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Manu’s Grab Bag: Knockout

We talk Juve’s awful season, mental fortitude and poor squad building.

Empoli FC v Juventus - Serie A Photo by Andrea Martini/NurPhoto via Getty Images

You know what the best thing about Empoli’s 4-1 trouncing of Juventus on Monday evening was? It brought us one game closer to this god forsaken season being all the way done.

Not only was this one of the more embarrassing results a Juventus team has authored in the last few years — and that’s saying something! — but it came on the heels of the most recent points penalty handed down by the FIGC in the never-ending plusvalenza investigation that has been a constant threat hanging over the entire season.

The loss, coupled with the 10-point deduction that was handed down right before kickoff, dropped Juventus down from second place in the league to seventh and takes them out of European spots again.

Two more matchdays to go ... I sure hope they go by quickly.

Let’s cook.

LVP: Alex Sandro

When you watched Monday night’s match, aren’t you glad that Juventus negotiated themselves into giving the literal worst player on the pitch another year on his contract with an appearance clause?

Sandro was comically bad against Empoli. His low mark was, without a doubt, losing a nothing ball early in the second half that allowed Empoli’s Akpa Akpro a clear and easy run into the Juve box that culminated with the home side’s third goal of the evening and, for all intents and purposes, the end of the match.

Sandro is a symptom of the years of mismanagement that plagues this team. His form has been consistently dipping for years, but for whatever reason he had a contract clause in his last renewal that kicked in if he accrued enough appearances this year — which he did a few weeks ago — and now Juventus are on the hook for another year of a player who is just no longer at a level that is required for anything close to a championship-contending team.

He didn’t accrue those appearances out of nowhere, either. Despite his less-than-stellar level, Sandro was legitimately one of the only options as a fullback for this team — which, again, speaks to how much of a piss-poor job the men leading the front office have done during Juventus’ slide from their glory days.

Conspiracy Corner Redux

Well, wasn’t that a bit too convenient for the FIGC?

Lost amidst the investigation drama that has hovered over the Bianconeri’s season like a dark cloud is that no matter what the final outcome, it would have to be completely arbitrary.

How else would you describe a punishment for a crime that is not stipulated anywhere? So, sure, 15 points was deemed as too excessive. How about we wait until there’s three matchdays left and decide that, you know what, 10 points feels like the exact right amount to punish the club by.

Is that the precise amount of points that takes Juve out of European qualification? What a coincidence indeed! What better way to announce it if it’s not literally 20 minutes before the game starts, too.

I’m not saying that Juventus didn’t do some questionable financial stuff — that everyone was doing too, but alas ... — and doesn’t deserve some sort of punishment. But the way this whole thing has been handled has been unbelievably dumb and completely unfair to the actual players who have seen their season go from trailing only Napoli to mid-table back to second place and now out of Europe again.

This entire circus is what happens when an agenda and incompetence meet. Only in Serie A.

Mentals in Check

Juventus had one of their worst performances in Serie A just days after being eliminated in a heartbreaker in a Europa League semifinal match that went to overtime. And just minutes before kickoff they get hit over the head with a point deduction that can potentially kill their season’s aspirations and everything they achieved on the field.

It’s very likely that those two things were a big factor in the duck that Juventus authored on Monday, and it’s hard for me to blame them for that. How can you put your mind into a match under those conditions? Anybody would struggle to perform their best and they sure didn’t.

In an age in which mental health is more present than ever, there’s a lot of awareness about players’ mental state and how that can affect their performances. After all, they are human beings and just as prone to cracking under pressure as anyone. Should the aforementioned conditions in which the team played give them a mulligan for getting blown out by a team that was openly celebrating the fact that they didn’t get relegated?

Or should we expect more from them? Should we expect these guys to be ready to play and put everything that’s happening off the field aside to give the very best version of themselves? And if they don’t — which, they sure as hell didn’t! — are we allowed to criticize that?

Is it OK in this day and age to call out a team for being, for lack of a better word, “mentally fragile” and not being able to compartmentalize their emotions in order to compete?

We are the same fans that praise players who shine in tough moments and commend guys who claim to have ice in their veins after all. We make teary eyed documentaries about the strength of players who performed after traumatic events in their families or battled through injuries or sickness. If we follow that logic and agree that players who can perform under those tough conditions are praise worthy, isn’t the opposite equally worthy of criticism?

I don’t think I have the correct answers here, to be honest, but given that this team as currently constituted has shown a marked proclivity to buckle under pressure and fade away when the lights are brightest, it’s at the very least a question worth asking.

Parting Shot of the Week

The Conference League is going to be awesome!

OK, even I couldn’t get myself excited about that prospect. Plus that assumes that UEFA is not going to impose another punishment for shits and giggles if Juventus manages to squeeze by to a European competition and ban them outright.

(Which, honestly, would have been a lot cleaner from the get go and would have avoided a lot of unnecessary drama.)

Either way, with no trophies and most likely their worst league finish in well over a decade, this season has gone as poorly as one could have thought. Please, let it be June 7. I can’t wait.

See you Sunday.