Having returned home from a rain-soaked triumph over Sassuolo, Turin-based Sky Italia journalist Paolo Aghemo tweeted a picture of the victorious Torino squad on the station platform. ‘A train for Europe?’ asked Aghemo.
There’s still a long way to go to achieve that goal. Without question, however, is the newfound enthusiasm sweeping the Granata. Sunday’s single-goal victory over Atalanta – sealed by a controversial Alessio Cerci penalty – took Torino to sixth. Giampiero Ventura’s outfit have won six of their past nine matches, losing just once. This comes after a run of eight winless matches prior threatened to turn 2013-14 into a relegation battle.
Leading the way is dynamic duo Cerci and Ciro Immobile. They account for more than half Torino’s goal tally – 10 apiece out of 34. Such has been their output, the pair have rekindled memories of Toro’s iconic 1970s ‘goal twins’ Paolino Pulici and Francesco Graziani. “The comparison makes us proud, even if the times are different,” says Immobile. “We always try to improve our partnership and do our best for Torino.”
Comparisons to Puliciclone and Ciccio may be hasty, but reflect the enthusiasm. What’s most impressive is their knack for critical goals. Nine of Immobile’s goals have directly impacted a scoreline, eight for Cerci – including the one to end Roma’s historic start. This has greatly aided Torino’s points tally.
For the ex-Fiorentina man it’s a continuation of his first Granata season. Now a permanent figure in attack, Cerci has further shone. “Alessio is a very important player for Torino and he’s improving in tactical terms too. If he continues like this, he’ll be a complete player by the end of the season,” stated Ventura earlier this month. Immobile is showing signs of his Pescara best having endured a difficult first full top-flight season. His time at Genoa proved a valuable learning experience.
While Immobile and Cerci provide the goals, they’ve improved mightily at the other end. Aside from an aberration at Parma – where Ventura bemoaned his defence for ‘not staying compact’ – during their recent climb Torino have conceded only six times. Half came at the Tardini. Only those above Toro have conceded fewer goals. Sunday’s win meant for the first time since 2007 they’ve kept three consecutive clean sheets.
Compare that to the start of the season, where Torino’s games were often heart-stoppers. High-scoring draws against Milan, Verona, Sampdoria, Inter and Livorno frequently included late drama. Ventura insists his team should have more than their current 32 points.
Following Angelo Ogbonna’s summer departure, captain Kamil Glik - now at the heart of Toro’s back three - has stepped into the role of defensive leader. He has been ably assisted by the consistent Emiliano Moretti and new signing Nikola Maksimovic.
Danilo D’Ambrosio’s future has been much discussed, with Inter his expected destination. The player opted against renewing his expiring Torino contract, but on the pitch has enjoyed his best season, generally at left-wingback. His boss thinks it’s only right he gets a chance with a big club.
Ventura too deserves credit for moving from his tried and tested wing-based formation to the three-man defence. This happened at the tail-end of last season and after a summer of diligent preparation the former Bari tactician has gotten the best out of his squad.
The players speak of Ventura’s meticulous tactical planning. Immobile sees shades of Zdenek Zeman: “They have the same focus on tactical details, the desire to play good football and to never give the ball away.” For Alexander Farnerud, “Ventura is unique when it comes to studying opponents. He is a great point of reference for the squad.”
This attention to detail showed in December’s win over Chievo, where Ventura reacted to outfox the Donkeys. Immobile cancelled out an early opener, before three second half goals sealed the points. Ventura: “Eugenio Corini surprised me with his tactics and caused us a lot of problems in the first half. We reacted well and deserved the victory in the end.”
A solid team punctuated by two attackers in searing form. Things are looking good. Torino haven’t soared this high since the early 1990s under Emiliano Mondonico. Europe remains a dream, even if they are currently just one point behind Inter and the Europa League. Avoiding the drop remains the first aim. From there, who knows?
It has been a long time between European drinks for Toro. They last competed in the 2002-03 Intertoto Cup, going back to the 1993-94 Cup Winners’ Cup for one of the main competitions.
That they are even fielding questions of qualifying for the continent is a testament to the season Torino are enjoying. For now, the train will remain at the station.