It was that time of the year again: Time for the always-wonderful Derby della Mole between Juventus and Torino. After winning their Champions League group by comfortably beating Dinamo Zagreb on Wednesday, Juventus made the short trip to the Stadio Olimpico to face their city rivals in the colorful derby of Turin. It turned out to be a fruitful journey as Juventus overturned an early Andrea Belotti goal to beat a strong Torino side 3-1 courtesy of a Gonzalo Higuaín brace and late Miralem Pjanic strike.
The game started at a normal pace with both sides trying to keep possession to ease themselves into the match. The first noteworthy moment came from the ‘visitors’ as a costly Leandro Castan error allowed Mario Mandzukic to play the ball across goal but Stefano Sturaro arrived just too late at the far post to convert the chance. There was a moment of controversy a few minutes late after a long ball forward bounced awkwardly up and over Daniele Rugani and Belotti; the Juventus defender seemed to drag the Torino danger-man down illegally, but the referee waved play on, much to the bemusement of the striker. Had the foul been given, Rugani likely would have been sent off as it was a last-man situation.
Juventus quickly resumed offensive duties, though, as Mandzukic first wasted a chance by making a mess of a dangerous Juan Cuadrado cross — it seemed like he couldn’t decide whether to head or volley the cross — and later forced Hart to make an extraordinary one-handed save after cleverly flicking a Khedira volley to unexpectedly change its trajectory on its way to goal. It didn’t matter to Torino though as they took the lead a few minutes later against the run of play thanks to red-hot striker Andrea Belotti. Midfielder Daniele Baselli, who had surprisingly popped up on the right hand side to overload the Juventus wing, skipped away from Giorgio Chiellini and Sandro and managed to float a cross towards the head of Belotti. The Torino striker found a yard of space away from Lichtsteiner to nod a perfectly-executed header to the far corner out of the reach of Buffon to open the scoring: 1-0.
Claudio Marchisio tried to bring Juventus back on level terms straight away, but couldn’t get his stinging drive from the edge of the box on target. Torino were comfortable, though, and coach Sinisa Mihajlovic had clearly set his side up very effectively in both defense and attack. Nevertheless, Juventus found a way through to get the equalizer on the half hour mark thanks to Higuaín. The tricky Cuadrado picked up a loose ball in midfield and immediately played it into Mandzukic — who, in a wonderful piece of quick thinking and exquisite technique, played a back-heeled flick towards the onrushing Higuaín. The Argentine took a few touches towards goal and fired a tidy finish to the far corner past Joe Hart: 1-1.
The surprisingly fruitful partnership between Higuaín and Mandzukic continued to bear dividends as the duo made life consistently troublesome for the Torino backline. The ‘home’ side looked for outlets from the dangerous, inward drifts from Adem Ljajic and the disciplined wing play of Marco Benassi and Iago Falque, but Juventus gained a stronger hold of the game after the equalizer and thus ended the first half slightly on top of proceedings.
Juventus started the second half with remarkable drive and purpose as Sturaro fired a good chance wide of goal from inside the box and Khedira had a glorious chance but completely miscued his header in the danger zone from a lofted Marchisio pass. Torino weathered the storm bravely and hit back through a dangerous Falque strike after a Zappacosta cross caused all sorts of trouble inside the Bianconeri box. Lichtsteiner later had a strong shout for a penalty waved away after colliding with Castan on his way into the Torino penalty area. I Granata almost regained the lead after a wayward Chiellini pass was intercepted by Belotti and triggered a 3v2 situation in their favor, but Belotti’s pass was underhit which allowed Chiellini to make up for his almost-crucial error. Torino continued to push forward as the hard-working Falque played a tidy pass into Ljajic who, after beating Lichtsteiner in a one-on-one situation just inside the box, curled a right-footed shot just inches away from the far post with Buffon beaten!
Then, out of nowhere, Juventus took the lead through a wonderful piece of instinctive play by Higuaín. Chiellini played a seemingly-innocent long ball to the Argentine who then outmuscled Antonio Barreca to get a yard of space and unleash an unstoppable right-footed half-volley past Joe Hart’s outstretched arm: 2-1! Higuaín was on the prowl for his hat trick soon after although he fired another shot well over the target after a clever dribble and subsequent pass into the area by substitute Paulo Dybala had given him a chance for the triple kill. Torino predictably threw everybody forward in desperate search of the equalizer which left Juventus with acres of space to break into on the counter attack. The Bianconeri capitalized on this space deep into stoppage time with the killing blow: Dybala embarked on a majestic run down the right channel, bamboozling three Torino defenders on his way forward, and played the ball to his compatriot Higuaín. The striker saw his shot saved by the impressive Joe Hart but Dybala picked up the rebound and passed it fellow substitute Pjanic who also saw his shot remarkably saved by Hart but rifled the rebound into the back of the net to secure the victory for the Bianconeri! Final score: 3-1 in favor of Juventus!
BUFFON 6.5 – Couldn’t do anything for the opening goal. Had little to do otherwise.
CHIELLINI 7 – Played well in unison with Rugani although he had a lapse or two in the second half that could have been very costly had Torino converted them.
RUGANI 7 – Handled Belotti very, very well today and frustrated the striker with his calm defensive play. The yellow card was a ludicrous decision, but Rugani thankfully didn’t let it fluster him.
LICHTSTEINER 6 – Got outmuscled and outfought by Belotti for the opening goal and his offensive play remains worryingly poor. Nevertheless, he’s still reliable in defense and works hard.
ALEX SANDRO 6.5 – Other than a little communication lapse between him and Chiellini for the opening goal, he fared quite well. Not as offensive as usual because Falque kept him busy in defense.
KHEDIRA 6.5 – Quiet but disciplined performance as usual by Khedira. Made a mess of that header early in the second half though.
STURARO 6.5 – A typically busy performance by the newly buzz-cut Sturaro in midfield and in general he proves to be a useful-enough player if he’s left to do relatively simple defensive tasks in midfield.
MARCHISIO 6.5 – Struggled to handle the intense Torino midfield press, but overall did quite alright.
CUADRADO 7 – Smart performance by the Colombian, who won lots of clever fouls and defended well down the right wing. His final product is still terribly frustrating but he played an important part for the equalizer.
HIGUAÍN 8 – The first was a smart finish and the second was a laser-sharp finish from a situation where you would think there was no opportunity to be had. These goals show exactly the reason why we broke the bank for the Argentine and he is now deservedly back amongst the goals for the team.
MANDZUKIC 7.5 – Continues his rich vein of form with yet another tireless, battling performance. His quick thinking and brilliant backheel for the equalizer was a joy to behold. He seemed a bit grumpy when coming off for Dybala, though. (But then again, he never looks like the jolliest chap in town, now does he?)
LEMINA 6.5 – Tidy performance and, contrary to popular opinion, I thought he was well within his right to have a go at goal in the 75th minute instead of passing to Higuaín.
DYBALA 7 – At first I thought he was a little subdued and still feeling his way back from injury, but that was before he embarked on a mesmerizing run down the right wing that completely embarrassed three Torino defenders and secured the Pjanic goal. Great to have La Joya back again!
PJANIC 7 – Gets a 7 for finishing off the game with a goal late in stoppage time.
ALLEGRI 7 – It was an entertaining and relatively controlled match, so Allegri did his homework well today. He seemed so undecided between a 3-5-2 and 4-4-2 that he chose to play a curious hybrid of the two. It worked relatively well although Ljajic did find some space on the wings here and there to worry the Juventus backline. Nevertheless, job well done for Mad Max.
Tactical Analysis: Inside Out
While Allegri set out his side to play a 3-5-2/4-4-2 hybrid, Torino played a basic 4-3-3 with the dangerous trio of Belotti, Ljajic, and Falque leading the line. Or did they? This is only what it seemed like on paper because in practice there were some nuances to their setup.
It’s not uncommon in a 4-3-3 formation to see one winger play as an out-and-out wide man for the direct option and the other as a wide forward drifting centrally to play more as an additional passing midfielder (as discussed here, here, and here). However, based on the average position map shown above, Mihajlovic seemed to reinterpret this into an extremely lopsided and narrow 4-4-2 that prioritized attacks on the right wing. It’s no wonder then that the opening goal came when Baselli shuttled all the way over to the right wing to cause an overload and cross for Belotti to nod the header past Buffon. What really caught my eye was how keen his teammate Benassi was to play out wide even though he is a central midfielder by trade. He played almost as a de-facto double right-winger with Falque, so much so that I kept mixing the two up in my notes during the game.
Benassi constantly shuttled extremely wide to combine with Falque and the very-attacking right-back Zappacosta which made this right-wing triangle a focal point
(or, should I say, a Falque point? HA!) for Torino attacks. The Spanish “winger,” additionally, played remarkably deep both with and without the ball which made it seem like he was more of a wide midfielder than a winger.
The space for Juventus was then on the Torino inside-left channel and that is also where the equalizer came thanks to the clever interplay between Mandzukic and Higuaín. Nevertheless, Mihajlovic surprised us by tweaking what seemed like a straightforward formation into a nuanced version that suited his team and his style of play.
Forward as one!
It was definitely a fun and enticing city derby that neither team completely dominated, which made it a gripping game to watch. Mandzukic continues to bully opposition defenders to great effect while Higuaín is now finishing the (admittedly few) opportunities that come his way. On the other side of the pitch, Rugani continues to stake his claim as a mainstay in the Juventus backline with consistently impressive and mature performances. With a fully fit and motivated Dybala, Allegri now suddenly has quite a selection headache up front given Mandzukic’s impressive form. Although things are looking jolly and well now, an extremely challenging top-of-the-table clash against an in-form AS Roma looms large on the horizon. It is a game that I look forward to with optimism and anticipation, so let’s keep this form going for many more games to come!