Ever since the draw decided paired Torino with Wolverhampton in the final round of the Europa League qualifications, it became clear that the Granata would have a tough time against Nuno Espirito Santo’s men.
Indeed the first leg of the tie showed exactly that, as despite having 63% of possession and doubling the visitor’s tally of eight shots, Walter Mazzarri’s men suffered a 3-2 defeat in front of the nearly full Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino. As usual, the stats don’t really tell the full story, as the Granata were trailing twice by two goals and rarely looked in control of the game.
As expected, Wolverhampton proved that they are not only tough to crack defensively, but that they also possess supreme quality in attack. Adama Traore ran riot against Cristian Ansaldi, as the Argentine veteran just didn’t have the legs to cope with the Barcelona youth product and this was fully evident by the visitors’ second goal.
Uncharacteristically Toro’s defence was all over the place, as even the usually rock-solid Nicolas Nkolou and Armando Izzo were often found out of position or chasing shadows. Having Gleison Bremer beside them didn’t help either, as putting his own goal aside, the 22-year old Brazilian always seems to have an error or two in him, which is something that you just cannot afford against sides as clinical as Wolves.
It was really strange to see how much trouble Joao Moutinho’s set piece deliveries were causing for Torino, as almost all of the Portuguese crosses resulted in a shot towards Sirigu’s goal. In fact, the visitors weren’t far off scoring another goal from similar delivery even before Bremer’s touch for the own goal, which came after another Moutinho dead-ball situation.
However, Toro’s defensive woes were evident in open play as well, as the Granata’s backline proved to be extremely vulnerable on the break. At times, especially in the second half, it seemed like Wolves were able to unbalance Mazzarri’s team with remarkable ease. Raul Jimenez’s third goal had the Wolverhampton striker alone against four Torino defenders, but still managed to get past them and put the ball in the back of the net.
With so many issues in Torino’s backline, some of the blame should undoubtedly go to Walter Mazzarri. The 57-year-old tactician benched Tomas Rincon and decided to use both Alex Berenguer and Daniele Baselli from the start, which left Soualiho Meite as the only defensively capable midfielder in the team.
Meite was often the last obstacle between the Wolverhampton attacks and Torino’s back three, as the lack of protection from midfield was arguably the main cause for the Granata’s woes.
Starting Ansaldi at left-back over Ola Aina can be pointed to as another mistake, as the Argentine has often been bullied by faster and athletic wingers like Traore, while pairing Belotti and Simone Zaza has rarely worked against strong teams.
Having Iago Falque, Lyanco, Vittorio Parigini and Simone Edera all injured didn’t help Mazzarri’s cause either and in all honesty, it would be wrong to solely blame him for Toro’s shortcomings. Despite the unconvincing performance and the defeat, there were also some positives for the Granata and their Coach played a key role in those as well.
Mazzarri’s substitutions after going 2-0 down had an instant effect, as Sasa Lukic stole the ball in Wolverhampton’s half, which eventually led to Ansaldi’s cross and Lorenzo De Silvestri’s headed goal. On the other hand, Rincon’s introduction added some much needed energy and steel in midfield.
There were concerns before the game that Wolverhampton would be much better prepared physically, as the English team started their season preparation early and have already played two Premier League games, while Torino didn’t even know if they were going to play in Europe until the last moment. However, that was not the case, as the Granata’s strongest moments came in the dying minutes of the game, which clearly shows that Mazzarri has done a good job in that respect.
Where Torino are lacking is in their mentality, as the Granata look like a side in an almost pre-season state of preparation, while Wolverhampton are a team that has already started their campaign at full strength and this is evident by their performances. Nuno Esprito Santo’s players already have the right state of mind and last night’s game proves that at the moment they are more focused and better prepared mentally than Mazzarri’s men, who made a series of individual errors.
Belotti’s late penalty gives Mazzarri and Torino an opportunity for redemption next week, but considering the result from the first leg in Italy, chances are slim. Nuno is an exceptional tactician with a really good squad at his disposal, which means that if Torino are about to overcome the 3-2 defeat from the first leg, they need to overcome the mental gap that made the difference last night.