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Manu’s Grab Bag: Levels

We talk flopping, breaks of the game and another good performance from a young player.

Juventus v SSC Napoli - Serie A Photo by Daniele Badolato - Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images

Things were just going a little too good for Juventus lately. They got their 15 points back in the league, they moved past a good Sporting Lisbon side to make it to the Europa League semifinals — all in the same day, no less. Yup, considering how this season as a whole has gone for the Bianconeri, we needed a bit of that luck going against us after a few good breaks.

Facing against the almost-assured Serie A champs, Napoli, was always going to be a tough test especially after Juventus got trounced 5-1 in their first matchup of the season.

While the end result of Sunday’s game was miles more respectable than the aforementioned demolition from January, it ended up with the same result in the win-loss column — a 1-0 defeat that could have gone very differently if the breaks went Juve’s way.

Alas, they did not.

Let’s cook.

LVP: Juan Cuadrado

Let’s get one thing out of the way. Cuadrado has always been a flopper.

I can’t speak to his career prior to Fiorentina, but ever since he’s been on the European spotlight Cuadrado is widely known as a guy that is going to try to get a call whenever possible.

It was annoyingly charming when he was doing it four or five years ago, and the only reason I can categorize it as such is because it worked! Cuadrado had the space and technique to bait a lot of guys into fouls so when he “dramatized” a contact most refs would buy it and good things would happen for Juventus. Cheers all around.

Unfortunately for Juventus and the Colombian international, the playbook is out and referees are far less likely to give good old Johnny Square the benefit of the doubt when he tries and get the flop going his way.

Eventually his theatrics were going to bite Juve in the ass and we saw the absolute worst case scenario on Sunday. While Cuadrado was pretending to have a broken fibula in the Napoli box, the opposing side kept the play going and the man Cuadrado was supposed to be defending ended up being wide open down his wing to score the winning goal.

I contend that Cuadrado can still be a productive player for Juventus if he had his minutes heavily managed and was used more as a super sub winger rather than a bombing wingback/fullback hybrid. However, considering the abundance of wide players coming from the youth system for Juventus, Cuadrado’s time as a Bianconero might be nearing its end.

Winner: Matias Soulé

Matias Soulé is good. I’ll say it.

The young Soulé — who just celebrated his 20th birthday a few days ago — got himself another start under his belt as he was a surprise revelation in the starting lineup. I’ve said before that the biggest indication for me that a youth product has potential is that they can come into big games and hold their own. I think Soulé more than did.

(A weird thing that Max Allegri freaking loves to do is to throw young guys out there in massive games against tough competition. Don’t know if it’s a trial by fire sort of thing, but I can’t say that I hate it. That is of course until a youth product messes up badly in a huge game and we all call for everyone’s head.)

He now tallies 18 appearances in the season — most of them in sub cameos, but still — and seems to be earning the confidence of Allegri more and more. I’m calling my shot: Soulé will have at least one big moment before this season is over.

Breaks of the Game

Back in the 2016 season Juventus was fighting tooth and nail with one of the prime Maurizio Sarri led Napoli squads for that year’s Scudetto.

Both teams had plenty of talent and arguments to come away with the title and a big deciding tilt was scheduled for early February as Juventus hosted the prowling Napoli. It was a super tight game, both teams had chances and you could tell it was going to be one of those games that is decided by the slimmest of margins.

And the break went Juve’s way with a wayward shot by Simone Zaza in the second half:

Call it luck, call it riding up to the occasion, whatever you want to call it teams that are championship caliber somehow or someway find those breaks. Juventus was one such team in 2016 as their win in that matchup propelled them to another Serie A title.

While Juventus and Napoli were not facing off for a title this time around, the roles reversed from that faithful day in February 2016. Similarly to that game, the game was fairly evenly matched. Juventus was doing their best efforts to keep Napoli off the board and being pretty successful at it too.

The Bianconeri were hoping for a break opportunity to deliver the knockout punch and had two plays that ended with the ball in the back of the net. Yet, both plays ended up being overturned on VAR review. Both borderline calls, both going the champs way.

If you leave a team like Napoli enough breathing room, they are going to find a way and shortly after the second disallowed goal by Juventus, they did.

Parting Shot of the Week

With the loss, Juventus has recorded three straight defeats in league play, which is less than ideal to say the least.

Juventus still has a three point cushion over the chasing pack of AC Milan and Roma with Inter Milan not far behind them with a five point gap. The good news is that all of those teams remain in European competition just like Juventus so the schedule crunch will affect them all in the same way.

The bad news is that until this team can get a streak of games going their way in league play that gap could close dangerously close.

See you Wednesday.