Saturday February 17 2018
Training report: Torino

With the Derby Della Mole fast approaching, does Walter Mazzarri’s unbeaten Torino side have what it takes to topple Juventus’ title challenge?

Words: Greg Murray

Over the summer, there was a rare feeling of optimism coming from the Granata side of Turin, with the transfers of M’Baye Niang and Salvatore Sirigu overshadowed only by the decision not to sell Andrea Belotti. Sinisa Mihajlovic’s downfall, therefore, was more a case of failing to fulfil his side’s potential, rather than any particularly poor run of results.

His predecessor, Walter Mazzarri, was not a popular appointment amongst the fans, who saw the Coach as overly defensive and dogmatic. However, the former-Napoli and Inter man has won over many of his doubters, having taken 11 points from his first five games.

Mazzarri has immediately succeeded where Mihajlovic failed by locking down a starting XI. For all his motivational abilities, the Serbian Coach varied between a 4-3-3 and a 4-2-3-1 formation, and was inconsistent on which players started week in week out, whereas in his five games in charge, the new boss has handed starts to just 13 players.

Of course, this is hardly sustainable in the long run, and poor for squad harmony, however, for a team that is struggling with consistency, there is no better cure.  Unfortunately, in the build up to the Turin derby, Mazzarri’s hesitance to change may be his undoing.

With Belotti injured, the Granata’s front line has been led by Niang, who has thrived in his natural position, with two goals to his name. The Senegalese forward has been supported on either flank by Alex Berenguer and Iago Falque, who have provided a good balance of attacking and defensive play.

However, with Il Gallo now fully fit, he will be expected to step back into the starting XI, leaving the tactician with a selection dilemma. Does he hand the lone-striker role back to last season’s top scorer over the in-form forward? If so, does he push Niang on to the left wing, and sacrifice Berenguer’s defensive and tactical solidity?

Although against his character, Mazzarri has a strong enough squad to spring a surprise on Juventus. Daniele Baselli, who has been playing the most advanced of a midfield trio, could well be dropped, in favour of Adem Ljajic, who has yet to play under the new Coach, but is a phenomenon on his day (not to mention the last Torino player to score against the Bianconeri). If not the Serbian, then Falque could well play in the Number 10 position, allowing both Niang and Berenguer to take to the field alongside Belotti.

Far more likely, given the Coach’s defensive sentiments, may be for Baselli to be replaced by Afriyie Acquah. The Ghanaian defensive midfielder had somewhat of a mixed performance in his last game for Torino, scoring a goal against Sampdoria before getting sent off for a second yellow card. Acquah would undoubtedly offer a more defensive option. However, with Torino having seen red twice out in their last three games against Juventus, his temperament may not be worth the risk.

Despite not having won the Derby della Mole in the last seven editions, Torino always tend to up their game against their traditional rivals. Mazzarri has, arguably, a more talented team at his disposal than when Il Toro last won this fixture three years ago, and if he can channel their passion in the right way, there is no reason they can’t repeat the feat. 

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