Juventus approach the Derby having endured a triple blow given Vlahovic and Chiesa’s injuries and Pogba’s positivity for testosterone, but Torino aren’t in a much more cheerful mood after their latest results.
Serie A Week 8 – Saturday 7 October 2023 – Allianz Stadium | Preview by Enrico Passarella
Not having Dusan Vlahovic and Arkadiusz Milik against Atalanta offered an excuse for a very defensive game plan that Massimiliano Allegri couldn’t wait to exploit, and the Bianconeri were lucky to come away with a point. That’ll be even more the case with Federico Chiesa sidelined. The Pole is back, but the substitution is only numerical and not technical, and he’s not a lock to start following a muscular injury.
Other than against Sassuolo, the defense has held up well enough to justify staying the course and propel them to acceptable results. On the other hand, the last few rounds in rapid succession made it pretty clear that Inter, Milan, and Napoli, which moved past the usual problems originating from a coaching change quickly, have better squads. Not playing in the cups is an advantage, and they saved money on their thin bench, but their XI doesn’t measure up with the other contenders. Since they can field their starters all the time, unlike other sides, they’d have to beat up on the minnows to seize it. It hasn’t been the case, as they dropped points against Bologna too.
Everybody inside the club stresses the objective being a top-four finish, but that’s not enough considering their history and shows a lack of ambition. It wouldn’t be an improvement relative to the past campaign as, despite all the drama, they had indeed managed to get there before the penalization. There are a few challengers, some in better shape and more equipped than others, but a Champions League berth is the bare minimum for the Old Lady. It’s not something that gets the juices flowing. They need it more financially than from other standpoints as it’s not like they’d be competitive at the continental level. It’s best to aspire to big goals and then come to grips with reality later on rather than be content with mediocrity from the get-go.
Milik and Moise Kean will probably get the call to lead their attack from the start. As basically a pure goal poacher and a sprinter, the former doesn’t bring much to the table in a side that attacks every now and again, plus, both he and Chiesa play with blinders on, so the combinations are sparse. The ex-Fiorentina star makes up for it with his relentless activity, and he’s been nothing short of amazing so far, while his teammate gets swallowed up by the defenders too easily due to his weakness with the back to the goal. It’s Vlahovic’s problem too, but he finds other ways to hurt the opponents. Instead, the Pole is well-versed in the more obscure tasks of the position and a neat passer, so the interplay should improve a little.
The gaffer reportedly tested a four-man defense in practice, but it’s hard to imagine he’ll move on from 3-5-2 as a standard tactic anytime soon. For the nth year in a row, their midfield is a problem, especially since Adrien Rabiot and Nicolò Fagioli have had subpar starts because of previous injuries. Manuel Locatelli is who he is at this point, and there’s little hope he’ll be freed up from that role. They couldn’t have foreseen what happened with Pogba, but trusting he’d be a consistent contributor after his injuries was foolish to begin with. It’s a pity too, because they could really use his pizzazz and star power. A small tweak to 3-4-1-2 would put a few things in order, but they don’t have a true trequartista, if not perhaps Kenan Yildiz. It might be a little bold to think the Turkish prodigy will get the nod, but there’ll be a serious creative and energy deficit without Chiesa.
Expected XI (3-5-2): Szczesny; Gatti, Bremer, Danilo; McKennie, Fagioli, Locatelli, Rabiot, Kostic; Kean, Milik.
Doubts: Gatti/Rugani; Kostic/Cambiaso, Milik/Yildiz.
Injury Report: Chiesa (thigh soreness), Vlahovic (back pain), Alex Sandro (thigh strain), De Sciglio (ACL tear) – OUT
Torino have been solid but not particularly consistent for what seems to be the umpteenth year in a row. They have been sturdy in the back despite some absences, which wasn’t a given, but they are still searching for an offensive turnaround that would allow them to make the leap. The crown jewel of their summer, Duvan Zapata, has fit right in, and their scheme makes more sense with a physical reference point, plus he’s no slowpoke when he has room, but he has scored just once. It’s too often a struggle for them to create clear-cut chances.
Their overall posture contributes, but they also have a few players that are underperforming. Ivan Ilic has been intermittent. The whole team is in trouble if he doesn’t move the ball well or quickly enough. Nikola Vlasic has yet to round into shape after a challenging summer, and he hasn’t been very influential in the final third. Nemanja Radonjic didn’t turn the corner for good despite a superb showing early on, and he might be a better weapon off the bench in general since he has a handful of great runs in him but tends to fade away the longer he plays. Yann Karamoh has been MIA and hasn’t been able to recapture the form that made him almost indispensable for a stretch of the past campaign. Demba Seck has alluring traits but has yet to put it all together.
After expressing doubts, Ivan Juric quickly fielded Zapata and Antonio Sanabria together from the start. While they didn’t score in that game, the combo worked well. The latter isn’t a pure no.9, even though he had to become that and thrived in the final months of 2022/2023. On the other hand, they don’t have a lot of pace with such a pairing, and their wingbacks haven’t been energetic enough to compensate for that. Raoul Bellanova, Mergim Vojvoda, and Valentino Lazaro have had their moments but really need them to be among the best in the league for the squad to have proper juice, and that’s been far from the case.
The gaffer needs to come to grips with no longer having Aleksej Miranchuk or another no.10 with similar characteristics, like Dennis Praet the year before, so he has to tweak his system and make the call on what he prefers among the alternatives, using it with continuity to let it develop naturally.
The alternatives are a 3-4-1-2 with Vlasic in the hole, where he’s arguably the most comfortable, and Zapata and Sanabria up front, which gives them more presence in the box but less speed and inventiveness, the Croat and Radonjic behind just one striker, but the former isn’t as impactful if operating on the right-hand side, or trusting Seck and Karamoh more, so it’d be more like a 3-4-3 since they need to play wider.
That’s a matter more for the prosecution of the season, where they’ll need at least something to work offensively to have a shot at going places because surely this one won’t be a high-flying contest considering the adversary and their absences. They course-corrected after being trashed by Milan, which was unusual, and they can hold in check anybody with their tenacity and natural compactness. The next step has to be turning the low-scoring affairs into narrow wins if they want to have a shot at something juicy, or they’ll languish in the middle of the table all year long.
Expected XI (3-4-2-1): Milinkovic-Savic; Tameze, Schuurs, Rodriguez; Bellanova, Ricci, Ilic, Lazaro; Seck, Vlasic; Zapata.
Doubts: Seck/Sanabria, Vlasic/Karamoh.
Injury Report: Vojvoda (knock), Sazonov (ankle bruise) – Questionable; Buongiorno, Soppy (thigh strains), Djidji (sports hernia), Popa (orbital fracture) – OUT
Juventus Win – Under 2.5 Goals