That game was ... fun as hell.
There was this moment in the waning seconds of the game in which Paulo Dybala attempted a bicycle kick close inside the box — which wasn’t too far off — and when he got up, he just sort of smiled this “I’m still only 23 years old and I’ve got 10 goals in six games” sort of smile. He was having fun, and it looked like everyone else was having fun, too. (Besides Max Allegri and Mario Mandzukic, because of course.)
Yeah, there’s the huge caveat that Torino were down to 10 men. It was hard ever imagining them come back after Daniele Baselli made the big naughty play to earn the red card. Although Juve were up 1-0 before the red, the men in maroon did have a couple half-chances that required last-gasp efforts from Juve defenders.
The first goal, though, was a thing of beauty. If you track just about 30 seconds before the ball was trundling to the back of the net, you’ll see Douglas Costa and Dybala pressing hard; that’s amazing! Did it seem to anyone else that Dybala pressed harder in this game than he usually does? Sure did to me. I think Allegri thought so, too.
“At last we’re starting to run a bit,” he said.
Then Blaise Matuidi pressed, and the ball did indeed seem to flick off his hand — not something you’d probably see called often; his hand was down by his side — and while Baselli was complaining to the referee, our old friend Tomas Rincon was being dispossessed by Miralem Pjanic, who, wise man that he is, let Dybala take it, who did a Dybala thing and scored.
I don’t know what it was, but Juve smelled blood from the beginning. Literally 15 seconds into the game, when Mandzukic touched the ball down nicely in the box before a smart play by the Torino defense, the Bianconeri looked like sharks.
And you know what? After Pjanic booked that beautiful bender, Allegri could’ve gone full power save mode. Take out Dybala, switch to a 3-5-2, and watch Giorgio Chiellini and Medhia Benatia play pass for the remainder of the derby.
But he didn’t. And were if not for some absolutely dynamite goalkeeping from Salvatore Sirigu — who deserves a hell of a shoutout — this game could’ve gone 7-0.
I think Allegri knew the boys needed a bit of confidence, and he indulged them. He kept Dybala in the full 90, and I’m not complaining.
A tantalizing collection of titillating tidbits.
- I know it looks like Matuidi didn’t have a stellar line, but give the man credit: he’s perhaps the perfect complement to Pjanic, and maybe the key that allows the Bosnian to be a full-blown regista. Matuidi never — or rarely — seems to overplay ... he knows who he is. He is not the guy who’s going to assist a streaking Dybala from midfield, like Pjanic. He is not the guy who’s going to look lithe as a salamander, like Rodrigo Bentancur. He’s not Claudio Marchisio or a bruiser like Sami Khedira. But he never stops running, and he never stops trying to win the ball back, a feat in which he succeeds with a pretty damn high frequency.
- On the midfield: Maybe we’re feeling a little better about the future? Pjanic is 27; Bentancur and Rolando Mandragora mean that Juventus have some top-notch prospects; Marchisio, Matuidi, and (maybe) Khedira will provide veteran depth for the next few years. Juve could still go to market for someone like Emre Can or SMS, but with Matuidi and Bentancur playing the way they are, I think we can all collectively discount the doomsday talk.
- Andrea Belotti: not much he could do. But boy do I love this player. It’d be nice to see him in black and white . . . I know it’s a pipe dream.
- Mostly good Juan Cuadrado, including the assist to Mira’s goal. That was an extremely non-Juan thing to do, given his closeness to the goal. I was certain he’d launch a futile attempt on net.
- On the topic of Cuadrado, you’ve got to wonder if the threat of displacement and the competition in training is helping him play, at least to me, with a greater degree of consistency.
- Stephan Lichtsteiner played well but, I mean ... I think I would’ve fared decently at fullback in this game.
- Federico Bernardeschi! Hey! He played more than 10 minutes, and he looked pretty good, although he did whiff on what could’ve been his first Juve goal.
- It’s kind of a bummer that Juve don’t play Napoli until December 1, but assuming the season ambles along as it has been that will be a huge fixture. Despite the undefeated streak — 18 goals scored, 3 goals conceded, 5 wins — Napoli are top thanks to a less-than-impressive win against SPAL.
- Juve got some goals, they’re feeling good — now go kick some Greek ass.
Onto the awards:
Piazza San Carlo Award
For a potentially overlooked yet stellar showing.
Mandzukic neither scored nor assisted, but he did it all. This is not a Gonzalo Higuain fat joke. The nasty Croatian won aerials, held up play, assaulted the goal, and while playing as a traditional No. 9 he had as many clearances (3) as Medhi Benatia and Georgio Chiellini. That’s ... amazing. Call me crazy, but rotating Higuain and Mandzukic as the top striker and playing wingers as wingers sounds like a pretty good plan to me. It seems like Costa is still assimilating, but once he does I really think Allegri will move to this.
Tiny shout-out to Costa for showing some of those absurd dribble skills. That stuff is tasty.
Giuseppe Garibaldi Award
For the man of the match.
With all respect to Dybala’s 10 goals in six league games, Pjanic deserves this one.
Fun fact: if you look up regista in the dictionary, you’ll see “noun: the play of Miralem Pjanic against Torino on September 23, 2017.”
He assisted twice, scored once — moving forward from that deep role — but it was the defensive shift in tandem with the creativity that made Pjanic’s performance, well, perfect. As I said earlier, I really think that Matuidi is what enables Pjanic to do this. I’m generally a fan of the 4-2-3-1, but it’s awfully tempting to think about a 4-3-3 with Matuidi, Pjanic, and Bentancur. We’ve got options, folks.
Nietzsche's Horse Award
For the player whose play demonstrated
an insanity indicative of serious decline in form.
One bad thing: Higuain’s body language. I don’t want to beat a dead horse — heh, Nietzsche joke — but he was literally the one player who did not look happy to be out there, and it probably didn’t help that Dybala sealed the brace on a slightly heavy touch from Higuain in the dying embers of the game. Everybody else was pretty thrilled with goal number four, but Pipita seemed . . . exasperated? I don’t know.
Now, I am very far from panic-mode. If it’s December 15 and Pipita is still being sulky Pipita, then I’ll be in panic mode.
Right now, he’s got a lot on his plate, if you know what I mean. I’m not even sure if any of us could even begin to digest what he’s got going on. The main course is yet to come; believe me. If Higuain gobbles up two delectable goals against Olympiacos, then maybe he’ll be happy.