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Manu’s Grab Bag: Dented Crown

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We talk the Johnny Square experience, Giorgio looking old and the VAR show.

Juventus v FC Internazionale - Serie A Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

Say what you will about Juventus this season, but when it was all said and done they ended up recording two wins, a draw and a loss against the newly-crowned Italian champions.

Italian champs in spirit? Not quite, but in Saturday’s insane 3-2 win against Inter Milan, Juventus showed a good measure of a fighting spirit in their still-mathematically alive search for Champions League football next season.

In a game that was extremely depressing considering the early season hype for it when we thought this could end up deciding the Serie A title, the Bianconeri showed that they could still get up for a big match against their biggest rival.

If nothing else, Juventus could have just rolled over and died, but they didn’t. Again, given the bar that this team has set up for themselves, that's worth celebrating.

Let’s cook.

MVP: Juan Cuadrado

Good old Johnny Square. I’m happy more and more people are finally giving the man his due. As sometimes maddening his Juve career has been, this was the season that he’s put it all together. The gaudy assists numbers alone and the way the team looked without him are proof enough of how important he is, but this is the kind of game that he took over and won almost singlehandedly.

The go-ahead rocket from the outside the area was a pretty decent imitation of the other time he scored a goal like that against Inter and the last-gasp PK that gave Juve the win is all him as he lulls Ivan Perisic into a dumb tackle to gain the PK itself and then converted with aplomb to secure a key win for his side.

Federico Chiesa is the future of this team on the right flank, but Cuadrado is still the present.

Runner Up: Matthijs de Ligt - Was absolutely everywhere for this team and handled the Lautaro Martinez assignment fantastically. As long as he dons the black and white stripes, there’s a solid foundation from where to build this team.

Season Leader: Cristiano Ronaldo (13 Points)

VAR Controversy of the Week

Oh, boy, where does one start?

In a game that was completely taken over by referee Gianpaolo Calvarese, it’s impossible to talk about the result without talking about the refereeing calls that influenced it so much.

I honestly don’t have much of a problem with all of the PKs that got called. The call over Lautaro Martinez for Inter’s first goal was very soft, yes, but he kinda called soft fouls all game long so I at least got to give it to him for consistency’s sake. Also, VAR is now used mostly to see if there is any contact at all instead of enough contact to warranty a foul. It sucks, but VAR sucks. And, in my opinion, both penalty kicks awarded to Juve were the correct calls also.

I think the only truly ghastly decision is the second yellow card to Rodrigo Bentancur — that for the life of me I just can’t see how in any way shape or form that foul is worthy of a (second) yellow card. Especially when Bentancur was already carded. Baffling call that affected the game in a huge way in the second half as Juve was being the better team up to that moment.

As an aside, that’s just the type of season Bentancur is having, huh? Even when it’s not his fault he gets the short end of the stick. That’s one dude that cannot wait to see this season come to an end.

Father Time Strikes Again

Chalk this game up as probably the last game of the Giorgio Chiellini vs. Romelu Lukaku rivalry, and unfortunately the only one that Lukaku got the W over the veteran defender.

While he’s not a liability by any means, I think these last few games have started to show the cracks for Chiellini as he just looked one step behind all game long. Also aided by the fantastic game de Ligt had, you could decidedly tell who was the better player in that center back duo.

The exclamation point was Chiellini’s own goal, which was at first disallowed by the referee as a foul but later on awarded as a goal for Inter. Initially, I agreed that it looked kinda like a foul, but once the VAR review slowed it down it was clear that Chiellini was just holding on for dear life from Lukaku’s shirt as he tried to stop him by any means necessary.

(Yet, another call that was VAR reviewed and in my opinion, they got it right.)

Nobody beats time and with Chiellini’s future very much in the balance, this is the type of game that makes you think that maybe a changing of the guard might not be the worst idea ever.

Burning the Ships

We all kinda assume at this point that Andrea Pirlo is probably getting fired at the end of the season and that the team will play Europa League next year. However, if you feel inclined to believe what the Juve brass has actually said out loud and think that they will stick with Pirlo if he manages to make it into the Champions League, this game was essentially Pirlo coaching for his managerial life.

I do think he realized this by pulling the trigger in the second half by substituting Cristiano Ronaldo for Alvaro Morata. On its face and by what was happening on the field, this shouldn’t be a huge call. Ronaldo wasn’t setting the world on fire up until that point — he even missed a PK, despite being able to slot in the rebound — and Morata is a better striker when it comes to holding the ball, counterattacking and playing with his back against the goal. Considering that Juve was in full-on hold-the-fort mode, it tactically made all the sense in the world to do this sub.

Still, this was a big deal because it’s Ronaldo and all he represents. The guy never gets subbed out, ever, even if he's playing poorly, even if it makes sense to do it. The guy just doesn’t get subbed out.

My reading of it was Pirlo deciding that if he gets fired so be it, but if there is a slight chance to keep his job he’ll pull all the stops to do it. I still think he will end up being sacked, even if Juve pull off the miracle and make it to the Champions League, but he will at least go on his shield.

Parting Shot of the Week

I gotta tell you, champions or not, Inter choking away a win against Juve in the closing moments will never get old.

I’d also be pretty excited about the prospects of the team if this win had happened in the earlier matchup against Inter instead of the last one against a team with nothing to play for. Still, after Inter’s initial romp over Juve in January, the Bianconeri managed to stay unbeaten against the eventual winners of the league title.

It was too little and too late and further proof that this Juve team didn’t lose the title against the big guns, but by dropping so many points to team they should have never done so.

Up next, Juve’s last chance to add to their silverware cabinet this season with the Coppa Italia final against Atalanta coming up on Wednesday. How about giving us one last thing to be happy about this year, huh?

See you Wednesday.