Milan's exclusion from European football as a result of their Financial Fair Play settlement means Torino gets to take their place. In truth, missing a season of the Europa League won't have much impact on Milan's fortunes given their strong revenue base while they try to become a Champions League squad once again. But for Torino, it represents a significant upswing in fortunes. This windfall sets the Granata up to continue building on the strong work they've done in recent seasons.
The arrival of Walter Mazzarri saw Toro start to make the most of the pieces they have available. Imposing his trademark 3-5-2 formation, Mazzarri took a squad that had been hovering in the middle of the table without much differentiation from the pack and turned them into the team that pipped Lazio and Sampdoria to seventh place. They nearly gave some of the bigger boys a run for their money too, nipping at Roma's bloodied heels. The six points separating Torino from Inter in the fourth Champions League spot were fewer than the 10 between Napoli and Atalanta in second and third.
The shift in formation most benefited Chelsea reject Ola Aina, who shone under Mazzarri's tutelage. The young Nigerian registered a goal and three assists and was a persistent nuisance down the right flank. Finding strong wingbacks is the underrated lynchpin of any system playing three at the back, since no one else in the squad has responsibility for closing down wide players. Even though his offensive contribution doesn't yet show a ton, he did his job of covering terrain out wide and keeping the opposition boxed in against the touchline high up the pitch.
Mazzarri will be relishing the chance to continue to mould 22-year-old Aina in his image after Turin exercised their option to buy for €10m, especially with his impressive performances for Nigeria in the Africa Cup of Nations.
Star striker Andrea Belotti struggled for form through the middle of the season. But throughout the rough spell, Mazzarri stood by him, always commending how much he gave to the team. And indeed, Belotti's defensive tenacity earned him pundit plaudits and audience accolades, though eventually fans rightly asked when his goals might please resume to their regularly scheduled programming. They did, finally, and he finished the season with an acceptable 15. A far cry from his best, but showing flickers of his pre-injury self.
Nonetheless, Torino desperately need someone else to share some of the goalscoring burden. The squad's next highest scorer was Iago Falque on six. Perpetual flop Simone Zaza had a grand total of four - as many as midfielder Daniele Baselli and defender Armando Izzo.
To that end, rumors have been swirling of Torino swooping in for Simone Verdi. Signing the Napoli forward would be a wise move for all parties. Verdi is a player who can both create and score goals, playing through the middle or out wide. He would very naturally slot in as the starting second striker in place of Falque, despite the Spaniard recently being gifted the club’s Number 10 jersey. Falque certainly has his moments, but he also far too many hiccups that he and the fans would rather forget.
His versatility means he can also play out wide as a more attacking wingback when Torino find themselves chasing a game, giving the possibility of playing him and Falque at the same time. In a pinch, he could also fill in at centre-forward for Belotti, who is bound to pick up another injury at some point. Fortunately for Torino, Napoli seem willing to sell so long as they can recoup their investment, believing him surplus to requirements.
Verdi was perhaps unfairly judged at Napoli, as he struggled for playing time after a series of minor injuries. He had gained attention at Bologna for being a two-footed free kick specialist and yet in Naples he never got the chance to strike one, with priority given to club captain Lorenzo Insigne — who has one of the worst shot conversion percentages in the league.
A move to Torino would give Verdi a chance at redemption. And, more importantly, it would give him the opportunity to earn his way back into the Nazionale in the season leading up to Euro 2020. He's currently been displaced by the obviously less talented Matteo Politano, but without consistent playing time it's hard to fault anyone for his omission. If he can form a formidable strike partnership with Belotti, the two might both find themselves back in Roberto Mancini’s good graces.
Verdi can bring both goals and creativity to the squad — in his season before joining Napoli, he was one of only three players in the league to register double digit goals and assists.
The other big issue for Torino will be holding on to their back line throughout a long summer transfer window. It’s hard enough finding two quality centre-backs today, but Mazzarri requires three. In Nicolas N’Koulou and Armando Izzo he has two just-below-the-top-tier defenders, with Izzo making a compelling argument that he deserves to be rated even higher.
Unfortunately, with many big clubs being priced out of moves for the likes of Kalidou Koulibaly or Matthijs De Ligt, some of them may look towards either of the two as relatively affordable options. Kevin Bonifazi and Lyanco are both decent young players. But losing either N’Koulou or Izzo right before Toro’s European foray would leave shoes too big to fill. Luckily, Izzo says he’s happy at Torino despite Premier League interest.
If Torino want a chance at creating some glory days that don’t live in history books, they need to add more firepower on their team sheet while simultaneously not weakening their defence. It will be a challenge, but so far it looks as though they’re on their way.
Now the bull just needs to grab this opportunity by the horns.