As Juventus closed in on mathematically clinching the Scudetto, the looks of their run-in became all the more interesting. Back-to-back derbies against Inter and Torino, and four of five games against teams that are in serious contention for a top-four spot and a spot in the UEFA Champions League. Would such big games motivate a team with so little to play for? Or would we see a listless team playing out the string before heading to the beach (or, in the case of the South American internationals, to Brazil for the Copa America)?
Last weekend’s Derby d’Italia saw Juve come out drabber than drab in the first half before picking up in the second to get out of San Siro with a 1-1 draw. Friday’s Derby della Mole against Torino was better. Not by a ton. But definitely better. Frankly, Juve has won games, like the Lazio match in January, while playing far worse.
But despite playing decently, the Bianconeri found themselves down 1-0 in the game’s latter stages thanks to a huge mental error midway through the first half. But, with six minutes to go, that guy from Portugal showed up again to head home an equalizer, and eventually the two Turin teams shared the spoils, Juve adding another point to the pile and Torino pulling — temporarily, at least — that much closer to Atalanta in fourth.
Again, the biggest story for Juve at this point was the continuing growth of the injured list. Hours before the game it was reported that Emre Can was the latest to hit the trainer’s room with — wait for it — a muscle injury. That left Massimiliano Allegri with so few available players that he had hardly any options in terms of who to use and how to use them. Once the starting XI was posted, he had no first-team midfielders or forwards available on the bench.
The alignment he was forced into was a 4-4-2. Wojciech Szczesny started in goal, with Joao Cancelo, Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini, and Leonardo Spinazzola protecting him. Miralem Pjanic and Blaise Matuidi formed the pivot in midfield, bracketed by Juan Cuadrado and Federico Bernardeschi. Cristiano Ronaldo and Moise Kean played as the strike pair.
Torino settled into Walter Mazzarri’s trademark 3-5-2. Salvatore Sirigu settled in behind a back three of Nicolas Nkoulou, Armando Izzo, and 22-year-old Brazilian debutant Bremer. Lorenzo De Silvestri and Cristian Ansaldi played the wing spots, with Soualiho Meite, Sasa Lukic, and
aggressive thug former Juve player Tomas Rincon manning the middle. Andrea Belotti joined with Alex Berenguer in attack.
Both teams probed each other in the opening moments before Juve started taking control about five minutes in. Kean broke down the right side and pulled back for Ronaldo, but De Silvestri managed to cut it out before it got to its destination. Bernardeschi then had a cross interdicted and then tried an ambitious volley off a long ball from Chiellini, but ballooned it way off target. Moments later Ronaldo was chasing a ball into the box and collided with Sirigu as the keeper came out to try to deal with it. Ronaldo appealed wildly for a penalty, but Sirigu had clearly gotten his hands to the ball and referee Luca Banti rightly allowed play to continue.
Torino had to rely on the counter for their chances, and got their first in the 11th minute when Chiellini stumbled trying to defend a cross, uncovering Belotti, who was so surprised that the ball hit him before it trickled to Szczesny. The Granata’s captain then got himself into a good position to shoot in the right channel off a through ball from Berenguer, but Szczesny was equal to it at his near post.
Kean again tried to turn provider for Ronaldo in the 16th minute after winning an aerial ball agianst Nkoulou and then breaking downfield, but his cross was again defended away, this time by Izzo. Less than 60 seconds later, Torino had a shocking lead.
It came on an even more shocking mistake by Pjanic, who let a throw-in get across him as he retreated back into his own box. He never felt Lukic coming up behind him, and the Serb jumped him inside the penalty area before curling the ball past a completely stranded Szczesny to score his first Serie A goal. It was an inexcusable lack of focus from a player of Pjanic’s caliber.
Juve immediately looked to respond and Matuidi came very close when Ronaldo found him with an overhead pass, but he didn’t get quite true contact on the volley and Sirigu was able to save the bouncing shot. Spinazzola collected the rebound and put it back into the mixer toward the back post. Cuadrado approached the ball unmarked, but instead of a far-post header into the net like we so often see when the Colombian winger ghosts infield he tried to jump and volley it, only to simply tip it over the line for a goal kick.
Torino continued to counter while Juve struggled in vain to find the final ball. Ronaldo was given a ton of room to shoot from 25 yards but put it just past the wrong side of the post, then Kean was blocked twice by Nkoulou in the right channel. On the other end, Berenguer dropped a shoulder to get past Pjanic in the open field, but missed high.
The half came to an end with the sense that Torino had scored something against the run of play, while Juve had the lion’s share of possession but weren’t really using it to test Sirigu. There wasn’t quite a sense of inevitability about Juve finding the equalizer, but the idea wasn’t exactly far-fetched either.
The half opened with Rincon nearly killing another young Juventus player, as he buried his studs into Spinazzola’s foot, earning a booking and leaving the full-back on the ground for an extended period of time while Juve continued an attack. Fortunately he got back up again, and continued to be a handful on the left side.
Nine minutes into the half Ronaldo had a golden chance to tie the game when he got into great position from a corner, but uncharacteristically headed the ball over. Just past the hour Spinazzola went on a fantastic dribble as he cut in from the left, but turned his shot wide.
Both teams went in search of the game’s next goal, but there were few fireworks until there were about 15 minutes left in the game, that was when Lukic nearly found Belotti at the near post, but his cross fizzed past the Italian striker. At the other end Kean finally got some decent service, but couldn’t get much power on his strike and it was easily smothered by Sirigu.
With 12 minutes left, Allegri finally cried uncle and threw out one of the kids in attack — Mattheus Periera made his second straight appearance in place of a terrible Cuadrado. The pace of Juve’s play started ticking up, but not before one of Torino’s own subs, Ola Aina, took the ball with his first touch and surged up the middle, slaloming past a set of defenders before putting his shot just over.
But then that Portuguese dude popped up again. Quite literally, actually. Juve’s wide men had been trying with varying degrees of success to get in the right cross, and Spinazzola finally got in the one that unlocked Torino’s defense. Ronaldo rose up between Bremer and Ansaldi and looked to be hanging in the air as he met it, guiding it into the top corner and then rushing in to grab the ball out of the goal and place it on the center circle to search for a winner.
Unfortunately, neither team managed so much as an attempt, and the most noteworthy moment of the game’s closing stages was the rather comical mistake of blowing his whistle a minute early in stoppage time. And with that, the spoils were shared, and we were one game closer to the the end of the year.
WOJCIECH SZCZESNY - 7. Strong facing shots and in the air on crosses. Could do nohting about the goal.
JOAO CANCELO - 5.5 Wasn’t his usual liability on defense but could’t get the sights in on his crosses from the right.
LEONARDO BONUCCI - 6. Didn’t contribute much in the way of passing, but was solid at the back.
GIORGIO CHIELLINI - 8. Hell of a game for the captain. His stats are absurd — six tackles, two interceptions, three clearances, one blocked shot, and three key passes. A leader’s performance.
LEONARDO SPINAZZOLA - 7.5. A constant danger on the left side. He dribbled through people, he surged past them, and finally got his first assist in a Juve shirt with an excellent ball for the equalizer.
JUAN CUADRADO - 3. Made the wrong decision almost every single time. One of the most frustrating games we’ve seen out of him in a long while. If anyone else had been healthy he would have come off a lot sooner.
MIRALEM PJANIC - 4.5. He made three key passes, but also misplaced a lot of balls, and what he was thinking as Lukic was bearing down on him is an utter mystery.
BLAISE MATUIDI - 6. Made four tackles in midfield and had a pretty good shot saved in the first half. Always makes the effort but doesn’t have the abilities to constantly be the furthest midfield forward.
FEDERICO BERNARDESCHI - 5.5. Made a couple of good runs but generally felt a little neutral.
MOISE KEAN - 5.5. He got into good positions and was dangerous when he got service. This would have been a 6, but that 45.5 percent pass completion number is too much to ignore.
CRISTIANO RONALDO - 7. Didn’t have a whole ton of chances, but came through when he was needed and his header on the goal was excellent. Also made a pair of key passes.
MATTHEUS PEREIRA - NR. An immediate upgrade on Cuadrado going forward, even though he didn’t do anything as well as he did last week at Inter.
MATTIA DE SCIGLIO - NR. Came on to push Cancelo forward as a wrinkle at the end.
I mean, what else was Allegri really supposed to do with this game?
There were two only two healthy first-team midfielders, only four healthy forwards and wide men. There isn’t really anything else to do — unless you start to question just why Juve has so many injuries to deal with. We’ll look at that question, though, in a larger format than this one. Suffice to say, Juventus could do with a couple of these guys getting healthy enough to play by the time the season ends.
Juve travel to Rome to face off against Roma at the Stadio Olimpico a week from Sunday. Then it’s back home as Atalanta comes to Turin — a day which will also see the Serie trophy presented post-game.