On Tuesday night, Torino were only four minutes away from punching their ticket to the Coppa Italia semi-finals. However, in the first minute of stoppage time, Hakan Calhanoglu's deflected shot tied the game for Milan, who ended up winning 4-2 in extra time. Unfortunate, to say the least, because getting away with a win at San Siro would have meant the world for Walter Mazzarri and the struggling Granata.
Aside from a convincing 2-0 win over Roma, so far 2020 shined a bright light over the woes the team have been coping with for quite some time. More than anything, Toro lack identity, exist in perpetual inconsistency and, as a consequence, find themselves floating yet again in the league's mid-table waters without any concrete objectives.
This slow, yet unrelenting downward spiral has culminated with the unforgivable 7-0 home defeat at the hands of Atalanta, which has made fans louder than ever in voicing their exasperation with both the club's owner and manager. While the former is being harshly criticised for his inefficiency in bolstering the roster over the summer, the latter is under fire for his lack of grit, poor tactics and disappointing results.
This January has marked two years since the appointment of Walter Mazzarri as Torino manager. He came in as a replacement for Sinisa Mihajlovic and managed to get four more points than his predecessor in his first 19 games at the club. The 2018-2019 season saw the Granata clinch seventh spot in Serie A, which, due to Milan's one-year ban from European competition, granted Torino access to the Europa League preliminary rounds.
What was most remarkable, however, was the team's newly found solidity, which saw them become the fifth best defence in the league with only 37 goals conceded, for a remarkable total of seven defeats that season. If we consider that, only seven months later, the same defence is the joint fourth-worst in Serie A with 35 goals conceded in 21 games, it is clear that something isn't going quite right.
The backline, however, isn't the only problem. Mazzarri also now has a worryingly sterile attack that is overly-dependent on Andrea Belotti. While the impressive performances of goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu can often make up for the team's lack of defensive chemistry, they surely cannot win games if the offensive unit fails to deliver.
Just like Sirigu, forward Belotti has come to the rescue for his teammates on a number of occasions, but Torino's game plan can't consistently rely on a single attacking player to win the ball, hold it, create space and score goals all at once. It is a fact of great concern that, after two years at the club, Mazzarri still hasn't drawn up a clear strategy to give one of Italy's best strikers the necessary support up front.
With 17 games left to play in the season, Torino have lost more matches (10) than they've won (eight), and despite sitting only four points below the Europa League play-off spot, it seems highly unlikely that they will clinch it.
In a way, it feels like we have already seen Mazzarri's best Torino, and it was last year. Their football might not have been all that exciting, but at least they were collecting results and barely suffering any defeats. All in all, the fans took last year's campaign as the first, fundamental step towards a process of growth which would hopefully see their team compete steadily for a spot among Serie A's top six. Unfortunately, with the club failing to deliver on the transfer market and his tactics eventually wearing off, the coach has proven incapable of coming up with a new winning approach, quickly losing control over the situation as a whole.
If there are lingering rumours about a deteriorating relationship between Mazzarri and quite a few players in the team, the one with the fans has already irreparably fallen apart. With his contract expiring at the end of the season, the temptation must be growing to end this relationship early.