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Manu’s Grab Bag: Gritty, Grimy, Ugly Win

We talk the resurgent Moise Kean, the VAR Karmic Ledger and a suddenly rosier outlook for Juventus.

Hellas Verona v Juventus - Serie A Photo by Daniele Badolato - Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images

This game was as ugly as its midweek, middle-of-the-goddamn-work-day kickoff time. You could make the case that it was more of the same unappealing, discombobulated football that we have seen so many times from Juve in this first half of the season.

There was a key difference though. Unlike the many — many — bottle jobs that the Bianconeri authored early in the year, this one ended up with three points going home to Turin.

Yes, you are not going to find many people praising the display that Juventus and Hellas Verona had in Thursday night’s matchup at the Bentegodi. But, at the end of the day, the suddenly resurgent Juve won by a 1-0 scoreline and finds themselves in the top four with second place in the league all of two points away.

With only one game to go before the World Cup break, this is a scenario that everyone would have taken not a month ago.

Let’s cook.

MVP: Moise Kean

Give my man his roses.

He was just as ugly as every other offensive player in the field for the visiting team, but he put in the dirty work and when the chips were down the young Italian made it count to score the winning — and only — goal.

Sure, there was a measure of luck in the shot as it was deflected and then almost swatted away by Hellas Verona keeper Lorenzo Montipo, but that doesn't take away from the great move he made to get himself open in space and in general of the workmanlike good shift he put in. Kean is still far from a reliable, day-in and day-out striker, but he is also far from the unplayable mess he was at times last year and earlier this very same season.

Sometimes you just have to appreciate the incremental improvement for what it is. It was good seeing Kean enjoying himself after the goal with his trademark dancing celebrations. Hopefully the good vibes continue.

Runner Up: Bremer - Another excellent outing from the Brazilian international as he shored up the defense and was a big part of why Juventus left Verona with a clean sheet. He’s finding the form that made him the best defender in the league last season with Torino and he couldn’t have found a better moment for it.

Grab Bag MVP Season Leader: Dusan Vlahovic (10 Points)

Win Poker

This wasn’t the most enjoyable 90 minutes of football that have ever been broadcast over network television. With that being said, three points go a long way towards making you forget that.

And with the win, quietly but surely, Juventus is now the most in-form team in Italy — tied with Napoli — with a five-game win streak and some legit momentum to close out the first semester of football in the 2022-23 season.

Has everything been peaches? Of course not, but this was a team that couldn’t beat the likes of Monza not that long ago. While this performance is not necessarily lightyears away from that faithful game, at least they are winning ugly rather than losing ugly, which is by all intents and purposes an improvement.

This team is still shockingly injured, and are playing essentially every three days. Not every performance is going to be a virtuoso one, but as long as they can keep getting the job done, I’m not going to complain too much about an ugly victory in a tough place to play like the Bentegodi.

(Fun fact, one of the very few places where Juventus has a negative record!)

Of course, there was a significant factor in making those three points a reality...

VAR Controversy of the Week

Everybody’s favorite segment is back!

I’ve tried not to harp too much on VAR this season, but the shocking decisions made by the refs in this game loom large and we have to discuss them in this space.

I mean, I get it, Hellas. I do. I’d feel absolutely knifed if that wasn’t called a PK for my team.

No ifs or buts about it — it’s unbelievable that the above play wasn’t called for a penalty. It doesn’t really matter if the ball was a deflection or not. Or if it’s unintentional, which for the record I think it was. We’ve seen time and time again these plays being called for PKs this season, but for whatever reason referee Marco Di Bello not only missed it, but didn’t even tried to go to the replays to watch it.

(It was just last weekend Danilo got shafted out of a goal by a tightly-regulated handball call, so I guess in the karmic balance, he’s now even in the ledger)

The second VAR call that waved away yet another potential PK call for the home side is more defensible, but just barely so. Sure, Leo Bonucci makes slight contact with the ball before going studs up on the Verona player inside the box, but there’s a reasonable argument to be made that you could call that one a foul and very few people would have batted an eye.

Hell, even with the replay, couldn’t you call that play a PK due to reckless play?

Juve have lost points due to ghastly VAR call — remember the Salernitana game? — so I guess in a sense they were due for the great VAR equalizer to swing their way for once. It still leaves a bad taste in the mouth for football fans to realize that the people in charge of managing the game and enforcing the rules are so legitimately bad their jobs.

Parting Shot of the Week

Don’t look now, but with a win over Lazio on Sunday and some other results going their way in the last match day of the calendar year, Juve could be as high as second in the league table and within single digits of league leaders Napoli.

(Sure, that would mean that both AC Milan and Napoli lose in the upcoming weekend, but why not dream? Even if those two teams get results, Juve could be as high as third.)

This season has been by and large disappointing but that’s honestly not a terrible place to be given how the season started and some of the low points that the team has gone through recently.

Let’s not get any crazy ideas yet, but win this weekend and perhaps the outlook is not as bad as we once thought it would be.

See you Sunday.