Sinisa Mihajlovic was in buoyant mood before his team lost to Napoli this weekend. He was quick to stress that whatever the result, there was no crisis in his team, regardless of the daily complaints on the front page of Turin-based newspaper Tuttosport.
Despite accumulating too many draws, having in house issues with senior players and lacking on the goals front, the Serbian Coach still thinks they have turned a corner. With Roma in the Coppa Italia as the next team on the horizon, they do not have an easy next game, but the season is still poised in a position where it could go either way.
“The win in Rome uncorked us like a bottle of champagne,” enthused Mihajlovic after a victory over 10-man Lazio. The bubbles quickly went flat, as Napoli were utterly dominant.
Up until now Torino have not been turning heads, but their recent run had been decent. Now, as 2017 draws to a close, there is reason to be optimistic. The switch back to a 4-3-3 formation has restored some stability and generally stopped the goals leaking in, but at the same time made them a less impressive prospect going forward. It’s all about the balance and, while Sinisa tinkers, Toro are in a relatively comfortable position.
The Granata sit in 10th place, having won five, drawn eight and lost only four times. To put this in perspective, nobody outside the top five has lost fewer games, although they have drawn more than anyone else. Before the defeat to Napoli, they were unbeaten in seven and there is an argument to be had that if they can start scoring goals again, then they may even be able to push on for a Europa League slot. They sit on 23 points, only four off Sampdoria in sixth (who have a game in hand).
Mihajlovic admitted that the key to Torino gaining momentum was linked to three main men: Andrea Belotti, Adem Ljajic and M’Baye Niang. Belotti in particular has stunted Toro’s season, as he was out for a month with a knee injury and still hasn’t fully recovered his form. The goal against Napoli was his first since September 20.
Missing players due to injury is one thing, but losing them due to bad behaviour is another. Ljajic’s mindset certainly hasn’t been where it should be of late and this was made clear when sent to the stands of the Olimpico for his misdemeanours. Mihajlovic pulled no punches when discussing this, but his reintroduction this weekend off the bench gave the fans hope that he can soon be back to his creative best, servicing Belotti. Unfortunately, he then immediately picked up a thigh injury.
If there was a direct opposite to Ljajic this season, then this would be Niang. Full of effort, but lacking in quality, Torino supporters vented their frustration in much the same way Milanisti did last year. Mihajlovic has been happy with his work rate and questioned how the fans can jeer a player who is so committed.
A good performance in the Coppa Italia could be the breakthrough he has been looking for. There is no doubt that Niang when on form could give the Granata a serious edge going forward and help in their search for goals and match-winners. When he’s not on form, it’s like playing with 10 men.
Torino can look forward with optimism into 2018. It is true that hey face a tough tie in the Coppa Italia against Roma, but in Serie A they have some winnable games. SPAL, Genoa, Bologna, Sassuolo and Benevento all follow and with their three musketeers back, then they may be able to find the goals.
The problem at Torino is ultimately not that they are underperforming, but that too much was expected of them. The level of Serie A has been raised considerably this season and assuming they’d be in the Europa League with competition like Lazio and Atalanta, not to mention reinforced Milan and Inter, was unrealistic. They can make it, certainly, but it shouldn’t be considered an abject failure if they do miss out.