Torino v Juventus
Serie A Week 25 – Sunday, 18th February – 11:30 GMT – Stadio Olimpico
Bittersweet emotions stemming from the last two games. The win in Florence was clutch, as we rope-a-doped for most of the game, got lucky in a couple of dangerous situation and came through thanks to Federico Bernardeschi, who showed big character against his former team, and Gonzalo Higuain, who is white hot right now and going at extraordinary lengths to carry the team to victory. Napoli keep winning, so we stay just behind them. At this point, it is a matter of who will crack first and they have an easier schedule coming up, but if we stay glued to them through the middle of March we might come out on top.
Then there was the Tottenham match which was such a whirlwind of different situations I am struggling to completely put my finger on it. Obviously a terrific start, with two goals in the first ten minutes and our forwards running riot on them, but then we decided to sit back too much. We have seen this scene multiple times in the League, where we take the foot off the pedal after scoring, and it has mostly been successful against Serie A attacks, but it did not work out against such a quality front-line.
It is disappointing to see the back-line give up two goals at home after it had been airtight for so long, but I would not put the blame on the defenders. They were under heavy fire for about 60 minutes and the Spurs have such a style and so many skilled players that it is unthinkable to withstand the assault for that long. Systemic and attitude issues led to their comeback: while 4-2-3-1 is tantalizing because you put all your best players in at the same time, we missed having one more midfielder, especially a physical one.
The second goal came on a clear positioning mistake by Gianluigi Buffon, who did not anticipate Christian Eriksen aiming at the post he was protecting. However, let’s not forget that Gigi came up big in the first half, in particular on a Harry Kane header, but more importantly and more worryingly, their goal clearly appeared to be coming, one way or the other. Lost in the shuffle was the fact that, despite limiting our offence to some counter-attacks, we actually missed a penalty at the end of the first half that would have made things completely different.
So many regrets and we will most likely have to win in London to go to the next round: we have accomplished some feats on the road in the past and also their defence is vulnerable, so we will have some room to operate. However, we are not allowed to dwell on the midweek tilt too much though, as the anticipated Derby della Mole is coming up.
More unfortunate news from the infirmary, which will give Massimiliano Allegri a real headache this time, especially upfront: Mario Mandzukic has the flu and will miss the game, while Federico Bernardeschi is questionable due to some muscle fatigue. The coach would have to adapt somebody in the trident if he could not go and he indicated either Alex Sandro, the best option in my mind, Stefano Sturaro, who has a little experience there, and Rodrigo Bentancur, who has done OK in his most recent outings, as potential fall-back plans. The Uruguayan also has a chance to start in the midfield, but Claudio Marchisio has the inside track there.
On the other hand, Paulo Dybala has recovered and will be available for a limited stint and the same goes for Benedikt Howedes, even though the centre-back is now way back in the pecking order. It looks like Blaise Matuidi could return quicker than expected, next week already, as the coach stated in the pre-game presser. Juan Cuadrado obviously needs more time after sports hernia surgery. Andrea Barzagli could be held out because of a calf problem, while it looks like Stephan Lichsteiner solved a hamstring issue and will battle it out with Mattia De Sciglio to start on the right. Gianluigi Buffon will rest.
UPDATE: It seems that Bernardeschi will not be able to play and that Alex Sandro will replace him upfront. Furthermore, Daniele Rugani could start for Medhi Benatia in the defence and Sturaro in the midfield.
4-3-3: Szczesny; De Sciglio, Benatia, Chiellini, Alex Sandro; Marchisio, Pjanic, Khedira; Bernardeschi, Higuain, Douglas Costa.
Mandzukic (flu), Matuidi (hamstring), Cuadrado (groin).
Torino are undefeated with Walter Mazzarri at the helm as they knocked down Bologna, Benevento and Udinese at home and tied with Sassuolo and Sampdoria on the road. The veteran coach has not changed the system, despite his clear preference for a three-man defence, and has not modified the starting XI drastically, but they still benefited from the coaching change. The hard-nosed Sinisa Mihajlovic is probably tough to deal with for both players and executives and, as soon as the results do not back him up, it is hard to bear with him and his methods. They have a pretty good roster, but they have not faced the toughest competition lately.
Andrea Belotti resumed scoring last week, putting behind him a lengthy drought caused mostly by a pair of knee issues. The big loser of the last couple of months has been Adem Ljajic, who had already fallen out of favour with the Serbian manager and has been completely disregarded by Mazzarri. Still, they have gotten some occasional good play on that flank from Alex Berenguer and now with Belotti back they can deploy Mbaye Niang wide, a role where he can pick his spots. Ljajic is a natural no.10: they tried 4-2-3-1 at the end of last season and at the beginning of this one, he was effective but they do not have the horses to sustain such an offensive scheme and the move back to 4-3-3 constituted his downfall. Furthermore, Mazzarri does not like trequartistas, or really inventive players, that much.
The only injured player is Lyanco, who is nursing an ankle sprain, but Nicolas Burdisso has been a reliable replacement, even though he obviously does not have the youngster’s upside.
The coach has experimented a couple of solutions while still using a four-man defence and a three-man midfield. The first is the classical one, with two wingers, in this case Falque and Niang. The second is with two attacking midfielders, Falque and Daniele Baselli, with a more physical midfield featuring both Joel Obi and Afriyie Acquah. The fullback Cristian Ansaldi has also seen some playing time in the midfield and he is an interesting fit there because he does have some IQ and decent feet. With this option, Niang would be used off the bench. They used this against Sampdoria and as of now it is the favourite one. It is a rather versatile scheme, as Falque and Ansaldi can play wider at times and Baselli is free to press the opposing playmaker.
It is a very muscular side, as evidenced by the fact that Tomas Rincon plays as deep-lying midfielder, with a touch of technique and unpredictability, brought by Baselli, Falque and Niang in particular. They attack a lot down both flanks. Belotti might not be peak Gallo yet, but he is a handful. Niang off the bench could be interesting because, while he is a little anarchic, he is indeed energetic.
They broke the 20-year slump in the derby, but we still have a very good record against them in recent years, both at home and on the road.
4-3-2-1: Sirigu; De Silvestri, Nkolou, Burdisso, Molinaro; Obi, Rincon, Ansaldi; Falque, Baselli; Belotti.
Torino & Juventus Performance Statistics