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Manu’s Grab Bag: Big Game, Big Loss

We talk about the ref show, VAR controversy of the week and the weirdest game of the season.

Juventus v FC Internazionale - Serie A Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Juventus played arguably one of their better 90-minute performances in all year against Inter Milan in the Derby d’Italia on Sunday.

They controlled possession, had four times as many shots as their rivals, hit the woodwork twice and looked like the better, more composed, more talented team for pretty much the whole game.

They lost 1-0.

It was just one of those games — and boy do we seem to have just so many of those games lately, huh? — where luck is just not on your side. That’s football though, its about who scores the most goals at the end of the day and Juventus has had many other matches in which they are not the better side but come out with the win. You win some, you lose some.

We won a lot the past decade, we are losing a lot this couple of years. It is what it is.

Let’s cook.

LVP: Dusan Vlahovic

This is, in a lot of ways, very similar to Juve’s horrible Champions League elimination of a few weeks ago.

Nobody on the team had a particularly poor game — the team played well, and I don’t want to give out an LVP for this one. But the rules of the Grab Bag are sacred and someone has to carry the blame here, so I’m going to give it to someone who didn’t have an awful day at the office but that we expect so much more from.

Call it the CR7 principle if you will. Because the expectations are so high, even if you are not outright terrible, you still get graded on a bit of the curve, so sorry, Dusan.

Vlahovic had a couple decent shots on goal and played his usual role of anchor upfront opening up spaces for his teammates. However, he once again struggled for large parts of the match as he was man marked by Milan Škriniar to great effect.

Škriniar employed a, shall we say, very laissez faire approach in his marking. Which is to say it was mostly beating the hell out of Vlahovic before he could try to do anything with the ball. Should the ref have done something about it? Yes, but as we will get to shortly, the ref should have done a lot of things in general.

However, Škriniar is not the first nor the last defender that will employ such tactics against Vlahovic as he needs to improve in asserting his will when facing physical opposition. He’s still really young, really talented, he will figure it out. But in a game in which Juventus was desperate for a breakthrough their big acquisition could not deliver.

Grab Bag MVP Season Leader: Paulo Dybala (17 Points)

VAR Controversy of the Week

Just ... just all of it, in general.

Massimiliano Irrati had one of the most baffling, poorly reffed games yours truly has seen in a long while, as he made a number of decisions that ended up deciding the result.

Obviously, we have to start with the penalty kick awarded to Inter that would end up becoming the deciding goal of the match. I don’t have much of an issue with the PK itself — it was a very soft, borderline call — but when reviewing things in slow motion those types of contact always look worse than they are and since VAR started to be a thing in our lives, refs have erred on the side of caution more often than not and awarded those types of plays.

It’s what happened afterwards that puts Irrati in a level of his own when it comes to refereeing buffoonery. I’m going to try my best to explain the sequence of events that happened after the PK is awarded:

  • Wojciech Szczesny makes — yet another — incredible save on the shot by Hakan Calhanoglu. Yet, he gives up the rebound, and in the ensuing mayhem to clear the ball it seems that either Calhanoglu himself or anyone of the scrambling Juve defenders manage to put the ball in the net anyways.
  • Irrati, however, calls off the goal due to an alleged Inter foul in the melee to get the rebound. There is absolutely no foul on the call, in fact Calhanoglu gets swallowed up immediately by the entire Juve defense. In any case, you could make the case the Inter player gets fouled, but it seems that Juve will get the call here.
  • After the entire Inter squad mobs Irrati, he decides to go to VAR again to figure what happened. It looks like the goal will stand.
  • Except, it doesn’t, after VAR reviews the play Irrati signals to a retake of the PK because Matthijs de Ligt encroached on the box before Calhanoglu took a shot. This is a correct call — de Ligt did encroach if you watch the replay — but they managed to get there in such a bizarre manner that everyone ends up displeased.

Calhanoglu scored on the second attempt and Inter took the lead. Once the initial PK was awarded, Inter was destined to score one way or another, either in the rebound melee or by the de Ligt encroachment. But Irrati managed to get the correct answer because he messed up twice and he somehow ended up at the right conclusion.

Afterwards, he awarded another borderline foul for Juventus against Denis Zakaria on the edge of Inter’s box. Upon first watch it looks like an innocuous call, but once they showed the replay ...

Bear in mind, the foul had already been called, the VAR was only invoked to figure out where the foul had been made. The only reasonable outcome here is for Juve to get a PK or for the foul to be waved off. There is no other conclusion that is coherent with what we are all seeing. So, of course Irrati chose door number three. Keep it a foul but just outside of the box.

I’m not even going to get into Lautaro Martinez probable double yellow in the first half or as I already mentioned the thousands of hits Vlahovic endured all game long.

There’s always more ref-related sour grapes from the fanbase that loses the game. Juventus has, in the past, also gotten favorable calls go their way. It happens, it's football. But it is worth noting when a ref is so evidently uneven about how he calls the game.

(When I say uneven I don’t mean he is secretly an Inter fan and he was out to get Juventus. I mean it in the literal sense in that he applied the rules without any sort of rigor whatsoever. It’s dumb to suggest one club gets more calls than the others because of some large conspiracy. It’s dumb when opposing fans play that card against Juve, let’s not do the same.)

Winner: Adrien Rabiot

Lost amidst an absolute mess of a match is that the much-maligned Frenchman had arguably one of the best games of his Juventus career.

Rabiot is consistently the subject of much scorn for Juve fans for a number of reasons. He gets paid too much, he plays in a lackadaisical manner, very rarely looking flustered one way or the other. He has also failed to develop in the way many people expected him to, part of some of the worst Juve midfield units I can remember and at times he can make baffling mistakes that cost the team in big spots.

Yet, we so often fail to mention that he does have some good qualities. He has been reliable on the injury front, for example, playing a massive amount of minutes and missing very little time despite that workload. A capable dribbler and someone who can initiate counterattacks effectively, he can be an decent to above average box to box midfielder in a pinch. And, on his day, he can look like a world-class player.

Admittedly, he has very few of those days, but when he does, it is truly a joy to watch. Against Inter, he was big reason why the visiting side struggled to hold possession or to mount any dangerous chances as he effectively closed down spaces and intercepted passes with a ferociousness rarely seen from the French international.

His efforts ended up being for naught and he will be one of the names on the chopping board come the summer transfer window. But you got to give the guy some props when he plays the way he did on Sunday. If you had never watched him play before and you worked at some nouveau rich club — say, Newcastle? — I be you’d be frantically sending emails to whoever is in charge of money in that organization asking for €50 million stat to sign this guy.

Parting Shot of the Week

With Sunday’s win, Inter breaks a 10-year drought without a win at Allianz Stadium. This is obviously a bummer, but it’s also a nice reminder of how throughly Juventus dominated Italian competition in the last decade.

Winning breeds complacency and it’s normal that we got used to just winning, all the time. Ugly or pretty we at least always managed to win in the end. We all knew at some level that those good times were bound to be over at some point and as we gear to end the season, for the second year in a row Juventus will not lift the Scudetto, nor play any meaningful role in the final chase for the title.

Just as a reminder of times gone by, some old friends made an appearance on Sunday:

(Claudio Marchisio wearing the tucked in jersey into jeans is an F- fashion choice. Then again, the fact that he is wearing one of the coolest Juve jerseys ever and that it’s HIS OWN FREAKING JERSEY, erases any and all criticism on my end.)

Yes, those days were awesome days to be a Juve fan and I’m sure moving forward we will have many, many more happy days than sad ones. It’s still a reminder that the decade plus of continuous winning is not the norm but an insanely unlikely streak that we were all lucky to be a part of.

See you Saturday.