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Manu’s Grab Bag: Losing Football

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We talk Pirlo’s job prospects, Ronaldo’s horrid form and how this team would fare on an Xbox.

Cristiano Ronaldo of Juventus FC reacts during the Serie A... Photo by Andrea Staccioli/Insidefoto/LightRocket via Getty Images

EIGHTEEN.

I’m no math wiz in any way shape or form, but considering that Juve currently trails Inter by 13 points it seems like we could really use those 18 points dropped at the moment.

Once the dust settles and we see *sigh* Inter lift the Serie A trophy at the end of the season, it’s going to be because of games like Sunday’s 1-1 draw against Fiorentina that they did so.

There’s no shame in losing against Inter like they did in January or losing against a good Atalanta team on a bad deflection. That happens, you can’t win all the time and those are solid squads. However, the most frustrating part of this season has been the death by paper cuts that we have seen as Juventus has consistently failed to get results against teams that by all intents and purposes they should be beating.

The worst part of this season is that in a way it’s very easy to see how it could have been avoided.

Let’s cook.

Winner: Alvaro Morata

Let’s start with the good, and that is that Morata — even when he’s not in the greatest form — is still a key player for Juventus as the only real target man upfront. Even if he’s not scoring like crazy as he did in the beginning of the season, the team needs him just for his fit in the lineup.

It ends up being a plus when he shows his not insignificant amount of talent like when he’s scoring goals like the one against Fiorentina which is a shot that very few people in the world can pull off.

His spot on next year’s team is very much in the air — as is the case for a good chunk of the team’s players and staff — but for what he brings to the table and considering his still pretty affordable loan renewal clause I struggle to see who they could bring in that is going to be better than Morata has been this year for that amount of money.

Morata is who he is at this point in his career — a dependable, sometimes great, if not superstar-caliber level striker — and considering the state of Juve’s squad, that is not the type of player they have in bunches and they should look into keeping him at least for next year.

Piemonte Calcio Football

Again and again, I keep coming back that this team would kick everybody’s ass on a video game console.

(Shoutout my former roommates who I used to whip day in and day out on FIFA, people don’t forget.)

You got names on names on names on this team. Good players on every line. Yet, they are good players that in conjunction are redundant and bad fits. There is no other way of putting it — this collection of players as currently constituted makes no sense.

This game was maybe the most glaring example of it in which the team put forth by far their worst 45 minutes of the season in the first half. You’ll find very few people that think that Cristiano Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala are not good attackers, yet they were completely anonymous because both of them play better with a traditional target man and neither of them can play that role.

I’ll say something controversial: I think Adrien Rabiot and Rodrigo Bentancur are actually good players. They are both dependable, box to box midfielders that have on occasion shown themselves to be really good, but playing them together makes no sense and when left alone to hold the midfield they have failed spectacularly to do so.

On Sunday, the entire strategy for the first half seemed to rely on the three center backs passing the ball between them with an occasional long range pass that went nowhere thrown in because as soon as the midfield got involved you could count on them committing a turnover immediately.

(Aaron Ramsey gave a masterclass on uselessness as playing with 10 men might have actually been beneficial to the team instead of having him out there. I want him gone from the club as much as the next guy, but who on earth is giving Juventus anything for him at this point? Not even the much maligned Sami Khedira — unfairly maligned might, I add — had shifts as bad as what Ramsey puts forth on a consistent basis.)

This Juve roster is like assembling a puzzle without the reference image, but they also gave you pieces from a different puzzle that look exactly the same. You can sort of imagine how it could fit together, but every time you try you find out there are odd, weird pieces that fit nowhere that only keep tripping you up.

Loser: Andrea Pirlo

Tell you what. I would have loved to see a 3-5-2 somewhere around August 2020.

To line up Leo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini and Matthijs de Ligt together in the same backline is pretty solid, and with Juan Cuadrado and Federico Chiesa — in this hypothetical August 2020 scenario he’s not injured and on Juve’s roster a month early — you’d have some real threats on the wings. It’s not an idea without merit it’s my point.

However, with only six games remaining on the schedule — five Serie A and the Coppa Italia final — and your job very much on the line, perhaps it wasn’t a super idea to trot out a new formation in a key match now was it, Mister?

With new reports signaling that Pirlo’s continuity will be decided depending upon his qualification to the Champions League to try an experiment like this when that qualification is anything but certain is an insane gamble to make. A gamble that decidedly did not pan out as Juve played their worst half of the season — and that’s saying something! — and barely rescued a point.

To his credit, Pirlo made the necessary changes as soon as possible and with some better finishing luck they could have pulled off the result. Still, it falls solely on his shoulders that the team was losing in the first place, and while cleaning up your own mistake does get you some credit, that doesn’t mean you still didn’t mess up.

Much like the whole club, it seems like the Pirlo as a coach takes one step forward and two back. Given the conditions he took the team over, his inexperience, their horrid luck all season long and the fact that there is no other enticing possibilities out there at the moment, I’m still of the belief that he should be given another year in charge. But these are the types of games and decisions that really make me question the long term viability of him as the coach of the team.

(The Max Allegri rumors are completely non-existent and are just lazy attempts to sell more newspapers and get social media clout. CHANGE MY MIND.)

Loser: Cristiano Ronaldo

Does he have to play every game?

I get that Juve right now doesn’t have a ton of depth in that forward line and that if he’s fit as a manager with that aforementioned lack of depth it’s just easier to play him every game and live with the results.

(The press already makes a massive fuss over every single dumb thing the guy does, imagine if he was benched for a game?)

So, yeah, I get that in a practical, real-world sense he will continue to play every game. With that being said, goddamn, do I wish that was not the case. He has been on a brutal stretch of form the last few weeks, and this game might have been the worst one.

Not only did he miss a header that would have signified the win but he was overall a complete black hole where possessions went to die. Whatever he is going through — tiredness, injury, whatever it might be — he is clearly not enjoying his football at the moment and the team is suffering from it.

Dybala didn’t light the world on fire, don’t get me wrong, but he at least showed something in Juve’s only dangerous play of the first half. (Which Ramsey missed spectacularly because of course he did, the man might be the worst finisher that I have ever seen at the club.)

Would a Morata-Dybala combination have provided better results? Maybe, maybe not, but we can’t ever figure it out because Ronaldo has to start every game despite his actual, current form and even if he’s a net negative on the team at the moment.

Force feeding Ronaldo has brought a lot more good than it has brought bad, but when it’s bad — and to his credit it’s been sparingly so — it’s really bad.

Parting Shot of the Week

There’s six games left — counting the Coppa Italia final — in this godforsaken season and the only thing I want is for it to be over already.

If we thought last season was a bit of a grind this one proved to be just as much if not even more so only with worst results to show for it. However, it is worth remembering this team does have one trophy to play for and while most years the Coppa Italia is usually not something that the club or the fans care much for it still matters.

Champions League qualification, Supercoppa and Coppa Italia wins are not the standard for this club generally, but it would be a banner season for like 90% of Italian clubs and for Juve this year it might be a nice consolation prize given everything that has gone down.

Let’s hope they can pull it off.

See you Sunday,