The glamour tie we all love to watch was back to light up the city: The beautiful Derby della Mole. The fans could be forgiven for having great expectations for this tie given that the “andata” fixture was an absolute cracker to watch. Although it wasn’t quite as gung-ho as that game, Saturday night’s derby certainly was a gripping affair to watch. Adem Ljajic’s exquisite second-half free kick looked to be enough to secure the three points for Torino after Afriyie Acquah’s controversial sending off had thrown a spanner into the works, but Gonzalo Higuaín came off the bench to salvage a point for the league leaders deep into injury time in the second half.
Juventus started the game on the front foot, looking to make an early statement of intent this game by winning a few early corners. After weathering that early spell of pressure, Torino managed to secure some possession and get a feel for the game. Juventus, though, got the first decent chance of the game after Paulo Dybala swung in a wonderful cross into the box but a peculiar mix-up between Leonardo Bonucci and Tomas Rincón resulted in the Italian defender fluffing the chance. An even bigger chance would come the home side’s way just a few minutes later, courtesy of Mehdi Benatia. The Moroccan international saw his bullet header come off the crossbar from a corner kick while Bonucci (again) skied his effort from the rebound. The Bianconeri really turned on the heat as Stefano Sturaro joined in on the fun with a thumping effort from the half volley, but his shot went wide of the target. The score remained goalless but certainly not for a lack of trying!
Although Torino managed to stem the tide after this spell of Juventus pressure in the first half, the home side continued to create some half chances in attack. Juan Cuadrado played a fantastically accurate cross towards Mario Mandzukic — finally playing as center forward again as Higuaín takes a much-needed and deserved rest — but the Croatian’s effort was deflected for a corner kick. Lichtsteiner then forced Hart into a decent save after a clever pass from a Dybala free kick. It was a fast-paced derby at the Juventus Stadium despite the goalless scoreline. A few minutes before halftime, the busy Dybala got involved in affairs by playing a neat 1-2 with Mandzukic and firing a shot at goal from close range, but once again Hart was up to the task. The final kick of the first half saw Ljajic curl a lovely right footed shot from the edge of the box towards the far corner of Neto’s goal, but the effort was always sailing a yard or so over the target.
Even though Juventus had the better of the first half, it was Torino who drew first blood in the second half. Kwadwo Asamoah conceded a dangerous free kick right on the edge of the area after (unluckily) handling the ball during a slide tackle. Ljajic then stepped up and curled an effort into the top corner that, quite frankly, could not have been more perfect if you choreographed it: 0-1. Juventus looked to hit back straight away as Khedira slipped a through ball to Mandzukic but the striker’s effort to the far post went just wide of goal. The moment that would change the course of the game, however, would come in the 57th minute. Mandzukic and Acquah both charged towards a loose ball in the Juventus half but the Torino midfielder came in with what was deemed to be an excessively forceful tackle on the Croatian. The midfielder, already on a yellow card, received his second booking of the night and was sent off to leave the visitors with 10 men. The Torino players were absolutely livid with the referee’s decision while Mihajlovic was sent to the stands for
almost breaking the ref’s neck in two furious dissent.
Juventus now sensed an opportunity back into the game and piled on the pressure: Bonucci headed a cross towards Rincón but the Venezuelan’s header at goal went agonizingly wide of Hart’s goal. Somehow, the home side went on a spree of missing huge chances after Torino went down to 10 men. This time, Mandzukic nodded down Stephan Lichtsteiner’s cross to Dybala, who shifted his body nicely to get a yard of space for the pass to Sami Khedira who in acres of space just 10 meters in front of goal. The German, however, absolutely spanked his ball into Row Z of the Juventus Stadium. Then Bonucci and Higuaín went close themselves but couldn’t get enough power on their respective efforts to really give Hart a difficult time.
The Bianconeri were getting desperate now as they threw bodies forward but exposed themselves to some tricky Torino counterattacks. Ironically, the equalizer almost came from a Torino player as a cross into the box caused confusion between Hart, who stormed out of his goal in an attempt to punch the ball away (and evidently can’t quite communicate such a message in Italian), and Rossettini who almost headed the ball into his own goal as he was completely unaware of Hart’s rush out of goal.
Tick tock, the arena is a clock.
Just as the clock was ticking towards the final seconds of the game, and that illustrious home record seemed to be coming to an end, Juventus finally found the equalizer. Pjanic played a clever pass into the substitute Higuaín who took a second to spin into position and another second to laser a phenomenal shot past the outstretched arm of Joe Hart into goal: 1-1! An amazing finale to a pulsating, and slightly controversial, Derby della Mole at the Juventus Stadium!
NETO 6.5 – Couldn’t do a thing about the perfect free kick goal.
ASAMOAH 6 – Unlucky with the free-kick that led to the goal. Decent defensively, but couldn’t quite make his mark offensively
BONUCCI 6 – An entertaining battle between him and Belotti. However, Bonucci was very fortunate not to be cautioned after tussling with the striker on the edge of the box in the second half.
BENATIA 6.5 – Didn’t really do much wrong today and kept things tight at the back with Bonucci.
LICHTSTEINER 6 – Like Asamoah, he wasn’t very involved in attack but was decent defensively, especially given that Ljajic sometimes drifted into his zone.
KHEDIRA 6 – Some say that his missed shot is still orbiting in space. Jokes aside, he wasn’t such a disaster per se, but seemed to struggle more than usual today.
RINCÓN 7 – Solidified his claim as a very trustworthy and dependable understudy in the center of midfield. Shame about the miscued header in the second half though.
STURARO 5.5 – Really subpar stuff today but, to be fair, the position really didn’t suit him.
DYBALA 6.5 – Again, the minor tactical switch was perhaps not optimal for the little man but he seemed to cope with it far better than Sturaro did.
CUADRADO 6 – Plenty of miscommunications with Lichtsteiner today mixed with some pinpoint crosses. Not a disastrous display, but a bit subpar in my opinion.
MANDZUKIC 6 – A few half-chances aside, he labored upfront and seemed a tad out of synch in what should be his natural position.
HIGUAÍN 7 – The big man saves the day again! A phenomenal strike to rescue a point and at least keep our home unbeaten streak alive.
PJANIC N/A – Didn’t play long enough to judge, even though his clever pass was crucial in securing the equalizing goal.
SANDRO N/A – Ditto.
ALLEGRI 6 – A bit of a mixed bag this one. A solid first half followed by a pretty dire second one. The Dybala-Sturaro switcheroo seemed to be, for the most part, an unnecessary and unsuccessful experiment. Fair play to him for going back to the usual setup early in the second half after going down a goal.
Tactical Analysis – The Space Between Two Worlds
Unfortunately, the 57th minute red card killed the tactical contest as Torino (understandably) bunkered down in a 4-4-1 formation to defend their lead. Before the controversial expulsion though, the visitors were lined up in a 4-2-3-1/4-4-2 shape that was certainly different from the entertaining setup they played in the “home” fixture of this match. That said, the tactical nuance of their lineup was provided by the always-clever Adem Ljajic.
A trequartista on paper, he frequently drifts away from that role into a different world that is much deeper than his original position. This is something we see Pjanic do quite frequently when he plays in that number 10 role and seems to be a different way in which players interpret that role. Always nice to see differences in footballing “philosophies”, no?
It created an interesting dynamic with the other two midfielders, Acquah and Baselli. While the Ghanian stayed in position, the Italian was a bit more proactive in moving forward and occupying the space vacated in Ljajic’s
world position. This is the type of simple, yet subtle, midfield movement that adds that bit of dynamism and unpredictability to a team even though Juventus handled it without too much fuss in the first half. As I said, however, that nuance was duly destroyed when Acquah received his marching orders in the 57th minute.
Ain’t even mad?
I desperately, desperately didn’t want to lose this game (for obvious reasons), but I’m actually surprisingly ok with the draw. It’s probably because the title is extremely close to being wrapped up and we’ve all got our minds on Tuesday’s showdown. A derby like this is always for bragging rights, but in this case I just wanted to ensure that we came away with something (so as to not give Roma/Napoli some misguided sense of belief in a late title charge) and that everybody came away without injuries. Also, it was nice to see Rincón put in another good shift as the backup central midfielder; makes me wonder whether Lemina still has a place in the team honestly. On the other end of the pitch, however, it sure was interesting to see Mandzukic almost have to re-acclimatize himself to his natural role after so long of being played “out of position.” The cost of sacrifice for the team, eh Mario?
I can’t wrap this up without briefly mentioning the red card of course. I admit that Acquah did seem to get the ball first before getting (very much of) Mandzukic in the follow-through. As Fefu commented during the game, the interpretation of fouls has shifted more towards the assessment of excessive force than if a player solely “won” the ball. Because of that, I deem the challenge 50-50: one of those that if you give a booking, it might be harsh/debatable but if you don’t give a booking, you could say that he got away fortunately. One thing is for sure though: if you’re on a yellow card already, you really are tempting fate by going in for sure a tackle like that.
All that said, let us cast our minds to the momentous task we have ahead of us on Tuesday! ANDIAMO!