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Manu’s Grab Bag: Flop

We talk Nicolo Fagioli’s rough outing, who this team actually is and the road ahead.

US Sassuolo v Juventus - Serie A Photo by Timothy Rogers/Getty Images

Are you familiar with the term “schedule loss”?

It’s usually used for sports like the NBA or MLB which feature jam-packed regular seasons. Because of the amount of games teams have to play, it sometimes leads to teams having a particular disadvantage purely out of scheduling reasons.

Like, say, play an away game on an early kick off on Sunday when you just played late on Thursday evening in European competition to say something. Juventus took a 1-0 loss against Sassuolo on Sunday, marking back-to-back losses for the Bianconeri in Serie A play and putting their dreams of reaching European play through their domestic league a bit further away than you would like if they don’t see their 15-point penalty overturned..

The team was heavily rotated and looked sloppy, tired and kind of burnt out in general. We previously talked about how the schedule for April was brutal and now that we are in the middle of it, you can tell it’s starting to take a toll.

(For further evidence, I submit that Napoli, Inter, Fiorentina and Milan, four teams that remain playing in multiple fronts, all dropped points this matchday as well. Only Roma, who remains alive in the Europa League, managed to win this weekend.)

Juventus is not a great team in the best of conditions — which we’ll get to in a minute — and the crunch that entails playing in three fronts deep into April is not helping matters.

Let’s cook.

LVP: Nicolo Fagioli

This is the first time in the negative column for a guy that had previously received nothing but compliments from this space.

The young Fagioli is, without a doubt, looking like a guy in need of a break as he struggled all game long to bring anything to the table. He was one of the more mistake-prone players in Sunday’s game with the ball on his feet and eventually ended up making the mistake that doomed Juventus.

In what was an all-around bad day for the young Italian international, he was caught by the cameras openly weeping after being subbed out in the second half, unable to make up for his mistake.

Fagioli is a unique talent and he has already shown more than enough this season to prove that he belongs in the senior squad moving forward. Anybody can have a bad game and anybody can make dumb mistakes. Unlike most of us, however, when we mess up at our place of work, it’s not broadcasted worldwide to millions of people and picked apart by random people online, so I can see how that pressure would get to a kid who is barely allowed to buy a beer in the U.S.

I don’t hold it against the guy to let his emotions get the best of him, but this is going to be a good test of the mettle and mental fortitude of a young player in the first legitimate setback of his senior level career. Can he take this moment as motivation and as a learning opportunity to come back better and be the guy that Juventus fans hope he can become?

Time will tell, but he’s shown us enough that the odds are good that he’ll bounce back.

Expectation Game

I believe that as currently constituted Juventus is a good, but definitely not a great team. A team that employs talented individuals, but very few — if any? — elite players. A squad that has marked flaws and weaknesses, a lot of them which tend to bite them in the ass when it counts the most. They are, in essence, the type of club that can beat anybody on a good day, but that can lose against anyone on a bad one.

Typically, teams like the one I’m describing roam somewhere in the top six of their domestic league, don’t seriously challenge for the title itself but can sometimes ride inspired games or moments to a cup run in a best case scenario. So, pretty much what Juventus has done results wise this year.

If we agree on this as a baseline hypothesis, why is it that we remain appalled, shocked and disgusted that this team can lose games like the one they did on Sunday? If we accept that we are not all that great, shouldn’t we measure results by that criteria?

The more I think about it, the only reason we don’t is because the team happens to wear black and white stripes and be called Juventus. Inevitably, that carries certain expectations of performance. Because the organization has been very successful in the past, we expect that success every time.

That’s fine in a vacuum, as fans we should demand the team to perform as best as they can and compete for titles and go against the best of the best. But the reality is that Juventus haven’t been the best of the best for a while now.

Pretty much everyone who had a hand in building this team has either been fired, resigned in disgrace, is currently banned from football or fighting those bans. Yes, this is an expensive team, but at this point we know that just because something costs a lot of money, that doesn’t mean it is guaranteed to be great.

(I give you Leandro Paredes as the only exhibit I need to prove this point.)

The fact is that the amount of players that play for the club that could be considered as some of the very best at their position are slim to none. Maybe you could make an argument for hybrid center back Danilo or contract year Adrien Rabiot. Perhaps Bremer or Angel Di Maria on a good day, sure. But the list stops there.

And — this is going to hurt, Juventini — but that list does not include Federico Chiesa, nor Dusan Vlahovic or Manuel Locatelli. Certainly none of the talented youngsters that we all hold in such high esteem. This doesn’t mean that they won’t — or can’t — be at some point in the future or that they don’t have the talent necessary to get to that level. But as of this writing all of the “cornerstones” of the team are nowhere near to being elite players.

(In the case of Chiesa, specifically, a lot of it has to do with his ACL injury of last season. Whatever he can give you this year is great, but next season is going to be indicative of whether Chiesa can be truly back to where he was before he got hurt.)

In addition to the theory that many subscribe to, which is that Max Allegri is a catastrophically bad manager that is lucky to tie his shoes each morning and operate heavy machinery without injuring himself let alone coach a football team in any capacity, where does that leave you? An above average squad that lacks top level talent with a terrible manager at the helm. Tell me again, why should we expect to blow teams out of the water day in and day out?

(I don’t subscribe to that Allegri theory necessarily, but that’s another subject entirely.)

We are not better than the Lazio’s, Inter, Roma or Milan’s of the world. Let’s stop pretending we are and take this team at face value.

Parting Shot of the Week

Hey, it’s another biggest game of the season on the docket!

With European qualification via Serie A being pretty much done unless the 15-point penalty gets overruled, Juventus’ lone chance at Champions League football next year rests solely on their capacity to keep advancing and eventually win the Europa League.

For whatever reason, they have been able to bring something resembling their A-game to this competition so far, so let’s hope they can have a good performance on Thursday and keep advancing. Then again, you never know with this team. Football is fun!

See you Thursday.