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Manu’s Grab Bag: Liver Punch

We talk youthful indiscretions, high difficulty dives and a bast start to the month.

SS Lazio v Juventus FC - Serie A Photo by Giuseppe Maffia/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Well, that was a bummer.

Three games in, the unrelenting April scheduled both domestically and in Europe that was prognosticated is being as just brutal as advertised. Unfortunately for Juventus, they seem to be struggling to cope with the pressure, as their 2-1 loss at the hands of Lazio in Rome on Saturday night is just the latest example of a team that doesn’t seem to be fully in sync during the most important month of the season so far.

It was a tale of two halves at the Stadio Olimpico. The Bianconeri got thoroughly overrun in the first, only to take more control of the game in the second. The effort was for naught, however, and they could never find an equalizer for a second time and left a golden opportunity to get closer to the European spots on the table.

Let’s cook.

LVP: Juan Cuadrado

Just a few days after his swashbuckling outing against Inter Milan in the first leg of the Coppa Italia semifinals, we got bad Juan Cuadrado on Saturday.

He was never a guy that had shone brightest for his defensive chops, but he was just plain bad against Lazio, as he looked foolish in Lazio’s eventual game winner and struggled in general during the whole match.

In years past, you’d live with the defensive mistakes because of his offensive input, which was more than enough to make up for the occasional lapses. But be it age catching up to Cuadrado or just the schedule burnout, he just doesn’t seem to have the burst that he used to have. Let’s just say that Cuadrado is not getting by his defender a whole lot lately.

I said in the previous Grab Bag that when rested Cuadrado can still bring it, but in this hellish schedule crunch his minutes are going to have to be heavily managed if there is any chance of having a semi-productive player around.

Turin Diving Team

In two pivotal, game-deciding plays, two Juventus players decided to go for the inverted twist dive off the platform instead of trying to play some football.

First — and kind of more egregiously — came Alex Sandro in the defensive phase as he is primarily to blame for Lazio’s opener. Most of the discussion involves whether or not Sergej Milinkovic-Savic technically fouls Sandro. It’s true he does stretch his arm to push off, but the contact is barely there before Sandro belly flops into the box trying to get a call.

The ref — rightfully so, I think — does not fall for it and instead of at least trying to make it hard for Milinkovic-Savic to get a shot off, the Serbian international calmly controlled the ball and shot completely unimpeded to beat Wojciech Szczęsny easily.

Is hoping to get bailed out by a borderline call a better path to success than playing defense?

Same case on the other end when Federico Chiesa was trying to finish a pass from Angel Di Maria late in the second half. Chiesa is on the limit of getting to the ball, but instead of making the effort he falls down at the slightest hint of contact from the trailing defender.

Once again, the referee was right and gave absolutely no mind to Chiesa’s best attempt at nailing the dive to try and get a PK call.

Players dramatizing contact or hamming it up to try and get a call is not something new or novel and its certainly not something unique to Juventus players but it was jarring to see two examples having such a big effect in the same game.

“When in doubt, play the damn game” is my policy. Hopefully Juve players start to do the same.

Loser: Fabio Miretti

You know the speed bumps along the way that we’ve been talking about in this space regarding playing young guys? Well, fan favorite Fabio Miretti had a big one on Saturday.

The young Italian was subbed in late in the second half at a thousand revs a second to try and make a difference. However, he was the living embodiment of trying to do too much as his intensity backfired in pretty much every way.

He was misplacing passes, cutting off breaks short and even got himself yellow carded for a clumsy foul in the dying minutes after one of his more brutal turnovers killed the last ditch opportunity for an attack for the Bianconeri.

Giving heavy minutes to youngsters is all well and good and one bad cameo from one of those guys is not nearly enough reason to stop now. But this is the type of performance you sometimes have to live with when you trust young players. You gotta take the good with the bad. It’s unfortunate this time we had to see some bad.

Parting Shot of the Week

If there was any month to not be authoring uninspiring results, this was probably the worst one. With the defeat Juventus rolls toward their first leg Europa League matchup against Sporting Lisboa in decidedly unflattering form.

The good thing about having so many games in such close order is that chances to make up for bad games comes to Juventus in pretty short order. The bad part obviously is that bad form is a tough thing to snap out of and can easily spiral out of control.

Does this Juve team have the mental fortitude to bring their A-game into Thursday against a quite tricky opponent in what is now their most important competition remaining? That’s the million dollar question now, isn't it?

By God, let's hope they can.

See you Thursday.