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Manu’s Grab Bag: Play the Hits

We talk reinforcements, style points and breaking droughts.

Juventus v Spezia Calcio - Serie A Photo by Chris Ricco/Getty Images

Do you know who Larry Tesler is?

While the name might not ring a bell immediately, he is a part of most people’s everyday life. Tesler was a computer scientist who came up with one of the most-used computer functionalities for the everyday working man that there is. Hell, if you have ever worked any sort of job that requires the use of a computer, I can almost guarantee that you have him to thank for one of the most useful tools on the book: the copy and paste commands.

Juventus played their game against Spezia on Sunday in a way that would make the late Tesler proud. Juventus pretty much copied and pasted their winning Coppa Italia performance to come away with a 1-0 victory that had very little to get excited about, but that in the end was as effective as one could have hoped

Hey, and what is the copy and paste function if not just effective, frugal and straightforward? Just like Max Allegri likes it.

Let’s cook.

MVP: Manuel Locatelli

Possibly the only good thing to come out of the recent injury crisis for Juventus is that Allegri has been forced to play Manuel Locatelli in a more advanced role in the midfield.

We have gone ad nauseum about this particular squabble with Juve’s manager, and I understand that you could fill several encyclopedias worth of the football knowledge that Allegri has that I don’t. I understand that in a vacuum.

But the move seemed to be so simple, just there for the making especially with Arthur’s semi-revival and Denis Zakaria’s signing. But for whatever reason, Locatelli remained stuck in that holding midfielder position that seemed to take a very good player into just a good one.

While this wasn’t a virtuoso performance by any means, it was one of the better showings the Italian has had in a second, helping the team with an assist and a number of dangerous possessions and passes. He was, for all intents and purposes, the only creative force the team had in a game that mostly lacked a lot of offensive punch from the depleted Bianconeri.

With the recent news that Weston McKennie will be out for the rest of the season, I really, really hope that Locatelli’s positioning has been moved up to stay because Juve will need someone like him come the business end of the season.

Runner Up: Alvaro Morata - Breaking the scoring drought in style! Despite having some of his better performances recently, he had been missing that scoring tally. No better moment to break the duck than now for the Spanish international. He missed a sitter late in the second half but what you going to do? Morata is what Morata is after all.

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

Cavalry Incoming

It’s almost a war movie cliché now.

Our beleaguered heroes are almost defeated, numbers dwindling, spirits down and out. They requested reinforcements days, weeks, months ago but there is still no sign of anyone coming to help them.

Suddenly when it looks like all hope is lost they receive a respite in the form a few friendly soldiers who arrive almost by happenstance. Our heroes ask the newcomers some form of the following exchange:

“Where are the reinforcements?”

“WE are the reinforcements.”

I imagine something like that when Bianconeri fans all over the world saw that Juventus was getting a couple guys from the injury list back for this fixture and those two guys ended up being ... Daniele Rugani and Federico Bernardeschi. That’s Juve’s fourth-choice center back and third-turned-to-second-choice winger — hooray!

I joke because we know the checkered Juve history that both of these guys have. To be fair, Rugani was as welcome addition as any given that Juventus was playing with literally one healthy center back for the last few games. And to continue being fair to Rugani, he played very well, maintaining his pre-injury form as an average to good center defender which I can tell you I did not see coming.

(Seriously, imagine saying to yourself when the season started that Rugani playing minutes at any point in big March games was going to be a good thing?)

Bernardeschi on the other hand ... well, my guy got yellow carded minutes after coming on and got himself suspended for the next game, making his return significantly less impactful or positive than Rugani’s.

For a guy who's contract is about to run out, not a great look, I would say.

Winner: Grit and Grind Juve

Juventus faced Spezia with 14 senior members of the team. Eleven starting, four on the bench and of those four players we are counting the two backup keepers — Carlo Pinsoglio and Mattia Perin — essentially making Allegri’s in game sub choices pretty freaking easy all of a sudden.

And yet, despite those devastatingly thin options, Juve somehow, someway manages to keep getting results. It’s not pretty, it’s not flashy. I gotta tell you, it’s awful as hell, I found no pleasure in watching those 90 minutes, but goddamn they got the three points and the W against Fiorentina in the Coppa and they are somehow unbeaten in their last 14 games, so consider me pretty impressed.

At some point, all football seasons become marathons. You are bruised and tired and want to just quit, but there is something to be said for just putting one foot in front of the other and keep getting it done. Say what you will about Juventus right now, but they are within striking distance of the top three and have managed to put a little distance between themselves and the rest of the teams vying for the Champions League spots.

Given this team was a mid-table team for almost the entirety of the first half of the season and the shocking lack of depth that they have at the moment, this is as good as it could possibly get.

Parting Shot of the Week

I watched two football games this weekend: Juventus vs. Spezia on Sunday and my beloved Puebla FC vs. Cruz Azul on Saturday night.

Both games were won by the teams I root for, yet, both wins felt hollow given the events that had transpired earlier on Saturday in another Liga MX game between Atlas FC and Queretaro.

If you have not seen the news, during that game, opposing “fan” groups called barras violently clashed in the stadium bringing an end to the game as visiting fans had to invade the pitch to get away from the violence happening in the stands. The stories, images and videos that have come out since have been completely horrifying in every way. There are stories of women and children having to remove their visiting kits to avoid being targeted by the criminals masquerading as supporters. There are stories of parents hugging their sons and daughters to act as human shields as debris, punches and kicks rain down upon them because they had the gall to attend a football match and root for the “wrong” team.

The flow of information remains questionable, with official sources claiming there have been no deaths despite media in the ground, eyewitnesses and fan accounts claiming that multiple people died in the fracas. As of this writing, there are still no arrests, no concrete changes in the way the league operates and so far no accountability.

Violence is not something new in my home country — after all we did have more reported murders in January of 2022 alone than in the whole of Ukraine, which is an active war zone last time I checked — It’s something you learn to live with out of necessity.

You avoid certain areas of the city, you stop going out late at night alone, you constantly check behind you when you walk “just in case” and hope and pray that you can avoid it all if you are just “careful.” That if you keep your head on a swivel and send your live location to a friend or family member when you are taking a taxi and are savvy and street smart and don't mess with people you shouldn't mess with you’ll be fine. I’ve made that very same argument to many foreign friends when they consider a visit to my country.

It’s a lie, we all know it is. In this country, you can get murdered with impunity for being at the wrong place at the wrong time for no reason at all but what the hell are you going to do? You still need to wake up at the crack of dawn to make it to work and still have to come home when it's dark. It is what it is.

This is all considering I’ve been lucky enough to live a relatively sheltered life. I’ve never lived in some of the real hot spots of drug trafficking violence in my country. I’ve never been assaulted or robbed. I live in a relatively safe neighborhood in a safe building. I can afford the privilege of being naive and turn a blind eye to the realities of everyday life for millions and millions and Mexicans because that’s what's easier. You distract yourself with your hobbies and your interests and your friends and familiy and hope and pray that nothing bad happens to them. And once you get that “I got home safe” message you forget all over again.

Now you can add going to a football match to the ever growing list of dangerous, life threatening activities to do in Mexico. It hurts and there is no easy fix, it is a reflection of what happens in society at large transferring to the thing that I — selfishly and naively — thought of as a refuge.

On Saturday night — as I watched my team beat the breaks out of Cruz Azul to regain the top of the table — I sat alone in my living room doom scrolling Twitter to the almost snuff film level of videos being uploaded by fans at the stadium when I got a message from my mom on our family text thread.

“You are NEVER going back to the stadium, OK?”

Shit, maybe I won’t.

See you Saturday.