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Manu’s Grab Bag: Breaks of the Game

We talk football being unfair, unlikely captains and it feels like 2017.

Fiorentina v Juventus - Coppa Italia Photo by Carlo Bressan/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

All you need to know about this game can be neatly summarized by the extremely generously named “highlight” video that the Juventus official YouTube channel uploaded after the Bianconeri’s unlikely 1-0 win over Fiorentina in the first leg of the Coppa Italia semifinals.

That’s barely three minutes, including the intros of the teams and a number of replays of the few plays that were deemed notorious enough to be included in the video. Plays which mostly include Jonathan Ikone continuously eating Mattia De Sciglio’s lunch in space and shooting at the Juventus goal.

(It’s an ironically enjoyable watch, that video, which Juventus features exactly four offensive plays in the whole thing. Only one which is sort of dangerous — Dusan Vlahovic’s chip attempt — with the rest being Fiorentina attacks and the last 45 seconds are just replays of the lucky own goal deflection, making it in essence barely two minutes of “highlights”. Sometimes you don't need to post, Juve YouTube channel.)

If you watched that video and stopped at the two-minute mark, you’d be forgiven for assuming the game ended in a dull, gritty draw, but in a break that Juventus seemed to have missing for the better part of two years the reigning Coppa Italia champs come back to Turin with a slight lead in their semifinal tie.

Let’s cook.

MVP: Danilo

That is Juventus captain and game MVP, Danilo, thank you very much.

Not to relitigate the whole Joao Cancelo debate since at this point the discourse lies in two camps — either Juventus got swindled and they let go one of the best fullbacks in the world or Juventus got a coup getting good money from a guy who is barely a functioning football player.

But the one thing I believe both sides can agree on is that Danilo was seen at best as a decent rotation player and at worst a financial throw-in that was destined to have little impact on the team as he had before in his stints in Real Madrid and Manchester City.

Expectations were not high for the Brazilian international, is my point. However, he has been for the most part a dependable, Swiss-Army-knife kind of player for Juventus that wherever deployed has performed adequately and at times even exceeded expectations like his shift against Fiorentina in which he was a huge part of the reason the makeshift Juve backline got a clean sheet.

He honestly looked like a natural in that three-man defense, playing in a hybrid role, similar to the one he performed in a number of occasions on last year under Andrea Pirlo. Given his initial perceived ceiling was “maybe he’ll get some sub minutes here and there,” the fact he’s anchoring Juve’s defense and even getting the captain armband is an incredible result for the guy.

Runner Up: Matthijs de Ligt - Just as impressive as Danilo, but giving the aforementioned player the MVP points because he was playing out of position. de Ligt has been a rock since the year turned to 2022. You love to see it.

Grab Bag MVP Season Leader: Paulo Dybala (15 Points)

Loser: Football

For whatever reason, the football meme industrial complex has latched on to the above image of a seemingly exhausted Zinedine Zidane smoking as the accompanying graphic whenever a haughty, overbearing — but eminently basic — football take is put out into the world.

And because my brain — as the brain of almost everyone who spends too much time online — is broken, it was the first thing that was on my mind when the late Juan Cuadrado cross/shot got deflected by Fiorentina defender Lorenzo Venuti’s humanity and barely trickled into the net to seal the loss for the home team.

Football isn’t fair, and ... insert cigarette emoji and Zidane pic here

And look, of course it wasn’t the “fair” result. Fiorentina took advantage of Juve’s depleted lineup and ostensibly played a better game. Both by counting stats and the eye test, if there was going to be a winner in this match, it should have been Fiorentina.

Then again, that is not something unique to this game. How many times have we said the very same thing about our team? They did enough to win but didn’t? I mean that happens all the time.

Hell, you want to take it a step further and one of the biggest reasons we are talking about a late-season surge for Juventus is because the club happens to be owned by a multi-billion dollar conglomerate that decided to acquire — from Fiorentina — one of the most highly-touted strikers in the world. Is that fair? Of course it isn’t.

Perfect Zidane meme moment on Wednesday.

(Also, I just wanted to shoutout that image, it is so funny to me for whatever reason. My guy looks freaking done with everything.)

Winner: Allegriball

Say what you will about the beleaguered Max Allegri, but when the cards are down and you are pushed to having to start an Under-23 kid for the first time ever, the guy is going to find a way to get the result.

(Also, tough, tough first start for Marley Ake. It’s hard to tell if the kid is going to be worth a damn for Juventus, but to be thrown out there in one of the most hostile environments Juve will play this year and in a position that is not a natural fit it was always going to be an uphill battle for him. I don’t think he will stick around, but I’d at least like to see him get a fair shot sometime.)

It wasn’t pretty, it was barely watchable in fact, but in a game in which they just managed to field a full team of senior lever players, I think everyone and their mother has to be pretty content with the result that Juventus managed to rescue from Firenze.

I’m not the first to make this reference, but this did feel like an early Allegri era win for Juventus. Completely undermanned, gritted teeth, ugly stylistically, probably undeserved but a win nevertheless.

Parting Shot of the Week

Don't look now, but...

Is this just as much about the clubs above Juventus dropping points left and right? Yes. Is it still mighty unlikely they actually mount a late comeback? Also, yes.

Still, the facts are the facts, Juve is in their better stretch of form since Allegri took over and they are now one draw at home away from making it to the Coppa Italia final once again and closing the gap in Serie A.

Given the barrage of injuries the team is currently operating under, I can’t in good faith ask for anything more from the guy at this point.

See you Sunday.