clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Manu’s Grab Bag: Europa Calling

We talk the return of Freddy Church, Europa Dreaming and the scrappy, makeshift Juve.


There wasn’t really a lot at stake in this game.

Juventus had already been eliminated from Champions League contention with their loss against Benfica a week ago, and considering that the very same Portuguese side destroyed Macabbi Haifa to gift wrap Juventus’ Europa League spot on Wednesday night, this was exactly the type of game that we’ve seen this team sleep walk through many times before.

So, consider me shocked that Juventus managed something truly unbelievable on the final day of the Champions League group stage. No, not win — get out of here with that. Juventus’ 2-1 defeat at the hands of Paris Saint-Germain helped secure one of their worst showings in Europe’s premier club competition. But they did manage something that has been in far shorter supply this season:


A supremely shorthanded Juve team was forced to start a makeshift lineup that somehow provided one of the best performances we’ve seen this season. Football is not about who deserves it more, but despite the result I was left with a decent feeling after watching Juventus play, which is a low bar, I’ll admit, but we take what we can get at this point.

Let’s cook.

LVP: Federico Gatti

You know how everyone was super pumped about the extraordinary story of Federico Gatti when the season started? The part-time footballer who suddenly found himself signing for the biggest club in Italy? Well, turns out as good a story as that is, maybe letting him mark the best player on the planet 1-on-1 is still a bridge too far for the former bricklayer.

I’m being harsh on Gatti. While he did get absolutely bodied by Kylian Mbappe on PSG’s opening goal early in the first half, he bounced back well enough and arguably looked better than his first Champions League start against Benfica. But in a game in which nobody looked that bad, I had to give it to the guy who had by far the most embarrassing moment.

Better defenders have tried and failed to mark Mbappe, so there’s no shame in it, but I’m sure that’s a moment that the young defender would like to forget.

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

The Silver Lining

Juventus is not out of the Champions League this year because they lost this game. They are out because they lost to a Maccabi side that every other team in the group blew out of the water and because they got consistently dominated against a legit Benfica side. Like I said above, the result of this game didn’t matter, but man, maybe Juve deserved a bit more than what they got in this one, no?

I know xG is kind of a flawed stat, but sometimes it’s nice to have some evidence of the eye test. Juve outshot PSG and was arguably the better team for large stretches of time as the Parisian side struggled to adapt against the shocking Bianconeri press.

Both Nicolo Fagioli and Fabio Miretti — the much-ballyhooed and hyped Juve prospects — started, and while not perfect looked eager to make an impression — which, to their credit, they did. Perhaps that rubbed the rest of the team some shape way or form as everyone suddenly looked feistier than ever.

Filip Kostic routinely gave Achraf Hakimi the business on the left flank, Juan Cuadrado managed to turn back the clock a little bit on the offensive side of the ball — before getting cooked for a goal in the second half, but you can't ask for everything — and Adrien Rabiot continued his impressive run of form and even Leo Bonucci scored a goal.

However, the man who was head and shoulders a standout was Manuel Locatelli who looked every bit of the superstar midfielder that Juventus paid for. Again, nobody wants to celebrate a loss, but is it crazy to say that I feel slightly more optimistic after this loss than in many of Juve’s grindfests of wins against Serie A minnows?

This means, once again, nothing until we can see Max Allegri and his squad put good performances consistently but in a season in which fun moments can be counted with one hand Miretti, Fagioli, Locatelli and company taking it to one of the best teams in Europe was as good as it gets.

So, you’re in the Europa League...

First off...

BANGER. Undeniable banger.

Look, it’s no secret that I’ve campaigned for this happening for a good while. Almost exclusively because I’m a fan of novelty and the last time that Juventus played in Europa League was 2013 when they made the semifinals and got bounced by ... freakin’ Benfica.

Also, have you seen the Champions League teams that are going to Europa League? Ajax! Barcelona! Sevilla! Bayer Leverkusen! Plus, Manchester United, Arsenal and PSV Eindhoven already qualified for the round of 16. This is kind of a banger Europa League knockout round.

Do I think we are winning the whole damn thing? No, not really, but I do see us having a decent shot of at least advancing through a couple of rounds, and considering that this team can use every win that they can get it feels like for vibes alone this can be a good thing for Juventus.

And if you could, for a second, imagine a miracle run to Budapest and the final — can you seriously tell me you wouldn’t get hyped for it? What if they won and they actually get to lift European silverware for the first time in almost 30 years?

Again, it’s unlikely! I’m not saying it isn't, but it’s a significantly more imaginable scenario than the other European trophy that has eluded the team for years. If for nothing more than novelty and excitement I will enjoy Juve’s Europa run. With some measure of hope that is a long one.

(Also, neither here nor there, the Europa League trophy is cooler than the Champions League. You can drink from it which immediately puts it a level above the clunky big eared cup and is heavier and taller so in my book that makes it more significant. It has a bunch of mini flags on the bottom too, with detailed engravings of players. It’s a dope cup, I’d rather have that cup.)

Return of Fede

Not like I was going to finish the piece without mentioning the long-awaited return of Federico Chiesa. After 10 months of being out injured, the star winger finally got to see the field coming on as a sub late in the second half.

While every single time he touched the ball he made me extremely nervous, he looked lively as ever in his first real action minutes of the season.

(I loved that he tried to shoot it pretty much every time he had the ball. That’s the Chiesa we know and love, always doing the absolute most.)

My guess is they’ll play it slow with his return, so I doubt he gets a lot of minutes — if any — agains Inter during the weekend. But any team with Federico Chiesa on it is a better, grittier, more joyful and more fun team. Juventus is in desperate need of all of those things.

Parting Shot of the Week

Despite the relative good vibes of the last game, make no mistake about it, this was a complete disaster for Juventus. Crashing out of the group stage with all of three points to their name is by far the lowest point for the Bianconeri in continental competition in a solid ten years.

At least it’s over now and Juventus can focus their efforts in making some ground in domestic league play before the World Cup.

The 2022-23 Champions League is over. Let us never speak of it again.

See you Sunday.