as it turns out, we do still need the Champions League after all!

Let’s cook.

MVP: Matthijs de Ligt

Was as good as it gets defensively as he was a stonewall all game long. The stats alone are impressive — eight clearances and eight aerial duels — but they don’t tell the full story of how dominating he was as he looked every bit of the generational defensive talent he is.

For good measure he added the third goal of the evening with a thunderous header off a corner kick and an assist thanks to his savvy playmaking on the box for Alex Sandro’s opener.

Because of Juve’s general dysfunction since he arrived, de Ligt has lost some shine in the world football community, but he is truly one of the best defenders alive right now. And he will only get better. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, put a blank check in front of him, whatever he asks for double it and sign him for the next ten years of his career.

Runner Up: Alex Sandro – The much-maligned Sandro got himself a brace and had an overall impressive shift. He might have been lackluster these last couple of years but yesterday was a showcase of what he can be on a good day.

Season Leader(s): Cristiano Ronaldo and Federico Chiesa (12 Points)

Winner: Juan Cuadrado

The Square Man barely got edged out by his teammates for some Grab Bag points, but that’s more to de Ligt being an alien and Sandro having quite literally a career day.

Still, I’d be remiss if I didn’t throw some love on our Colombian friend who once again proved fundamental for this team in the attack. He chipped in two more assists to his season long tally of 15 (!!!) overall.

With Federico Chiesa out with injury it was even more important that we got a good Cuadrado performance and he was up to the task. I still maintain that Chiesa is more dangerous when he lines up on the right, but as his recent performances before the injury have shown he’s looking better and better from the left. And that’s good because right now, Juventus is a better team with Juan Cuadrado than without him and if you can line up Chiesa and Cuadrado in the same lineup it gives you the best chance of winning.

Winner: Paulo Dybala

He still couldn’t manage a full 90 minutes, but he was significantly better from a stamina perspective than he was against Atalanta when he faded dramatically after a solid first half.

Not only did he not fade late, but he was constantly a threat to the Parma backline, finding himself in dangerous situations all game long. A bit unlucky to not get a goal in the second half — with his right leg, no less! — it was a good performance that bodes well for himself and for Juventus in the last stretch of the season.

Juventus is a better team with Paulo Dybala than without him. Lost in all the drama regarding his situation with the club that remains a fact.

Cristiano Ronaldo vs. Free Kicks

Ronaldo is a lot of things.

One of the best players to ever play the game, a deadly striker, a relentless competitor, a goal scoring machine, the shill to end all shills and an underwear salesman.

The one thing he is not, however, is an asset for Juventus in anything that is even remotely related to a free kick. We all know by now his ghastly record as a shooter in those instances — with one goal in what I’m roughly estimating at 2,634 attempts — but now he’s been actively harmful while defending free kicks too.

First it was the Porto game in which he was part of a piece of performance art with his teammates where they dared to imagine how to be less useful defending than an inert piece of driftwood.

And now we got this neat showing:

Why he decided that the best course of action here was to do his best impersonation of a can-can dancer is beyond me. Though I do give him credit for showing a remarkable amount of flexibility to get his leg that high, in my humble opinion he would have been better served by jumping with the rest of his teammates. But what do I know, I’m a guy on the internet and he’s the all-time leading scorer.

Still, when you suck so bad at something as simple as being in the wall of a free kick that your coach gets asked about it in his press conference it might be time to reconsider your current method.

Crazy Rich Idiots

Two days.

The European Super League lasted two whole days. We went from panicking about the future of the footballing world to laughing along at the fact that for a moment on Wednesday all three Italian Super League teams were losing to mid to low table opposition.

The most generous reading of the events is that the clubs involved in this remarkably short-lived attempt to break away on their own is that they misread the response this would receive from their own fans and once they realized their own supporters were against it they decided to shut it down for good.

The alternative is that these rich assholes buffoons — one of whom runs the club that I love more than a not insignificant amount of my relatives — genuinely thought that they could build a closed off Super League of their own that would make them even wealthier than they already are while consolidating themselves — through no sporting merit of their own — as the eminent football super power for the conceivable future as everyone else in the world just stood there and cheered them on.

Because they had to, had to, know that FIFA and UEFA would not go along with it. They had to know that their domestic organizations would not merrily accept it and that the clubs that were not involved in the Super League, both big — Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and Paris Saint-Germain — and small — literally everyone else — would fight this to the death.

Because if they really thought that would be the case they proved to be even more oblivious than we thought. Perhaps more oblivious that any person alive in the world right now, up to and including infants that believe that you have stolen their nose right from their face.

All I know is that Juventus and the rest of the Dirty Dozen — a way too cool nickname for such a lame attempt at rebellion, in my opinion — sacrificed a whole heck of a lot of goodwill, reputation, standing, influence and overall acceptance for what amounted to 48 hours of being called rats on Twitter by the world at large. The kicker is that they managed to make UEFA and FIFA — two notoriously corrupt, fundamentally broken organizations — look like the heroes of this embarrassing episode and can now forever claim a moral high ground over our beloved club.

In a year in which Juventus got bounced in the round of 16 of the Champions League for the second year in a row, failed to beat Benevento home and away and will finish woefully far from the top of the Serie A table for the first time in a decade, the most embarrassing thing this club did took place from Sunday to Tuesday and away from the pitch.

If I didn’t know any better, I’d say that this is yet another example of people’s personal wealth not being linked to their overall intelligence or business acumen. But what do I know? I’m looking forward to Andrea Agnelli’s master plan to rebuild Juventus for next year.

Parting Shot of the Week

As we get our bearings again after the madness of the last few days, we find ourselves now in an actually really interesting fight to the finish for Champions League football next year.

With four teams — AC Milan, Atalanta, Napoli and Juventus — vying for three spots and only a handful of matches left what looked like a drag to the finish will turn into a fight for Europe in the last month and change of the season.

Up next Juve face Fiorentina and like every game until the end of the season, it’s a must win.

See you Sunday.