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Manu’s Grab Bag: Vesuvius Explosion

We talk the very bad evening in Naples, what could have gone different and what’s next?

SSC Napoli v Juventus - Serie A Photo by Matteo Ciambelli/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

In my mind, I pictured something different.

Maybe some luck, maybe some grit and you escaped southern Italy with an unthinkable win or a hard-earned draw that kept the good times rolling. Something that catapulted you into a legit, honest to goodness title challenge was in the making.

Unfortunately, the exact opposite happened, as league leaders Napoli romped to a dominant 5-1 win at home over Juventus that, outside of a few minutes in the second half, never felt particularly close.

Friday night’s result puts an end to Juve’s eight-game winning streak and their clean sheet streak. It was a bad night in pretty much any aspect and the first legit setback for a team that everything had gone right for — league wise, at least — since October.

Let’s cook.

LVP: Bremer

Arguably one of the better performers in the last few months had his worst game for Juventus against Napoli.

The big Brazilian was coming off a minor knock that kept him away from the pitch in Juve’s previous game against Udinese but was cleared to come back in this pivotal matchup. Perhaps that wasn’t the best decision.

I don’t know if it was because he was not completely healthy or just a simple case of a bad day at the office, but Bremer bears a large part of the blame for what transpired at the Diego Armando Maradona Stadium.

He’s directly at fault for two of Napoli’s goals, and they were at two pivotal back breaking moments. His first mistake leads directly to the goal that puts Napoli two ahead and shifts the momentum back to the Partenopei side as Juventus was starting to put the pressure on Napoli. The second is to put the game 3-1 right after the second half started and Juve was looking to tie. After that all Napoli had to do was sit back and counter the Bianconeri to death — which they did.

Bremer has has a great campaign and is a big reason of why Juventus is, somehow, still the best defense in Italy. But on Friday, his performance was inexcusable and not they type of play they expected out of their big-money signing last summer.

Can the real Juventus please stand up?

I was as shocked as anyone once I noticed, but Juventus remains the best defense in the tournament with 12 goals allowed even with this five-goal drubbing, two better than the next which is — incidentally — Napoli with 14 scores against.

This is a Juve team that was coming off eight straight wins and had only allowed seven goals all season long. A team that was getting healthier and starting one of the best players in Europe, Federico Chiesa, for the first time since his injury 12 months ago. A team on the come up, for all intents and purposes.

Yet, in this game alone, they allowed 70% of the total goals they’ve conceded all season in Serie A play. In a first place against second place matchup they looked out-coached, outplayed and outmatched. More like a team that belongs mid-table than a team that could challenge for the title.

So, who’s the real Juve? The up-and-coming shadow title contender or a lucky team that would be lucky to finish in European spots? Truth, as most of the time, is somewhere in the middle.

You don’t post the defensive metrics Juve did by luck. This was — and remains — the best defensive team in the league and it was that defense that propelled them to their winning streak and their previous grasp on second place in the league table. Perhaps some luck went their way in that stretch, but luck went against them in some ways early in the season, so it’s hard for me to put too much into it.

It’s also true that Juve had a relatively soft schedule and took advantage of it. Then again, that streak did include good wins against Inter and Lazio — which are currently running 4th and 5th in the league table — so it’s not like all games were cupcakes.

Once you take everything into account, this team is probably not as good as we all hoped it was and not as bad as this game made them look. They can — and probably will — still finish top four, but will struggle to mount a title lead unless Napoli self combusts.

It’s not what we are used to as Juve fans — and not what their level of investment in players/manages probably dictates — but it’s not completely far from what the preseason expectation was for this squad.

It’s also important to mention — and I regret to inform -- Napoli is just a really good team. They’re coached and drilled perfectly. They’re completely ruthless when they get chances and just a really fun team to watch. They are — and should be — the title favorites and it’s easy to see why.

Other teams are allowed to be great, too. Napoli is one of them.

Between a Wall and a Max Allegri

Max Allegri played defensive football and lost.

Max Allegri has played defensive football for the previous eight games and won all of them.

At this point, to expect anything different from everyone’s favorite Dancing With the Stars participant is a fool’s errand. I don’t consider playing defensive football the sin that many do. I contend that if you can play it well, any style can lead to success and Juventus had shown it.

He played pretty much the same formation that has led to Juve success lately and got bit by a well-drilled team and his best center back giving the game away ... twice.

In his starting lineup, he went for experience over youth, as he opted out of lining Fabio Miretti or Nicolo Fagioli up as starters. That’s not necessarily a sin considering Adrien Rabiot’s form and Manuel Locatelli’s importance and pedigree. Weston McKennie, though? Sure, he is more experienced, but no way to argue he is in better form than the two Italian youngsters.

Federico Chiesa as a wingback remains a rather confounding use of the dynamic Italian player, but what would you have done? Change the formation that has brought you success to accommodate Chiesa? Some might argue yes, but if that had gone wrong then we’d be up in arms about how dumb Allegri can’t commit to one formation and changed everything up in the biggest game of the season.

The only result that would have appeased the #AllegriOut hordes was to win away against the best team in the league. And considering that nobody has actually done that this year, it was a tough ask.

To me, it was a case of playing a really good team and having a really bad game, and when both of those things happen it is tough to overcome. The Max Allegri conundrum shall remain and at this point in whichever side of the discussion you are on there’s very little that will sway you one way or the other.

Parting Shot of the Week

That’s a bummer of a way to go into the weekend, huh?

Friday at noon, I got off early from work, got a couple brews in and then this happens. Just a bad time all around.

There’s not a ton of time to recover as Juve face Monza in Coppa Italia play on Thursday and look to bounce back against Atalanta on Sunday to try and salvage the last remainders of hope in their Serie A title challenge.

Sometimes you get outplayed. As everyone’s favorite coach says, those things happen in football.

See you Thursday.