There have been many a Derby della Mole where things get rough, the game gets ugly and disjointed, and Juve have to rely on a single moment late on to get some kind of result out of the slog.
What doesn’t often happen — and hasn’t happened at all since the Allianz Stadium was opened — is what happened on Friday night, when Juventus got run out of their own ground by their cousins from across Turin.
This was never going to be an easy game. Ivan Juric has quickly turned this Torino team into the best one in years. He has transformed them almost overnight into a carbon copy of the Hellas Verona teams that were such a pain in the ass to play against — and this without striker Andrea Belotti for the bulk of the season. Add that to the general intensity that the Turin derby brings out and this had all the hallmarks of a game Juve would have to dig deep to win.
But to see Torino so thoroughly dominate the game for long stretches was something completely unexpected. Massimiliano Allegri was hampered throughout the match by injuries — including one that came before the game and two more in-game — and a short bench, but he also made some unforgivable tactical blunders, and his attitude of scoring a goal then setting up to hit on the counter has rubbed off on this side in the absolute worst way. After Matthijs de Ligt scored the opener in the 13th minute, they only ever found the target twice more, and those two shots came in the same passage of play in the 23rd minute. After that they hardly ever looked remotely close to scoring, while Torino kept on playing in Juventus’ half and were eventually rewarded with a stunning equalizer by Belotti on the hour mark. The late-game heroics that have marked this rivalry on the Juve side for the last eight years never came this time, and Torino ran out of the Allianz with a 1-1 draw, giving Atalanta a huge opportunity to pounce and get themselves back into the top four.
Allegri was in a selection crunch at the back as he headed into his first home Derby della Mole back in charge of the Bianconeri. Danilo was suspended for yellow card accumulation, and Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci were both nursing injuries. That meant that Daniele Rugani — the only other center-back on the roster — was scheduled to start alongside de Ligt, but the 27-year-old pulled up in warmups with a muscle injury. With no other options — not even a call-up from the Under-23 squad to serve in an emergency — Allegri was forced to start Alex Sandro as de Ligt’s partner. The two were flanked by Juan Cuadrado and Luca Pellegrini to form the back four in front of Wojciech Szczesny. The rest of the 4-3-2-1 formation had a lot of potential but eventually got it all wrong. Denis Zakaria, Manuel Locatelli, and Adrien Rabiot made up the midfield, with Paulo Dybala and Alvaro Morata slotting in to support Dusan Vlahovic.
Juric’s response was a 3-4-2-1 formation in front of goalkeeper Vanja Milinkovic-Savic. Koffi Djidji, Bremer, and Ricardo Rodriguez formed the back three, with Wilfred Singo and Mergim Vojvoda setting up as wingbacks. Former Juve prospect Rolando Mandragora teamed up with Sasa Lukic in midfield, while breakout star Josip Brekalo and Tommaso Pobega played behind Belotti up front.
The pre-match meeting of the captains was more significant than usual, as both Dybala and Belotti, both free agents at the end of the year, were potentially starting their final Derbies. When play finally started, it was the visitors that immediately grasped the initiative. De Ligt had to make an early statement challenge, winning the ball cleanly from Belotti after a missed clearance fell to the striker and he charged in on goal. Mandragora was the first on the night to find a target after getting into the left channel off a feed from Rodriguez, while Juve’s efforts to break free of the Granata’s press were often futile. If they weren’t turning the ball over, they were resorting to long balls out to Vlahovic, who was repeatedly losing the 50/50s to Bremer, who rapidly marked him out of the game.
Torino came close to scoring in the ninth minute when Brekalo charged down the left side and pulled the ball back from the byline, but the cross was just behind Belotti. Over the game’s first 10 minutes Juve had barely had a touch in the Torino half, but that changed quickly when Zakaria released Rabiot on the team’s first real counterattack. The Frenchman charged downfield with Vlahovic trailing in the center, but Rabiot made the decision to go himself — probably the right one in the end — and just missed powering a low drive into the far bottom corner.
The first goal came very much against the run of play only three minutes later, when Cuadrado curled a beautiful corner kick to the far post and de Ligt rose over everyone to slam a header into the net off the thigh of Milinkovic-Savic.
Juve looked a little bit better over the next 10 minutes. Bremer had to be hip to close down a passing lane into the box after a mistake by Djidji left Vlahovic trying to slip Morata into the box, and in the 23rd minute Locatelli and Pellegrini combined on the left side to slip the ball down the wing. Vlahovic left the cross back for Dybala, who ran onto it and hit it first time, only to have it go right at Milinkovic-Savic, whose parry only just managed to evade Morata. The ball eventually worked its way back to the Spaniard, who had a go from distance but likewise hit the ball right at the goalkeeper.
It was the last time Juventus would put a shot on target.
Torino began to again move the ball in the Juve half of the field, putting in a number of crosses that required the attention of Szczesny, who put on a commanding display in his box, going out to catch anything that came near him. The rest of the half saw Juve dealing with a number of crosses into their box, while Torino was effective in preventing the hosts from building any attacks of their own. The injury situation went from bad to worse just before the break when Pellegrini took a kick to the knee. He finished the half, but made way for Mattia De Sciglio at the break.
Torino’s dominance of proceedings continued on the restart, and within five minutes of the beginning of the half Szczesny had to reach up to tip an excellent hit from Mandragora over the bar. Then the injury situation went from worse to worst, when Dybala fired a long-range hit that missed wide and immediately signaled to the bench that something was wrong. He was quickly replaced by Weston McKennie, dropping the entire team into a 4-4-2 formation that only made the team’s problems with creativity worse.
There was a sinking sense that Torino’s equalizer was coming, and in the 62nd minute it finally did. It came off a similar play to the one Brekalo and Belotti missed in the first half. The Croatian evaded Cuadrado on the attacking left, got to the byline, and pulled it across. Belotti lost the attentions of Sandro with a deft move, leaving the Brazilian desperately diving to try to redirect the ball as Brekalo drilled a cross in that Belotti opened his body to and volleyed past a despairing Szczesny and into the net to tie the score.
Vlahovic’s only shot of the game came right off the ensuing kickoff, but Lukic was in the way to block the shot behind. It took less than five minutes for Torino to come inches from going ahead when Mandragora was slipped into the left channel by a gorgeous Brekalo back-heel and Cuadrado’s block saw the ball swerve hard toward the far post before it bent just wide. Juve continued to flail offensively, and frustration nearly boiled over when Cuadrado took an elbow to the back of the neck from Belotti as they fought for the ball. The Colombian got into the striker’s face after the play was over, and was eventually booked for dissent after upbraiding referee Davide Massa for letting the infraction slide.
Vlahovic remained ineffective, completely bottled up by Bremer, to the point where Allegri had seen enough and hauled him off for Moise Kean. Bremer went right to work on the young Italian too, keeping him from being able to turn and disrupting his ability to lay the ball off, although he did manage a few bits of holdup play that were surprisingly effective, given his usual trouble in that area. Still, he badly misjudged one ball in that ended up glancing off his shoulder, and another he just whiffed at after waiting for a bounce to come down to him. De Ligt had another header off a corner blocked, and Bremer did the same to Morata with four minutes to go.
As the seconds ticked off the clock, the opportunity for more late-game magic in the derby dwindled. McKennie got one last opportunity when Rabiot squared him the ball in the left channel, but Cristian Ansaldi was in place for a final block to keep the game tied, and to put a serious dent in Juve’s chances at making the top four.
WOJCIECH SZCZESNY - 8. Was a huge presence in his box today, claiming every cross that came remotely close to him. Made an excellent save against Mandragora in the early part of the second half but didn’t have much chance to stop Belotti’s volley.
JUAN CUADRADO - 5.5. Led the team with a pair of key passes, but was beaten by Brekalo as the Croatian set up the equalizer, and his crosses became more and more erratic as the game went on, perhaps pointing to some tiredness. He also came very close to losing his head late on.
MATTHIJS DE LIGT - 8.5. Immense in every sense of the word. He was the Rock of Gibralter in defense, leading the team in tackles and completing a shade under 85 percent of his passes — oh, and yeah, that goal was damn impressive.
ALEX SANDRO - 4.5. I get it, he was playing as a center-back and he’s not a center-back. But you simply cannot lose Andrea Belotti the way he did. It’s even worse because for most of the day he was avoiding the exact mistake he made there, but somehow managed to crash and burn in that moment. It ruins what might’ve been a fairly impressive performance given the circumstances.
LUCA PELLEGRINI - 6. Was putting in another combative performance with some moments of great skill before taking a knock to the knee and being unable to go in the second half.
DENIS ZAKARIA - 6. Didn’t have a lot in the way of counting stats, but dude was everywhere and had a ton of movement. His near-assist to Rabiot was another surprising amount of skill, but one can’t help but feel that having him play as a box-to-box midfielder isn’t the best use fo the talents he’s got in his favor.
MANUEL LOCATELLI. - 5. Not well utilized (we’ll get to that) and had a really rough day because of it, constantly spraying passes where he didn’t want them to go. He was unable to control play from the regista position,
ADRIEN RABIOT - 5.5. Got forward pretty well once or twice but wasn’t able to really put a stamp on the game from the midfield. Had he nailed that shot early in the game this would obviously be different.
PAULO DYBALA - 5.5. Made a pair of tackles tracking back and stung Milinkovic-Savic’s gloves with a powerful drive, but was unable to use his creativity to get Juventus out from being pinned back.
ALVARO MORATA - 5.5. Was feeding off scraps, but still managed a key pass and had a dangerous shot blocked by Bremer late.
DUSAN VLAHOVIC - 4. Completely swallowed up by Bremer, and showing a worrying propensity for being marked out of games by more physical center-backs. Considering all the attention he must have gotten at Fiorentina it’s impossible that he simply folded under that kind of pressure on a regular basis. I suspect this is a system issue.
MATTIA DE SCIGLIO - 5.5. Had a key pass, a tackle, and an interception and was generally good against Singo on his side of the field, but only completed 61.9 percent of his passes as he tried to break the Torino press with his teammates.
WESTON McKENNIE - 6. Created some danger with his channel runs and had a good chance in stoppages snuffed out.
MOISE KEAN - 5. Going up against Bremer was a tough ask considering what he’d just done to Vlahovic, but he was also around the ball in several potentially dangerous areas only to mess things up.
ARTHUR - 6. Made a whopping five tackles in 17 minutes of time on the field, but couldn’t do much more with the regista position than Locatelli could,
There was a lot going into this game that Max Allegri couldn’t control.
He didn’t have any control whatsoever against Rugani having to pull up, or Pellegrini or Dybala’s injuries during the game. He did what he had to do to deal with the former, while replacing Dybala could’ve perhaps been a bit more creative than the 4-4-2 the team found itself in.
But there were things that Allegri could control, and he bottled them. Badly.
In particular, the midfield was a disaster in setup. It has been repeatedly shown this season that Manuel Locatelli is at his best when closer to the opponent’s box, where he can create for his forwards. Faced with tons of game tape and observation of this case, Allegri instead positioned him as a traditional regista. At times Locatelli was the deepest outfield player on the pitch, popping up between De Ligt and Sandro. His impact on the game was pretty much nil as a result. This was especially galling considering the fact that Zakaria, who was seemingly bought for the express purpose of covering for Locatelli while he moves forward and being the midfield destroyer, was used as a box-to-box midfielder, which he can certainly do but it isn’t the best use of his abilities either.
Allegri’s handling of the midfield has been perplexing for several games now, and it’s hard not to think that he’s simply ignoring the best qualities of his players as he comes up with his game plans. Anyone who cared about maximizing his players’ talent would recognize this and act on it, but Allegri continues shoehorning players into positions that don’t make the best use of their abilities. Maximizing the players’ talent is job #1 for a coach, and not only is Allegri not doing that right now, it almost looks like he’s actively choosing not to. If things don’t change soon, don’t expect the results to.
Juventus will have to try and recover on the big stage, as Tuesday marks their return to Champions League action with the first leg of the round of 16 against Villarreal. After that, Juve start a run of seemingly easier games, starting with the Empoli team that shocked them the second week of the season.