Juventus v Torino
Serie A Week 6 – Saturday, 23rd September – 19:45 GMT – Juventus Stadium
After five games, Juventus have yet to drop a point in Serie A and in the end, that is all that matters. Inter drew against Bologna, so the only team keeping up is Napoli, who are playing great football right now. The Bianconeri were far from perfect on Wednesday, but they got the job done against a worthy opponent like Fiorentina. Certainly, they should have managed the one-man, one-goal advantage better in the final portion of the game and sealed the deal, but Viola did not produce much offensively.
The performance of Rodrigo Bentancur was the best news of the night. Massimiliano Allegri has been praising him the whole summer and now we have seen why. Elegant, precise, assertive: the Uruguayan youngster stepped up and the absence of Miralem Pjanic was not felt. Juventus found another ball handler in the midfield and this will make the rotation much easier. Hats off to the management if this is the player they envisioned him to be when they included him in the Carlos Tevez deal.
The Wednesday game also showed why Massimiliano Allegri still relies so much on Juan Cuadrado and Mario Mandzukic. I know everybody is excited to see what Douglas Costa and Federico Bernardeschi can bring to the table and that the Colombian was poor in the final section of last season, but the two veterans know the scheme better and they have great chemistry with the teammates. Quality and quantity, this is how Allegri described Cuadrado when it looked like he was on his way out of the club and that is exactly what he has given us so far. Gonzalo Higuain had another poor outing, but I would not be too quick to call for his substitution and I am sceptical about Mandzukic’s effectiveness in the box, who, as a pure striker, has never been as prolific as El Pipita.
Next up is the Derby della Mole on Saturday night. Benedikt Howedes has suffered another muscular problem so he will probably not be available, which is not good news ahead of the Olympiakos game. Stefano Sturaro held his own defensively there, but he did not attack much as he does not possess the skills to be threatening down the flank. I am not sure Howedes will help much in that department. Stephan Lichtsteiner will suit up in this one, but he is out of the Champions League squad. Mattia De Sciglio will be out for a while, but the starting job is there for the taking if he improves. The coach should also try Cuadrado as a fullback in easier games, I would argue that him and Dani Alves are not that far apart from the skillset standpoint.
Gianluigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini, Alex Sandro and Miralem Pjanic are expected to return to the starting line-up and the win against Fiorentina once again displayed the depth of the roster. There are three doubts regarding the lineup: it should be Medhi Benatia’s turn to start in the defence, but Daniele Rugani has a chance as Andrea Barzagli will be spared for the European fixture. I do not like the Benatia-Chiellini pairing as they are pretty similar, but they are obviously experienced players so they can make it work. But maybe it will be Rugani-Chiellini, with Benatia in Champions League.
At least one change is expected upfront: one between Douglas Costa and Federico Bernardeschi could start. Considering how things have gone so far, the Brazilian has more chances to replace either Cuadrado or Higuain. I doubt Paulo Dybala will sit this one out. Logically, it would Higuain’s turn to sit, but I think that the manager does not want to send the wrong signal to a player who is little fragile psychologically.
4-2-3-1: Buffon; Lichtsteiner, Benatia, Chiellini, Sandro; Pjanic, Matuidi; Cuadrado, Dybala, Mandzukic; Higuain.
Marchisio (knee), Khedira (knee), De Sciglio (ankle), Pjaca (knee), Howedes (hamstring).
Torino have started the season brilliantly. They have not had a challenging schedule, but you still have to win games. They have collected eleven points in the first five games of the season, defeating Sassuolo, Benevento and Udinese and drawing against Bologna and Sampdoria. Therefore, they are still undefeated. As Chiellini said, they have their best team in years.
They had a good summer, mainly because Andrea Belotti stayed despite the courtships of some top teams, starting with Milan. He has a €100M+ release clause for foreign clubs, but nobody offered that much. It was reported that Atletico Madrid came close with a package including some youngsters, but then their transfer market ban was confirmed and they will bring back Diego Costa in January. Belotti has picked up where he left off last season, scoring three goals already.
They decided to sell Davide Zappacosta and the hefty price tag made it very understandable. Lorenzo De Silvestri does not have the same upside, but he is a good right back when healthy. They also brought in Cristian Ansaldi. They have signed Tomas Rincon from Juventus and the early returns are excellent. They needed some wingers and they have acquired Alex Berenguer and Mbaye Niang: both have been underwhelming in the first showings, but at least they can field 4-2-3-1 consistently now. They’ve strengthened the defence with Nicolas N’Koulou, who has already made his presence felt, and the youngsters Lyanco and Kevin Bonifazi. Sinisa Mihajlovic does not fully trust them yet, so the starting couple should feature the Cameroonian and the experienced Emiliano Moretti. Salvatore Sirigu is a good goalkeeper and there is little, if any, dropoff from Joe Hart.
Their most impressive player so far has been Adem Ljajic, who had already started to take it up a notch when they switched from 4-3-3 to this tactic. He is simply more effective in a central position: he can see the whole pitch, feed his teammates, shoot from distance, take on defenders. He has tallied three goals and three assists so far and the Ljajic-Belotti-Iago Falque combination is lethal. If one of the left wingers joined the party, they would have a shot at battling for a Europa League spot. They are already in fifth position, above Lazio and Fiorentina.
They have a couple of injury concerns for the Derby: Joel Obi, Afriyie Acquah and Antonio Barreca missed the last game. Obi will not be available, while the situation of the Italian left back is more uncertain: if he did not recover, Cristian Molinaro or Ansaldi would take his place. Acquah could be available, but their best combination in the midfield is Rincon-Daniele Baselli.
Torino have not won in Juventus’ home in 22 years: this will probably their best chance in seasons. They have given the coach a roster that is tailor made for 4-2-3-1 so it is now up to the coach to deliver. So far, he has.
4-2-3-1: Sirigu; De Silvestre, Nkoulou, Moretti, Molinaro; Rincon, Baselli; Falque, Ljajic, Niang; Belotti.
Obi (hamstring), Bonifazi (knee).