For all those who feel that Argentine Gonzalo Higuain was not worth the €90 million odd euro that Juventus splashed out for him this summer, we would recommend that they take a good look at last Sunday’s Turin derby.
In the end, the Old Lady won this one 3-1 but, for long periods, a draw had seemed the most likely result whilst Torino had at least two good chances to win the game in the second half. The point is that it was not until Higuain scored his second goal of the day in the 83rd minute that the champions saw the light in a game in which they had been forced to come from behind by a typically plucky, well organised Torino.
Coached by Serb Sinisa Mihajlovic, Torino played a canny game. Conceding possession to the champions, Torino based everything on a counter attacking game which made the most of striker Andrea Belotti, arguably the best Italian attacker of the moment.
Added to Belotti’s 360° degree work rate, not to mention his finishing skills, Torino also boast some genuine talent. Torino goalkeeper, English international Joe Hart, has adapted so well to Italian football that he currently looks like one of the best ‘keepers in Serie A. Furthermore, experienced players such as defender, Luca Rossettini, and attacking midfielders Spaniard Iago Falquè and Serb Adem Ljajic, also bring experience and quality.
Perhaps the best aspect of this Torino side though is that features several talented young Italians. 21-year-old defender Antonio Barreca, 24-year-old midfielder Daniele Baselli and 22-year-old midfielder Marco Benassi all look distinctly useful. Then, too, star of the squad is 23-year-old Belotti, a player who has already established his claims to a place as Italy’s first choice central striker, scoring three goals in autumn World Cup qualifiers against Macedonia and Liechtenstein
Notwithstanding a miserable record which had seen them lose 11 of their last 13 derbies against Juve, drawing once and winning only once (2-1 in April 2015), Torino went into Sunday’s game bouyed by a bright autumn campaign which had put them into seventh place in the league. Add to their good form the traditional stimulus of an old-fashioned, piss and vinegar derby and the champions had a fight on their hands.
Until seven minutes from the end, no one could argue that a draw was not a fair result. Torino had struck first with a brilliantly executed, 16th minute goal headed home by (who else) Belotti after a terrific cross from Baselli. Then Higuain (who else) made the most of a fortuitous ricochet of the heel of Croat Mario Mandzukic to make it 1-1 on the half hour.
Furthermore, with the score on 1-1 in the second half, Torino twice came close to maybe wrapping it all up with good chances for both Ljajic and Benassi. In the end, of course, it was the Old Lady who “wrapped it up”, thanks to Higuain. Making the most of a speculative long ball out of defence from Giorgio Chiellini, Higuain pounced, stole a march on the out of position Torino defender Barreca and scored his second goal of the afternoon.
Having qualified for their February, second round Champions League tie against Porto by winning their Group last week with a 2-0 home win over Dinamo Zagreb, Juventus go into the Christmas/New Year break in a very comfortable position. Still on target in the Champions, they will most probably start 2017 with a five or six point lead and a game in hand in Serie A. (This is because on December 23rd, they play AC Milan in the SuperCoppa final in Doha, leaving an away Serie A game against Crotone to be played in January.)
None of this can surprise us. It has seemed for some time now that, certain midfield problems notwithstanding, Juventus are by far the strongest side in Italy. Nor can it surprise us that Higuain is the club’s leading league goalscorer on nine goals. He was bought to score the “heavy” goals (perhaps more in a Champions League context than in Serie A) and that is what he is beginning to do. Further up the Champions League road, he may work his “heavy goal” magic once more.
In a derby when Torino coach Mihajlovic risked all in the 82nd minute by bringing on three substitutes at the same moment, only to see Higuain win the game for Juve within 30 seconds, many commentators have pointed out that Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri’s did a lot better with his substitutions. In the second half, Allegri brought on Gabonese Mario Lemina (for Stefano Sturaro), Bosnian Miralem Pjanic (for Colombian Juan Cuadrado) and Argentine Paulo Dybala (for Mandzukic). Asked about these “winning” moves afterwards, Allegri downplayed his contribution:
“I didn’t even need to be on the bench today. When you have two guys like Pjanic and Dybala on the subs’ bench, it becomes very easy. Both of them gave us a big help, coming on just as our rivals were tiring…”
He has a point.