It’s truly been a dark week for Juventus.
Dominated by AC Milan and limp in a shocking defeat to Maccabi Haifa, they headed into ritiro upon their return from Israel. As they sequestered themselves for the traditional Italian response to serious struggles, controversy only deepened when reports came out detailing a split in the locker room into camps for and against manager Massimiliano Allegri, while some players disagreed with the decision to go into ritiro at all.
All this was a wonderful preamble to the first Derby della Mole of the season. Torino was dealing with their own struggles — in particular the departure of striker and captain Andrea Belotti as a free agent this summer. Torino have some talented players who can create chances, but not as many who can reliably finish them. That problem was only exacerbated by injuries to Antonio Sanabria — who missed the game entirely — and Pietro Pellegri, who was only fit enough for the bench.
So it was that two teams with some extreme flaws slogged at each other. Each had the extra energy brought on by a derby, but Torino only ever managed to put two shots on target, while Juve were seemingly unable to string together even the simplest of passes. The Bianconeri were perhaps slightly more on the unlucky side as they watched Vanja Milinkovic-Savic turn away a couple of good shots while others missed chances they really should have buried, but overall the game was a thoroughly forgettable affair.
But the majority of the time, talent comes to the fore. And Juventus, for all their struggles, have some supreme talents wearing their shirt, including one Dusan Vlahovic. It’s arguable the striker should have already scored at least once by the time Juventus lined up for a corner kick in the 74th minute. He got himself in perfect position to slide onto a flicked pass and finally break the deadlock, giving Juve their first away win of the season and, for a few moments at least, righting the ship amidst a sea of chaos.
Allegri sent out a lineup that could have either been a 3-5-2 or a 4-4-2, though it played more like the latter until the later stages of the game. Wojciech Szczesny played in goal behind the quartet of Juan Cuadrado, Danilo, Bremer, and Alex Sandro. Weston McKennie, Manuel Locatelli, Adrien Rabiot, and Filip Kostic lined up in midfield, while Vlahovic was joined by Moise Kean up top.
Without any recognizable striker, Torino coach Ivan Juric had to make do with a false nine in a 3-4-2-1 formation. Milinkovic-Savic was protected by the back three of Per Schuurs, Ricardo Rodriguez, and Koffi Djidji. Ola Aina and Valentino Lazaro were the wing-backs, flanking Karol Linetty and Sasa Lukic in midfield. Aleksey Miranchuk and Nemanja Radonjic supported Nikola Vlasic in the attack.
Juve started the game making the majority of the attacks, but they all petered out well before a shot could even be made thanks to either mishit passes or awful first touches that either exposed the ball to the defenders or simply turned it over outright. It was the home side that ended up taking the game’s first shot when Miranchuk cut in from the right, but it was right at Szczesny and the Poland international easily claimed the short-hop.
The game continued in a pattern that became eminently predictable. Juve’s attacks stalled, often on their own thanks to generally awful passing, while Torino moved the ball well in the attacking third but would settle for a shot near the edge of the box that was either blocked or well off target.
It wasn’t until the 33rd minute that Juve registered their first shot, a snap-turn effort from Vlahovic just outside the box that was easily stopped by Milinkovic-Savic at his near post. The big Serbian keeper had a lot more to do a minute later, when Juve tested him three times in the space of 16 seconds. The first came when Kean found Vlahovic with a through ball down the middle. The striker made a nice turn to put Djidji on the ground but tried to get cute with a chip, the shot hitting the VMS in the arm as much as he saved it. Kostic claimed the rebound and squared for Locatelli, who hit a powerful shot from the top of the penalty arc. It was too central, and Milinkovic-Savic threw up his hands to parry. Such was the power of the shot that the rebound flew out a good 25 yards, but a loose touch from the Torino defense gave the ball right back to Rabiot, who teed himself up with his chest and tried a piledriver of his own that the keeper stopped with a two-handed parry, fortunate that there was no attacker to pounce on the rebound that he eventually ran down on his own.
Torino had to be alive two minutes later when Cuadrado cut inside and tried to swing the ball into the far post, but he bent it too far and it flew a foot or two wide. It looked like Juventus were starting to turn the screw, but for the last 10 minutes of the half the awkwardness returned to their game, and they couldn’t press home any kind of momentum until the break.
Torino tried to come out of the interval swinging, but still couldn’t come up with anything other than speculative long-range efforts. Juve had promising early chances snuffed out when Djidji slid in to redirect a Kostic ball that was angling in for Vlahovic. A minute later Vlahovic scuffed another cross from his countryman, with the ball falling first to McKennie, whose shot was blocked. That rebound bounced out to Locatelli, who tried another long-range shot from the top of the arc. This time it was a tricky half-volley that he bounced toward goal, only for Milinkovic-Savic to leap up and palm the ball over the bar.
The good vibes faded a bit when Bremer was brought off the field for Leonardo Bonucci only six minutes into the half, a change that quickly became clear was injury-related. But the Juve defense still held firm, allowing nothing but low-percentage long-range attempts. The closest Torino came to breaching Szczesny’s goal came just before the hour when a cross from the byline by Lazaro deflected off Danilo and toward the goal, but the keeper was quick to parry the ball away.
Juve worked what looked to be their best chance of the entire game just after the hour when Vlahovic released Kostic on a run down the left. He charged down the field with three options to his right and rode a challenge before selecting the correct pass, a low through ball to Kean in the left channel. But Kean somehow managed to bungle a point-blank tap in, seemingly misjudging where he was in relation to the goal and tapping the ball with the inside of his foot well beyond the post. It was a microcosm of the struggles he’s had since returning to Juventus.
As the clock ticked away both teams tried to step up the intensity. Torino, hoping to avoid another late-game derby heartbreak, had their best chance of the game in the 72nd minute when Miranchuk somehow airmailed a ball from 16 yards when he had a clear shooting lane, while two minutes later Milinkovic-Savic dove to his left to meet a powerful Vlahovic header, parrying it around the post with one hand. But on the ensuing corner the keeper had no chance. Cuadrado’s corner met Danilo, who headed the ball down toward the far post. Aina was caught ball-watching, allowing Vlahovic to charge behind him and stick out a leg to redirect the ball into the back of the net.
Juric used what firepower he had left on his bench after falling behind. Yann Karamoh was effective on the Torino left, but he and his fellow subs still failed to create much of anything except some long-range pot-shots at goal as time ticked away. Five minutes of stoppage time ticked by, and when the final whistle came the team gathered in a large huddle on the field by way of celebration, seemingly willing it to be the start of something bigger.
WOJCIECH SZCZESNY - 6. Was given very little to do by a Torino team with little attacking reference point.
JUAN CUADRADO - 6. Led the team with six tackles, though he only had one key pass on the other end. He did manage to beat his man once in this game, but only once. It continues to look like the end is on the horizon for the venerable Colombian.
DANILO - 7. A machine in the middle of the park, racking up five tackles, two interceptions, and three clearances to go along with a 90.9 percent pass completion rate and the assist for Vlahovic’s goal. He’d struggled the last few matches but put up a big game here when it was needed.
BREMER - 6.5. Patrolled the box more than he stepped out to challenge ball carriers, making a pair of clearances but also blocking three shots. Hopefully his injury isn’t too severe, but there was a serious brace on his hamstring when the game ended.
ALEX SANDRO - 6. A far more defensive role for Sandro today, who with one or two minor exceptions played relatively mistake-free football. He made three tackles and was generally solid in the back.
WESTON McKENNIE - 5. Misfired on a quarter of his passes, and while he wasn’t playing as an out-and-out winger he was certainly farther out than he really ought to be, sapping a lot of his effectiveness.
MANUEL LOCATELLI - 6. He’s still being misused by Allegri, limiting his offensive contributions, but he was solid defensively and forced VMS into two saves, both of which were rather difficult. But he needs to be closer to goal on a regular basis to find the Loca we know can come out of there.
ADRIEN RABIOT - 6. Very good defensively in this game, going for a pair of tackles and two interceptions. He also had a key pass and a major shot on target that Milinkovic-Savic made a good save on.
FILIP KOSTIC - 7. Probably his best game in a Juve shirt. He had five key passes, and another couple that won’t go down as key passes in the stats but were very dangerous nonetheless. Also picked up two tackles and an interception on the defensive side.
MOISE KEAN - 5. His touch was ridiculously heavy all night long, and the missed chance on the hour mark was simply unacceptable. You HAVE to get the ball on frame in that situation. If the keeper saves, fine, good on him, but he has to work. It was like he wasn’t aware of where he was in relation to the goal. There were the odd positives, like the pass that sent Vlahovic through in the first half, but he simply cannot miss chances like that.
DUSAN VLAHOVIC - 6.5. You can argue that by the time he scored the winner he really should’ve had one goal, if not more. The 1-on-1 with Milinkovic-Savic in the first half was a botch — he really should’ve scored there — but he was unlucky on the header that VMS saved and he was in perfect position for the poacher’s finish that won the game. He does need to learn to deal with physical marking, however, as there were extended stretches where Perr Schuurs simply marked him out of play.
LEONARDO BONUCCI - 6. Made three clearances in an uneventful appearance. Things were made easier for him as Torino was playing with the ball in front of him as opposed to dropping it in behind to expose his lack of pace.
ARKADIUSZ MILIK - 5. Only touched the ball eight times and didn’t do anything to push the attack while he was on the pitch, mostly because his opportunities to do so were limited.
LEANDRO PAREDES - NR. A late sub to bleed off some minutes, solidify the midfield, and give Vlahovic a breather after he’d been hit in the stones late.
Given the personnel he had at his disposal, Allegri put together a good starting XI, with a combination that allowed him to play in multiple shapes depending on the situation. The inclusion of Kean at the expense of Milik was awkward, but he may have been playing things safe given the minor muscle issues the Polish striker had dealt with a few weeks ago. It’s also interesting that Paredes has started on the bench the last two games. Has he lost Allegri’s trust that fast? Other than that, there isn’t a ton of things to fault from his team selection.
There are a few questions about his in-game subs, however. Why he only made three of them, one of which was forced due to injuries, was a surprise. Fabio Miretti was left sitting on the bench when he’s proven so far this year that he’s up for the task of playing in games like this and he could’ve kept the midfield fresh. Ultimately he’ll consider it a lack of options, but it’s strange that he wasn’t used given his progress so far.
Did ritiro work? Hard to say. It’s only one game, and if the rumors are true there’re divisions in the locker room, it’s questionable as to what benefits the old practice will have. But today was a win, and that’s ultimately what mattered.
Juventus get most of a week between games for the last time until the World Cup break this week, before they face Empoli on Friday at home. After that comes the insanely important return fixture against Benfica in Portugal, followed by a trip to Lecce in the league.