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Manu’s Grab Bag: The Long & Winding Road

We talk this season finally coming to an end, the Captain’s last hurrah and the final rankings of the year.

ACF Fiorentina v Juventus - Serie A Photo by Daniele Badolato - Juventus FC/Getty Images

Juventus playing out the string with meaningless games at the end of the season is not something unusual for Juve fans. The big difference, however was that it usually involved those games not mattering because Juventus had already wrapped the Serie A title with weeks to spare, so they were meaningless games sure but in a fun, sort of last-day-of-summer-camp type of vibes.

Carlo Pinsoglio would get a run out, a smattering of young players would get their feet wet and the games were merely a prelude to the presentation of Juve’s newest, shiny Serie A trophy. It was a bit boring, sure, but in a pleasant way. Like taking a nap on a lazy Saturday, it was unexciting but fulfilling and a reward for a job well done.

This year’s meaningless games were vastly different in results and in vibes. With Saturday night’s 2-0 defeat against Fiorentina, Juventus signed, sealed and delivered their worst season in over a decade.

No trophies. Fewer points than last year — a season that was considered by pretty much anybody to be a letdown. Injuries galore. Very few bright spots. And, soon enough, some incoming squad renewal.

At least it's finally over.

Let’s cook.

LVP: Federico Bernardeschi

With apologies to friend of the blog and leader of the Wings of Fede cult, but our guy Federico Bernardeschi gets the last LVP of the season.

He didn’t play worse than any other of the checked-out Juve players that took the field on Saturday and if you're judging by Saturday’s game alone he wasn’t even necessarily the worst or most egregious case.

But as one of the departing players this summer, Bernardeschi serves as a neat microcosm of Juve’s recent issues and recent decadence. Bernardeschi was one of the many big-money signings — either transfer fees or large wages on free transfers — that for one reason or another failed to live up to expectations.

And you can afford to have a few misses here or there when splashing the cash for players, it happens to every club, but Juventus’ misses far outweighed their hits in recent years, and Bernardeschi — a man pegged by many to be one of the next great Italian-born players to wear the black and white — was never a consistently good player.

And, sure, he had a lot of coaching rotation and he had to adapt and played in a bunch of positions, but even when deployed at his preferred position under Maurizio Sarri, he still didn’t manage to impress a whole bunch. His tenure is mostly defined by what he didn’t do rather than what he actually managed to accomplish.

Bernardeschi ended up being a role player who had a couple of flashes here and there. He is an average player for a world-class team and I’m sure he will find room in some other squad, but Juventus is currently a team with far too many average guys in the rotation. The last thing they needed was to continue giving playing time to a guy that time and time again has showed that he can't move the needle.

Grab Bag MVP Winner - Paulo Dybala (17 Points)

Final Midfield Ranking

As the season is over, let’s do one last midfield ranking. This is going to be a season long ranking, not about who has the best form right now, for context.

  1. Manuel Locatelli - His form dipped after a roaring start and he missed time late in the season due to injury but he finishes the season as the best player in the unit — and comfortably so. He couldn't singlehandedly save the midfield as some of us envisioned, but he is a good player to start the rebuild with.
  2. Adrien Rabiot -

Even by sheer level of appearances alone, Rabiot was — for better or for worse — the second-best midfielder. Take that as you will, but in a season in which pretty much every single player missed time — and, in many cases, a lot of time — the fact that Rabiot was pretty much available every single game from October — once he recovered from COVID — until the end of the season made him an irreplaceable fixture in Max Allegri’s lineup.

It probably speaks to how uneven the midfield continues to be that Rabiot — a guy that even I can’t come close to saying is a top player — was so important this season. But, hey, give the man his due, being there is half the battle and with 45 total appearances he was this team’s iron man.

3. Weston McKennie - What could have been if the American international did not get injured early in the second half of the season. McKennie continued to grow leaps and bounds and was finding easy chemistry with Locatelli. I’m looking forward to seeing him back next season and his cameo against Fiorentina was one of the lone feel good moments of the game.

4. Denis Zakaria - Hand up, I thought he’d be way more impactful, but an early injury zapped a lot of could have been contributions and Max Allegri playing him in a box-to-box role continued to be puzzling. I still think he can help this team a lot going forward, but his first semester as a Juve player left something to be desired.

5. Arthur - The Brazilian remains a confounding figure. He can clearly do one thing — hold and recycle possession — very well, but that alone does not make a complete player. Between his limited skillset and constant injuries it feels like a long shot that he becomes an impactful player with Juventus. If he remains with Juventus at all.

6. Fabio Miretti - Showed enough flashes of talent in his late season starts to warrant a shot at making the senior team full time next year. His last game was a bit of a crash back to earth, but he is still incredibly young and looked at worst a serviceable player, which is impressive for an 18-year-old guy.

7. Aaron Ramsey - He advanced much further than Juve did in an European competition, so give Aaron Ramsey the props he deserves as a Europa League silver medalist. I’m sure he was critical to his team’s success ... or lack thereof.

The More Things Change...

You knew he had to, had to give Juventus one last blood soaked shirt. I hope he frames that thing. Thanks for all the memories, Giorgio.

Strange Things Happening to Me

How many guys in that lineup would you bet are for sure going to be around next season?

Already we know Paulo Dybala, Giorgio Chiellini and Federico Bernardeschi are definitely gone. Alex Sandro, Adrien Rabiot and Moise Kean are all on the chopping block as well to varying degrees of certainty. Fabio Miretti could — and arguably should — stick around but there’s a decent chance he gets loaned out instead.

When you count the full squad it gets even more dire. Luca Pellegrini and Weston McKennie have been linked with moves away from the club. Alvaro Morata wants to stay and Juventus would like that too but with Atletico Madrid not budging according to reports he might be on the outs too. We are talking upwards of 10 players in the final match day roster that could reasonably be playing on a different team next year. I can’t remember last time that was the case, especially losing so many guys that played heavy, heavy minutes.

(This is not taking into account Mattia De Sciglio and Arthur, who could very well be on the outs too but they are not in the final match day roster because of injuries.)

Then again for a team that just authored their worst season in a while, maybe a complete overhaul is not the worst thing in the world, huh?

Parting Shot of the Week

Between Juve’s horrendous form, all of the injuries, the disappointing results and a completely hectic, demanding new position at my 9 to 5, this might have been the toughest year of covering this team since I started at your friendly neighborhood blog.

Far more often than not, I would sit at my computer, completely spent physically and mentally staring at a blank page while coming up with nothing to say or write about that I hadn’t in one way or another done before.

Yet, even when it's a bad season, even when it was a bad game and the last thing I want to do is find 1000+ words about dropping points against freaking Empoli, the words ended up appearing. Because, at the end of the day, I still wholeheartedly enjoy writing these articles, for the longest time rooting for Juventus was a completely solitary exercise as no friends or family shared that interest and lived deep in Real Madrid/FC Barcelona strongholds.

Thanks to this blog and these columns, rooting for Juventus this year was now an exercise in frustration, boredom and disappointment. But it sure as hell wasn’t lonely anymore. So, if you ever took the time to read a Grab Bag, comment or listen to our podcast I want to say thank you for sticking with us throughout this awful season.

See you in August.