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Manu’s Grab Bag: Empty Shelf

We talk a trophy-less year, VAR controversy of the week and the worst Juve team in a decade.

Juventus v FC Internazionale - Coppa Italia Final Photo by Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images

And we all thought that the one season with Andrea Pirlo was bad.

For the first time in a decade, Juventus will not win an official competition in a single season as they sealed their fate in a controversy-laden 4-2 loss against hated rivals Inter Milan. I don’t know if shocking is the right word because this team wasn’t great all year — they had flashes, they had good games, they got some results. But when it came to play the top teams, both in Europe and domestically, they usually faltered.

Was this team good?

No caveats.

Could you really describe this team as good?

I think not.

And, well, bad teams don’t usually end up winning trophies at the end of the season. This is the logical conclusion to a season in which Juventus never really clicked and never really played up to the level that their high salaries and well-known names would indicate.

Let’s cook.

LVP: Juan Cuadrado

Our beloved Cuads has quietly had a pretty rough second half of the season.

He’s always been a bit of a mercurial player — which is something you forget when he’s out there doing his Cuadrado thing and shaking guys out of his boots. But, by definition, there has to be a bad side to the mercurialness and when we get bad Juan, you can tell.

He was largely ineffective going forwards — which is his calling card — and was shaky defensively. He deserves a good amount of the blame on Inter’s opening goal, as he made little to no effort to close down Nicolo Barella after he cut inside of him.

Federico Bernardeschi didn’t close Barella, either, as he was following Marcelo Brozovic on his run into the box. But I think he had to cover Brozovic and when you look at the replay the only guy who is standing around is Cuadrado.

Cuadrado is still a valuable player to have around, but in my opinion he should be more of an impact sub at this point in his career rather than having to bear such a large brunt of the offensive production for this team.

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

VAR Controversy of the Week

In a messed up way, this game was a clinic on why VAR is arguably the most frustrating development in world football in at least the last 20 years.

I’m going to say something that might be an unpopular opinion, but that second PK call against Juventus should be the quintessential use of VAR. They should teach that at wherever the hell refs go to learn to be refs.

Referee Paolo Valeri is not quite sure what to make of a bang-bang tackle by Matthijs de Ligt and lets the play go on. Once the ball goes out of play, he gets the call to check the replay and he makes the correct call. That’s exactly why VAR was implemented. Valeri understands that this is a game changing call and decided to take a second to make the call and rely on the guys with dozens of 4K quality cameras looking at every play to decide what to do. And he made the right call too! That’s definitely a PK, no argument can be made about it.

(De Ligt is still a really good player and arguably one of the best performers in the second half for Juventus. But, with that being said, that type of reckless tackle on a play that did not merit such a brash reaction is when you remember that he is, in fact, still freaking 22 years old and will sometimes make dumb 22-year-old mistakes.)

I really wish that’s all that I had to say about Valeri, unfortunately this excellent use of VAR came after one of the worst uses of the technology we have seen in a while. In yet another call that changed the game, Valeri called what initially looked like a pretty clear-cut tackle from behind by Leo Bonucci on Lautaro Martinez. On second look, though, it's clear that Martinez hooks his foot on the back Bonucci’s leg and falls to the grass as soon as he feels the contact.

Could you still make the case its obstruction? Could you still say that it’s a PK? Sure, a very soft PK, but worse calls have been made. The true unforgivable thing is to not even go look at the replay when making the decision. It’s a decision that will change the outcome of a Coppa Italia final, so isn’t the entire reason of existence of VAR to be able to check these type of plays and make sure you are not messing up?

Juventus v FC Internazionale - Coppa Italia Final Photo by Francesco Pecoraro/Getty Images

Juventus did not lose the game exclusively due to the ref screwing up calls — they lost partially because of those calls — but in a final the last thing you want is the referee even being part of the equation. And you definitely don’t want VAR to even be talked about.

In this year’s final, both will steal headlines and regardless of the result that’s never a good thing.

Silver Medalists

I don’t really want to talk a ton more about the game — it’s bumming me out — so let me do a quick shoot around of the main talking points, be done with it and talk about the real important stuff, sounds good? Good.

  • Did Max Allegri try to hunker down too early? Probably yes, but that's who he is, and to his credit Inter wasn’t doing much of anything until that dodgy PK call.
  • Will they fire Allegri after officially the worst season the team has had in 10 years? No, they owe him too much money and they need to have some measure of stability for next year even if its rather unimpressive stability.
  • Is Dusan Vlahovic low-key struggling? Yes. He got lucky on Juve’s second goal when the rebound was right back at him after missing his first shot. An in-form Vlahovic probably buries that first half chance off of Paulo Dybala’s through pass.
  • Is Alex Sandro washed? Yes, but he’s still serviceable.
  • Is Lautaro Martinez now one of the most-hated players for Juve fans? Absolutely! We haven't had a proper antagonist in a second, Martinez fits that to a tee. I look forward to hating him for the foreseeable future.
  • Did Mattia Perin have the best performance ever for a guy that allows four goals? I don’t know if ever, but he was pretty good! Had nothing to do in any of the goals and had some nifty saves. I wouldn't hate to see more Perin next season.
  • Did Giorgio Chiellini and Paulo Dybala deserve better? Yes, but we will talk about that in the coming weeks.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about the real important stuff.

If you happen to be on the losing side on a final, what do you do with that second-place medal? This isn’t like say the Olympics in which medaling is a huge accomplishment, so getting second or third is something you for sure appreciate.

In, say, motorsports getting on the podium is usually a pretty great result, so you’ll see guys lose their mind after finishing second of third place and getting comically small trophies to go along with it.

(My personal favorite is the 2005 Indianapolis GP in which only three teams and six cars started the event after almost the entire field got disqualified from the race due to tyre safety regulations. This led to Tiago Monteiro driver of the Jordan F1 team — not that Jordan — getting third place by virtue of being the best of the remaining worst. The video of the podium ceremony is worth watching, amongst jeers and boos by the crowd the first and second place finishers quietly accept their trophies and don't make a big deal about it — they are Ferrari drivers, they’ve been there before — but Monteiro goes wild while giving zero damns about the jeers. It was the only podium of his career but I’m guessing you assumed that.)

On the other side of the coin, the prominent American leagues — NBA, NFL and MLB — only hand out a trophy to the winner, which makes sense. If there is only one big trophy to win, why give the losers anything? Only football toes that line in which they acknowledge that making a final is an accomplishment in an of itself, so you get a medal for just getting there, but the trophy is only for the winners.

(This one year the Mexican League awarded a second place trophy in what is probably one of their most poorly conceived ideas. It was in 2013 and there is video of it and it’s spectacular. It starts at the 2 hour, 55 second mark and if you do nothing else today just watch it. It’s incredible, I can’t decide what I like more about it. They got a bunch of kids to hand out the medals to the players so it already starts with a kid getting confused as to when to start giving his medal out, then the gimmick of the kids quickly is played out as they give medals to the entire squad, training and coaching staff. Then they miscount the kids so there’s like four of them at the end of the line who are left with medals and no one to give it to. Finally, mercifully, they get to the trophy and the losing team captain hoists it halfheartedly and holds it as far away as possible from his body. This is all happening in a freaking downpour after choking away the championship in historic fashion. I love that video so much.)

Anyway, so, back to the question. What do you do with the runner up medal? My guess is that if you are a seldom-used bench player, youth squad call-up or on the training staff you keep it. Sure, you’d rather have the winner’s medal, but it's a nice thing to have around the house and a decent icebreaker item to keep on the mantle.

Juventus v FC Internazionale - Coppa Italia Final Photo by Danilo Di Giovanni/Getty Images

If you are a starter but not one of the key players and/or haven’t won a whole lot in your career, you most likely keep it as well because you probably don't have a ton of those in general. If you've won a lot is when it starts to get tricky. What are you going to do with it? That second place medal from the Coppa Italia is not going in the collection with all the other nice, shiny gold ones. Maybe you take it back home, but it for sure ends up in the back of the closet or in a drawer.

The thing that really interests me though is what do the hyper-competitive superstars do with it? Like, Cristiano Ronaldo, that guy lost a Coppa final, no? There’s zero chance he ever displays that and guys like him are so insanely competitive that they probably look at it with disgust. I think they leave it in the locker room, just don't even pack it, leave it laying around. If we accept that that scenario is possible - almost likely - that implies that there is some sort of custodian or janitorial staff at stadiums all over the world just randomly finding second place medals in locker rooms.

I like to believe that whoever is in charge of cleaning the losing team locker room at the Olympic Stadium in Rome has a bunch of runner up bling in their place of residence and shows it around to all the neighbors. It becomes one of those weird urban myths in their block, children go check out the medals, it's a whole thing.

Or they end up in eBay, either, or.

Parting Shot of the Week

Well, that was that. The last meaningful game of the season for Juventus came and went with a loss. It sucked, but the bright side is that we are one game closer to this god forsaken season being over.

And whether you are in the #AllegriOut camp or you think Vlahovic is a bum or that Fabio Miretti is the next coming of prime Andre Pirlo, the only thing that we can all agree on is that it is a net positive that we are only two games away from not watching this team anymore for a little while.

Can’t wait.

See you — unfortunately still — Monday.