Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Torino come to the Allianz Stadium to play the Derby della Mole. Juventus play like flaming garbage for most of the game. Torino either lead for much of the game or overcome a quick goal and head into the late stages tied. Then, Juve pull something out of the nether realm late on and dash the hopes of their crosstown rivals.
Since Torino got themselves back into Serie A in 2012, that scenario had played out four times, the Bianconeri either tying or winning the Turin Derby with a goal in the 84th minute or later — three of them in stoppage time. The first two are now legendary moments. In 2014 came Andrea Pirlo’s long-range screamer in the rain with four seconds left in stoppage time. The next year saw Juan Cuadrado’s Miracle Ass Goal, when the Colombian missed an Alex Sandro cross with his foot only to see it bounce in off his rear end with 65 seconds left in added time, kicking off Juve’s epic comeback run.
It’s ironic then, that both Pirlo and Cuadrado were protagonists when Juve did it to Torino — again.
For the balance of the game, Juve was absolutely terrible. They created absolutely nothing in a dire first half, one that saw them spot their red(ish)-shirted step-siblings an early lead thanks to some disastrous defending on a corner. It took them 43 minute to put their first shot on target, while Torino was desperately unlucky not to be up by two or even three thanks to repeated counterattacks penetrating Juve’s high defensive line.
But for pretty much the first time this year, Juve dug down and found the fino alla fine spirit that has been the mark of this nine-year title streak. Cuadrado — who had seen a potential equalizer chalked off on a really iffy VAR call just before the hour — stepped up to the plate, notching a pair of assists in the last 13 minutes of the contest, including the 89th-minute winner by Leonardo Bonucci, to pick up a 2-1 victory that, after last week’s draw against Benevento, was badly needed.
Pirlo was without Alvaro Morata, who was serving the first of a two-game suspension for hurting Fabrizio Pasqua’s feelings last weekend, as well as Giorgio Chiellini and Merih Demiral at the back due to muscle injuries. He went with his usual 3-4-1-2/4-4-2 hybrid, with Wojciech Szczesny at its base. Matthijs de Ligt, Bonucci, and Danilo made up the back line, while Cuadrado and Federico Chiesa served as the wingbacks. Adrien Rabiot and Rodrigo Bentancur played in midfield, while Dejan Kulusevski was given the start in the hole behind the pairing of Cristiano Ronaldo and Paulo Dybala.
Two years ago, Marco Giampaolo was seen as a rising star in Italian coaching, but coming into this game he was close to coaching for his job again after a horrific start that had seen the Granata drop 16 points from winning positions in only the first nine games of the season thanks to a league-worst defense that had shipped 22 goals. Giampaolo tried to change his fortunes with a 3-5-2 of his own. Salvatore Sirigu was protected by Lyanco, Nicolas Nkoulou, and Ricardo Rodriguez. Nineteen-year-old Wilfred Singo started as the right wingback opposite Cristian Ansaldi, bracketing Soualiho Meite, Karo Linetty, and Tomas Rincon. Andrea Belotti partnered up top with Simone Zaza, who knows a thing or two himself about late goals in a Juventus shirt.
It was perhaps a sign that this game would get weird that it started with Ronaldo receiving the kickoff from Dybala and thumping the ball toward the goal from the center circle, apparently thinking Sirigu was off his line somewhere. He hadn’t looked it, and the ball flew well over regardless.
Juve held possession for most of the first five minutes and looked set to begin the process of hemming their rivals into their own half when disaster struck on a corner. The delivery came to Meite at the near post, who was marked closely by Bentancur but still managed to flick the ball between his legs to Nkoulou, who was completely free because Bonucci had gravitated toward the ball, abandoning his marking assignment. Chiesa tried to block off the near post, but the center-back hit the ball with the outside of his boot and poked it past Szczesny going to the far stick, putting Torino in the lead.
Five minutes later it really should’ve been 2-0 when the defense switched off and let Zaza run straight through them to latch on to a pass by Belotti. The former Juve man was 11-on-1 with Szczesny, and the Pole stood his ground to force Zaza’s shot to go far post, and he got enough contact with his leading hand to palm it away.
Juve’s attempts to get themselves on the scoreboard were, to be blunt, weak. Once in a while there would be an interesting ball, like Cuadrado’s in the 15th minute that flashed across the face of goal with neither Ronaldo nor Chiesa close enough to get a touch, but for the most part there was a lot of passing and a complete lack of danger. Torino, on the other hand, seemed to be piercing the Juventus line with counterattacks fairly regularly, with Belotti finding another runner in Linetty in the 20th minute, but the midfielder was prevented from getting a one-on-one with his international teammate when de Ligt came flying in and barged him off the ball shoulder-to-shoulder, a clean tackle that even Linetty himself didn’t protest.
Juve, by contrast, were making a terrible Torino defense look a lot better than it was, constantly misplacing passes or running into blind alleys with the ball. At one point they went 23 minutes between shots, and didn’t register their first shot on target until two minutes before halftime, when Dybala took a cutback from Cuadrado just outside the box but looped it right at Sirigu. Indeed, Toro were twice unlucky not to extend their lead on the stroke of halftime, first when Linetty broke on a counterattack only to put his pass behind Zaza, and the second when Belotti measured up a cross from Ansaldi and sent an acrobatic hit flying just over the bar.
The opening stages of the second half looked like more of the same, reaching a nadir about 10 minute in when Kulusevski got a gift a pass was intercepted in the Torino half, only to slip on the rain-slicked surface and give the ball back.
A few minutes later Juve thought they were back in the game when Cuadrado ran onto a defensive header from a corner and hit it first time from just inside the penalty arc. The shot flew through a sea of legs before snapping the net, but referee Daniele Orsato held up play and eventually ran over to the screen. It was surprising to see being assigned anything at all this weekend after completely bottling his Champions League game between Manchester United and PSG in midweek, and he made another call that, in my opinion, was at least questionable when he decided that Bonucci was interfering with play from an offside position, chalking off the goal.
Juve redoubled their efforts in search of the equalizer, and still struggled to get themselves into position to challenge Sirigu. But the game really changed when Pirlo made his second substitution of the match, sending on Alex Sandro and Weston McKennie for Danilo and Rabiot. Sandro immediately became a thorn in Torino’s side on the left, while McKennie began doing what McKennie do — pressing the hell out of everything in sight. In the 77th minute, Sirigu had to get dirty for the first time all night when Dybala slipped Chisea into the right channel, forcing the Torino keeper to parry it out. Juve took the corner short and rolled it back to Cuadrado, who lofted in a first-time cross that found McKennie, who got in between Singo and Lyanco and smacked a header past Sirigu and into the net, becoming only the third American to score in a Serie A game.
Cuadrado tried the same shot he made near the hour mark a few minutes later, this time skewing it well off target. But soon Juve had yet another corner after Dybala had maybe his best moment of the night, volleying a pass from Ronaldo only to have Lyanco get across and block the shot. The delivery was headed out, but only as far as Bentancur, who cycled it over to Cuadrado. The wingback had all the space he needed to line up his cross and he lofted another cross into the box. This time it was Bonucci who evaded Lyanco and headed it across Sirigu and point-blank range and into the goal, atoning for his poor defending early in the game and completing yet another Torino collapse. Juve’s bench emptied to celebrate, and on their way back the referee showed a straight red card to Carlo Pinsoglio of all people, for reasons that we all eagerly await explanation.
Orsato tacked on seven minutes to the end of the game, but no fireworks came apart from a glancing header by Jacopo Segre, one of two substitutes who were haphazardly thrown on by Giampaolo after his team’s failure was complete. That shot missed the target, and when Orsato finally blew for full time, Juve had done it to Torino again, digging out the kind of win that every top team needs to be able to get.
WOJCIECH SZCZESNY - 8. His save on Zaza is worth a couple of points just on its own. Who knows what happens without it. He also also commanded the box well, punching several crosses and free kicks.
MATTHIJS DE LIGT - 6.5. Dueled with Belotti all night long, but held him to only the one shot attempt at the end of the first half. It wasn’t a stats day for him, but he put in max effort and did some dirty work when he needed to.
LEONARDO BONUCCI - 5.5. Yes, the goal was well-taken and extremely important, but that has to balance against just how bad he was early in the game. His defending on Nkoulou’s goal was atrocious, and he let a few more runners through on dangerous runs before the half was over.
DANILO - 6. Nondescript, mostly solid defending, but the difference in the attack when he came off the field was pretty stark. Still, a decent day, contributing to a defense that didn’t allow a shot on target for the last 75 minutes.
JUAN CUADRADO - 8. Both assists and four key passes total, and he also tied for the team lead with two interceptions. If he keeps this up he’ll be the team MVP by the end of the season.
RODRIGO BENTANCUR - 5.5. Made two key passes as well as a pair of tackles, but gets knocked a little bit for being one of the focal points of the poor defending on Torino’s goal.
ADRIEN RABIOT - 5.5. Led the team with four tackles, but his passing wasn’t that great, and that led to a lot of breakdowns in the attack in the first half.
FEDERICO CHIESA - 6. Made three tackles and two interceptions and was active on the left, trying to create whenever he got on the ball. He does need to get some better crosses in, but his energy is a constant boon on that side.
DEJAN KULUSEVSKI - 5. He’s still getting used to working in buildup play as opposed to just route one counters. He only touched the ball 28 times, and just couldn’t link up the lines.
PAULO DYBALA - 5. It’s not often that a player with five key passes gets this grade, but Dybala’s struggles continued Saturday night despite that number. He was constantly dropping deep into midfield, taking up the same space Kulusevski was trying to use and keeping him far from where you want him — close to the goal. He’s gonna keep getting minutes, he just needs to work his way out of this funk.
CRISTIANO RONALDO - 5. Anonymous. Only took three shots, none of which found the target, and he wasn’t providing for his teammates either. Got dispossessed three times as he tried to run at people. Even aliens have bad games.
AARON RAMSEY - 5. The fact that WhoScored has him registering a key pass is news to me. He wasn’t anywhere near the main action after he came on. The opener against Sampdoria is looking like more and more of an outlier.
WESTON McKENNIE - 8. Pressed the hell out of Torino and was spot on on the header. His energy helped tremendously in midfield.
ALEX SANDRO - 6. Active moving forward on the left, causing problems when he bombed up from the back three.
FEDERICO BERNARDESCHI - NR. A time-wasting sub.
Pirlo changed the game with his subs against Ferencvaros 10 days ago, and he did so here again once he put McKennie and Sandro on the field. The two changed the team’s energy, and while they may not have turned the team into a juggernaut, they did enough to get the team the result they needed, and Pirlo deserves that credit.
I did see one suggestion (I apologize for forgetting who it was) in the comments of Danny’s post-match thread asserting that Pirlo should scrap his hybrid formation in favor of something a bit more consistent, and for the time being that might not be the worst idea in the world. There was so little time for him to install his ideas before the season came out, and it still looks like there are players who aren’t entirely certain what they’re supposed to be doing. Simplifying things for the time being while the players work out what they’re supposed to do at the more advanced levels isn’t the worst idea. It could help grind out more results like this one while Pirlo’s thesis begins to come to fruition.
Juve finish the Champions League group stage on Tuesday with a trip to the Camp Nou to face Barcelona. Juve have an outside chance to win the group, but they’ll have to beat Barca by three goals in order to do so. For what it’s worth, the Blaugrana lost to newly-promoted Cadiz on Saturday, so the vulnerability is there, and such a result isn’t 100 percent out of the question.
After that, it’s a long run of league matches that start with a trip to the Marassi to face Genoa. Then Atalanta visit Turin for a big game at the Allianz.