Local derbies are always high-tension. For a historic fixture like the Derby della Mole, which on Saturday was played for the 196th competitive match, you expect things to be tight and tense even if the gulf in quality between the teams is high.
In this case, the gap wasn’t as large as it’s been in the past. Torino has one of the most highly sought-after strikers in the world in Andrea Belotti, a good young midfield, and after last year’s failed Joe Hart experiment are backed up by an actual goalkeeper this year in Salvatore Sirigu. Considering the fact that the last three derbies at the J Stadium have all been close affairs decided by stoppage-time goals, this game had all the hallmarks of a barnburner.
Then it actually took place, and Juve blew their city rivals out of the water. Led by Paulo Dybala and Miralem Pjanic — and with a serious assist from Daniele Baselli’s loss of all common sense — the Bianconeri went riot and brought home a 4-0 win.
Going into the match all the talk centered around Gonzalo Higuain. The striker had turned in a trio performances that ranged from bad to insipid, which had everyone from Fabrizio Ravanelli to yours truly calling for Massimiliano Allegri to give him some time on the bench to recover his mojo.
Allegri ended up doing just that, moving Mario Mandzukic from the left wing to the tip of the spear. Douglas Costa took over for the Croatian on the left, with Dybala and Juan Cuadrado completing the front four. Pjanic and Blaise Matuidi formed the pivot in midfield, with Stephan Lichtsteiner, Giorgio Chiellini, Medhi Benatia, and Alex Sandro making up the defense in front of Gianluigi Buffon.
The Granata responded with a similar 4-2-3-1 formation, with Belotti leading a supporting line with M’baye Niang, Adem Ljajic, and Iago Falque. Baselli and former Juve spare part Tomas Rincon held down midfield, and the back line boasted Lorenzo De Silvestri, Nicolas Nkoulou, surprise starter Lyanco, and Cristian Ansaldi. Sirigu completed the XI in goal.
The game started fast. Within seconds, Mandzukic had been released into the penalty area with a long ball, but the Torino defense dealt with the quick test and kept him out of shooting positions.
After only four minutes Torino nearly gave Juve the lead themselves when Lyanco unleashed a horrific back pass from distance that Sirigu had to slide to redirect away from his goal. Three minutes later Sirigu was given his first real scare.
Mandzukic started the move with an acrobatic flip to Dybala, who send Cuadrado down the right side. Rather than cross, the Colombian skipped through three defenders and unleashed a shot that just flashed over the bar. It likely had help from a defender, but referee Piero Giacomelli gave a goal kick.
Torino had their first look on nine minutes when Ljajic fired way over, then Mandzukic and Dybala linked up again, the former sending the latter through. Baselli grabbed him and hauled him down, earning himself a yellow and setting Juve up for a free kick routine that saw Pjanic just miss the run of Cuadrado with a chipped setup.
Torino got themselves into Juve’s penalty area for the first time in the 12th minute, but Chiellini threw himself at Falque’s shot and put the ball back the other way.
After a little more than a quarter of an hour, the deadlock was broken. Juve’s high press paid off, as Matuidi harried Baselli into a rushed pass to Rincon, who was subsequently mugged by Pjanic. The Bosnian tapped the ball forward to Dybala, who curled the ball into the net past a flailing Sirigu to put Juve up 1-0.
Three minutes after his goal Dybala very nearly produced the second after another Torino giveaway, but his pass to Costa was just misplaced. Then the game changed.
It was the 24th minute when Baselli, who, if you remember, had already received a yellow card, did his best impression of Liu Kang and flew into Pjanic. To his credit, Baselli managed to pull his feet in, but still went knees-first into Pjanic’s kidney. Giacomelli immediately produced a second yellow card. Torino would be playing with 10 men for over an hour.
It took five minutes for the extra man to show. Alex Sandro put in an excellent cross to the back post, but Cuadrado mishit his volley, depriving the shot of the power it needed and it was cleared off the line.
Torino pulled Falque off on the half-hour mark to reinforce the midfield with Afriyie Acquah, but playing against 10 men Juve tends to becomes an irresistible force, and today was no exception to that. After Costa jinked a defender out of his shoes and earned a corner, Pjanic fired a powerful shot after the short delivery that Sirigu had to punch clear.
The pressure continued. Torino’s only opportunity came in the 36th minute, when Cuadrado contrived to pass the ball straight to Belotti, whose solo run ended in a foul by Pjanic. Ljajic, who had potted a wonderful free kick in this fixture in May, put this free kick into the wall, and Cuadrado led a counterattack that led to a free kick of his own. The Serbian was clearly getting frustrated, and was booked several minutes later for booting the ball away after being called for a foul.
Five minutes from the half, the pressure finally paid and doubled the lead. Sandro fired in a good early cross that Mandzukic dummied back for Cuadrado, who teed up a square ball into the path of the onrushing Pjanic. He had so much space that it was practically a free kick, and with an insane amount of bend he beat a flailing Sirigu to make it 2-0.
With the game essentially in the bag going into the half, Allergi didn’t push as hard as he otherwise could have in the second half. That was partially because he didn’t need to — Juve was in such command of the field at that point that they didn’t have to exert much energy to threaten. Given the run of games they’ve been on — they’ve played every three days since the end of the last international break — it would, frankly, be stupid to do so.
But the threats kept on coming. Three minutes into the second period Sandro just missed high from distance after receiving a square ball from Dybala. Eight minutes later the Brazilian had his goal, cutting in front of Belotti at the near post and thumping a powerful header past a helpless Sirigu off a corner kick from Pjanic.
On the hour, Lorenzo De Silvestri sent a long-range daisy-cutter toward Buffon, who easily hoovered up the save. It was the last time a ball came at Buffon in anger.
A minute later Federico Bernardeschi appeared on the touch line. After only seeing cameo appearances in his first month and a half with the team, it was encouraging to see the youngster on the field for extended time, especially given how much money he set Juve back.
He made an impact almost immediately, stinging Sirigu’s hands with a long shot after a short corner. Had it not been right at the keeper, it very well could have been the youngster’s first Juve goal.
A minute later, in the 66th, Sirigu was in action again, making an almost impossible reaction save after a wonderful cross from Costa found Benatia, who headed into the ground but again right at Sirigu.
Buffon’s old backup on the Italian national team wasn’t done. A swerving free kick from Dybala forced him into another one-handed save. Then in the 69th a crazy goalmouth scramble saw at least four shots blocked or saved, but no one put it into the net. Bernardeschi again came close on the ensuing corner.
Buffon was a spectator at this point, but did provide one amusing moment in the 73rd. After a back pass, he suddenly found himself with two Torino players squared up to him. He calmly faced them down and got the ball to a teammate with ease.
Dybala kept pressing for a second, nutmegging the unfortunate Rincon before firing over. In the 77th minute Mandzukic fired a thunderbolt from outside the box that Sirigu again managed to meet, and an onrushing Bernardeschi scuffed his attempt at the rebound. Three minutes later, he came off for Higuain after seeming to take an impact to the leg.
The parade to goal continued as the game waned. Costa fired in a half volley on a Lichtsteiner cross that Sirigu saved (again) in spectacular fashion, and then just as stoppage time began his will was finally broken again.
It was Pjanic who passed the ball to Higuain, who tried to spin away toward goal. He put the ball a bit too far in front of himself, but Dybala latched on to it and flipped it over a stranded Sirigu to make it 4-0 — and 10 goals in six games for him in Serie A this season. It was also, funnily enough, the fourth time in as many years that Juventus has scored a stoppage time goal against Torino at the J Stadium.
After three extra minutes, Torino were finally put out of their misery, and Juve rampaged out with three points.
GIANLUIGI BUFFON - 7. Saw hardly any action, although his intervention right before the second goal on a free kick was important in keeping Torino down.
STEPHAN LICHTSTEINER - 7. Could focus on attacking after Baselli’s red card, and overlapped well with Cuadrado on the right. Could’ve had an assist or two if Sirigu hadn’t been so good.
GIORGIO CHIELLINI - 7. Kept Belotti in his pocket most of the night. Often pressed a little higher into the midfield to keep the pressure on.
MEDHI BENATIA - 7. Wasn’t given much of a chance to make one of his trademark mistakes because Juve dominated the ball so much. Really should’ve scored in the 66th minute.
ALEX SANDRO - 8. Put in an excellent performance. Completed five of 11 crosses and seven of eight long balls. A constant danger down the left, he allowed Costa to play a little closer to the channel to attack any balls coming in from the right.
BLAISE MATUIDI - 6.5. Nothing spectacular from the Frenchman, but a solid shift covering a ton of ground. His harrying of Baselli was the first link in the chain that ended at Juve’s first goal.
MIRALEM PJANIC - 9. A goal, two assists, and four key passes. One of the best performances he’s put in in a Juve shirt. The goal was an absolute beauty with tons of curve, and he also contributed on the defensive end with five interceptions and three tackles.
JUAN CUADRADO - 7. Not as good as the two games before this one, and he very nearly gifted Belotti an opportunity with a terrible pass, but he dribbled through Torino’s defense on more than one occasion and had the assist on Pjanic’s goal.
PAULO DYBALA - 8.5. Two more strikes, and gave the Torino defense fits with his dribbling. Had four key passes and 10 shots. He’s averaging a goal every 46 minutes in the league.
DOUGLAS COSTA - 6.5. A couple of good crosses and denied what would have been an excellent goal by a superhuman Sirigu, and nearly broke Belotti’s ankles on a dribble. Still needs to learn to dovetail with Sandro a little better.
MARIO MANDZUKIC - 7.5. He really made a difference up front. Denied a goal by another super Sirigu save, but his performance was much more than that. Often served as the relay to send the rest of his attacking mates through.
FEDERICO BERNARDESCHI - 6. Had a couple of shots denied by Sirigu, but looked out of rhythm — kinda like he’s only played 10 minutes at a time for the last few weeks.
RODRIGO BENTANCUR - 6. Completed 96 percent of his passes and kept the midfield held down after replacing Matuidi.
GONZALO HIGUAIN - NR. Had 10 minutes to get back on track but was never put in a great position for a shot. Might’ve been able to do something with the ball that Dybala put in for his second — he looked slightly annoyed that he had poached it to be honest.
The tactics were pretty simple in this one, so let’s talk about the lineup instead.
Mandzukic brought something to the striker role today that Higuain has been lacking recently. Where Higuain has held the ball far too long and tried to dribble through people even though that really isn’t his game. Mandzukic, on the other hand, served as the pivot up front. His passes were timely and immediate, setting up the rest of the forwards to do dangerous things. There wasn’t much thought — just see and go.
That’s the kind of game that Higuain needs to get back to. Allegri maintained in his post-match press conference that Higuain’s absence from the starting XI was for rest rather than a drop for poor performance, Higuain needs to start improving, or else we could see this lineup a little more in the future.
Oh, and while we’re on the subject of the starting lineup...WHY IS MEDHI BENATIA PLAYING AHEAD OF DANIELE RUGANI??? ARGHHHHHHH!!
The final leg of a brutal stretch of schedule is in sight. On Wednesday, Juventus welcome Olympiakos to Allianz Stadium for a big Champions League group stage game that really is a must-win when it comes down to it.
After that, a tricky trip to Atalanta will finish a stretch of a month where Juve has played a midweek game every week. After that game, which will pit Juve against as many as three of their own loanees, the international break will allow some players to kick up their heels. Until then, expect some more rotation as Allegri tries to keep players as fresh as possible.