The Derby della Mole is always a big day on the social calendar in Turin. For Juventus, it’s perhaps slightly down the list in terms of importance — let’s be real, the Derby d’Italia is always the bigger game in this day and age — but it’s still a game that carries a heightened level of intensity.
Which is why it was surprising when the the first half of Saturday’s match against Torino turned out to be such a squib.
Neither team was any good at all in the first 45 minutes. With Juve missing their two biggest offensive threats via injury and Torino sitting their top scorer for disciplinary reasons, neither side managed much of anything. There was only one shot on target the entire first half, with Juve looking particularly disappointing, having again foregone the press that had been so successful in the season’s first weeks.
But all it took was one adjustment at halftime for Juve to kick into gear. Juve had a two-goal lead within 17 minutes of the restart, taking advantage of a pair of corners to build a 2-0 advantage that they easily held up against an ineffectual Torino attack to become the final result.
Massimiliano Allegri was missing both of his starting forwards. Dusan Vlahovic was dealing with lower back pain, while Federico Chiesa had pulled up in training midweek and it was decided not to risk him. Alex Sandro and Mattia De Sciglio were also injured, while the confirmation of Paul Pogba’s doping tests meant he was suspended for the foreseeable future. With Arkadiusz Milik only fit to start from the bench, Allegri was forced to improvise a little bit. The result was a 3-5-1-1 formation. Wojciech Szczesny was at its base, behind the trio of Federico Gatti, Bremer, and Danilo. Timothy Weah made his first start in a month at right wing-back, while Filip Kostic was on the other end. Weston McKennie was finally given a start in his natural midfield position, along with Manuel Locatelli and Adrien Rabiot. Fabio Miretti played a No. 10 role along with Moise Kean up front.
Torino manager Ivan Juric was already dealing with a weak attack, and made the decision to drop Nemanja Radonjic for disciplinary reasons coming into the game. He was also missing Kofi Djidji, Alessandro Buongiorno, Brandon Soppy, and Mihai Popa, while Mergim Vojvoda could only start on the bench. Juric sent out a 3-4-2-1 shape. Vanja Milinkovic-Savic started in goal. Midfielder Adrien Tameze was forced to play as an emergency center-back alongside Perr Schurrs and Ricardo Rodriguez. Raoul Bellanova and Valentino Lazaro manned the wings, sandwiching Samuele Ricci and Ivan Ilic. Nikola Vlasic and Demba Seck supported Duvan Zapata in attack.
Early indications were that the game would be a cracker. Torino earned a quick corner kick on a counterattack, and in the fifth minute it looked like Juve had gone in front quickly when Schurrs failed badly to clear a pass from Weah to Kean. The American tried again and slipped Kean into the box, where he beat Milinkovic-Savic with a thunderous strike in the upper near corner, but he had been just over the offside line and the goal was chalked off.
The rest of the half was a deeply uneventful 40 minutes marked by occasional flurries of action. Lazaro was all alone on the back end of a cross in the 17th minute but rushed his shot and fired just over. In the 33rd minute Bremer headed a free kick toward goal only for it to skim off Ilic’s head and just past the top corner. A few minutes later, McKennie tried to meet a cross from Kostic, but was covered well enough that all he could do was push it behind.
Both teams needed some sort of spark as they came out of the locker room for the second half. Juric decided to stand pat, but Allegri sent on Milik at the break, a move that paid immediate dividends. The Pole contributed to a quick run off a turnover right after Torino restarted play, eventually earning a corner off a blocked Weah cross.
The next passage of play was so chaotic it almost made up for the dullness of the first half in the span of a few seconds. Kostic’s ball was whipped into the middle of the box. Milinkovic-Savic went for the punch but completely missed the ball. The ball came off Tameze’s head straight down into the six-yard box, where Kean attempted a roundhouse kick that was blocked by Rodriguez. Gatti’s rebound was also scooped out by the Swiss, but not before it had just crossed the line. The big defender headed the block back into the net to make no question, but his celebrations turned to agonized disbelief when the flag went up.
It was probably an honest mistake. The assistant on the far side had a sea of bodies between him and the ball and must have had his view blocked and assumed that the initial header down had come from Milik as opposed to Tameze, which would have rendered Kean offside. A long VAR check of almost four minutes ensued, although it may well be that the call was determined more quickly than that and that referee Davide Massa was waiting until Bremer, who had been busted open on both his forehead and cheek when Kean’s follow-through caught him, had finished receiving treatment. When he finally pointed to the center circle Gatti dashed to the Curva Sud — newly done with their long-term protests — and celebrated his first career Serie A goal.
The goal seemed to break Torino’s spirit, and Juve started getting the ball toward their goal with more regularity. Just after the hour Kostic hit a beautiful cross that was met with a strong header by Milik, who bounced it a little too soon, allowing Milinkovic-Savic to parry the ball over the bar. But on the ensuing corner the Serbian again wandered aimlessly from his line, only to flap at air as Milik wended his way through the traffic to nip in front of him and slam a header in (via his own shoulder) into the net, as VMS screamed vainly for some kind of foul he thought should have been called on Kean for impeding him.
Six minutes later, the Torino keeper missed another corner, only avoiding even more egg on his face because Gatti’s header fizzed just over. Juric took his time making any changes before finally sending Antonio Sanabria in to join Zapata with only 19 minutes remaining, but the change didn’t do much to make Toro’s attack any more effective and Juve slid into cruise control. The Granata didn’t put their first shot on target until the 87th minute, when Vojvoda, on as a late sub, hit Zapata with a cross from the left, but the Colombian’s header was tame and easy for Szczesny to hold, and VMS denied Milik a brace seconds later.
With seconds left in normal time Sanabria barely missed setting up a grandstand finish with a scissor kick on a cross by Tameze, but it bent just wide of the far post. Six minutes of stoppage time produced nothing else threatening, and the final whistle once again confirmed Juve’s supremacy in their hometown.
WOJCIECH SZCZESNY - 6. Had only one save to make that was relatively simple, and coordinated a dominating display by the defense.
FEDERICO GATTI - 8. Persistence in an ugly situation to earn the goal, and he was absolutely excellent in defense, racking up two tackles and a game-high five clearances. His offensive chops were excellent on the other end, scoring and coming close to a second. He’s erased the memories of Sassuolo quickly.
BREMER - 7. Almost had a goal or two going forward, and won the physical battle with Zapata with ease all night long.He registered four clearances overall. Being busted open like that evoked Giorgio Chiellini so much I half expected to see him on the screen watching in person.
DANILO - 7.5. All over everything Saturday night. He made two tackles, two interceptions, and three clearances, and also got credit for four key passes. That armband is on him for a reason.
TIMOTHY WEAH - 6. Didn’t have a huge impact offensively in his first start since the Bologna game, but defended well enough to pick up a passing grade.
WESTON McKENNIE - 6. Not a ton in the way of counting stats, but covered well defensively when Weah pushed forward and did a good job keeping things quiet alongside his international teammate on that side.
MANUEL LOCATELLI - 6. Made a key pass and was very stable in front of his defenders. He made three clearances and generally cleaned up the midfield area before the defense really had to insert themselves.
ADRIEN RABIOT - 6. Led the team in dribbles and found the target with his only shot, but there’s still something lacking in his game in this year as opposed to last.
FILIP KOSTIC - 8. Made a whopping six key passes and assisted on Milik’s goal. After a couple of appearances in which his famous crossing ability was simply not there, he found the mark on five of 11. He has two young challengers to fend off, and performances like this will help keep them at bay.
FABIO MIRETTI - 5.5. Had a pair of key passes and completed 84.2 percent of his passes, but something seemed off with him as part of the front two, which is understandable given Allegri plonked him somewhere he doesn’t usually play.
MOISE KEAN - 6. Didn’t have a ton of touches, especially in the first half, but was unlucky not to score, once on an offside call and another time on a ball cleared off the line. He worked hard and showed himself at the end of the day is gonna be a good backup option for Vlahovic.
ARKADIUSZ MILIK - 7. Made a massive impact on the game from the moment he came on. Helped trigger the run that led to the first goal-scoring corner, then hit an excellent header for a goal of his own. He had a key pass and hit the target with all three of his shots.
ANDREA CAMBIASO - 6. Solid on the left as he tightened up the defense.
KENAN YILDIZ - NR. Only on for five minutes or so, but made some really interesting plays that showcased his incredible talent and what Juve might have with him wen they finally promote him full time.
Max Allegri generally pushed the right buttons as the game went on. He recognized immediately that the team needed someone like Milik, and rather than wait too long as is sometimes his wont he made the move immediately at halftime.
But when it comes to tactics, Allegri left a lot to be desired. Unfortunately, I think it’s becoming time to declare the press that had produced so much good for Juve in the early part of the season is dead. It’s been three games since the loss to Sassuolo, and it’s clear that Allegri has decided in the wake of that game to go back to the negative, passive tactics that have defined his second stint with the club.
It was straight-up infuriating to watch Juventus defending and countering on their own field, in a game when the ultras decided to show up and make noise, against a team that had voluntarily benched its own best attacker and was was missing its top two defensive players. The second half was a little better, but working on such a razor-thin margin is going to eventually come back to bite them against better teas, and as I have said numerous times since Allegri returned that coaching not to lose is going to eventually see the team do exactly that, especially against the league’s better teams. It’s time to let Juve loose again—we saw the result against Lazio when they do.
The October international break is upon us. Juve will resume play on October 22nd against AC Milan at the San Siro. Milan will be without two of its best players, Mike Maignan and Theo Hernandez, due to suspensions.