Juventus bounce back from midweek pain to win Derby della Mole
It was hardly the most convincing of wins, but Juventus, at the last moment, grabbed the winner to defeat Torino 2-1 in the Derby della Mole to earn maximum points.
Having suffered an embarrassing defeat to Sassuolo midweek, Juventus spent the next few days in a training retreat, forced to live and train together without the comfort of their friends and family in order to get back on track. The result? A win in which the squad fought until the end, showing more intensity and ambition than they have managed all month.
However, while the club will be pleased to have secured a victory, the performance was far from convincing, with the team keeping possession but doing little to fashion clear goal-scoring opportunities. Incapable of producing any real threat from set pieces and still susceptible to giving away free kicks from dangerous areas on the pitch, there is still so much for Massimiliano Allegri to do if he is to get the Old Lady back to winning ways.
While Paul Pogba managed to open the scoring with a delightful goal that showed off his technique, it must be said that had Gianluigi Buffon not been as alert and as capable as he is, this could have well been a Toro victory. The Bianconeri were once again predictable going forward, lacking the necessary fluidity up front while Paulo Dybala was burdened with doing it all at the top.
However, rather than focusing on the negatives, we should recognise the positive aspects of Juve's game, such as the growing impact of the midfield. Claudio Marchisio is slowly recovering his form, and while the subtle player has a way of simply blending in, his impact can never go unnoticed. His interesting passes, his perfect positioning -- it must be said the team missed his tactical intelligence when he was lost to injury.
Alongside him, Pogba played an excellent game, and while consistency is perhaps too much to demand from a youngster, the occasions in which he performs, he dazzles. Still not one who can stretch a good display for a whole 90 minutes, he did manage a sensational goal and was the man who initiated several patterns of attacking play.
Had Khedira been allowed to stay on the pitch, then perhaps Allegri would have benefitted from affording his midfield trio more time to adapt to one another and establish a rhythm. But in his place arrived Juan Cuadrado to change the shape from a 4-3-1-2 to a 4-3-3, which, as it turns out, seemed to create a more threatening Juve side.
The Colombian is slowly learning how to channel his talent. While on occasion he can be guilty of slowing down play as he seeks to make the right move, against Torino he combined well with his teammates and terrorised his opponents with his quick movements, never forgetting to track back to aid the defence.
Of course, it was the desire he displayed on the night that made the real difference and perhaps turned him into a real Bianconero. Scoring the winning goal with the final kick of the game, he wanted all three points and he desperately wanted to be on the score sheet. As long as he continues to show ambition and the willingness to sacrifice for his teammates, he will continue to grow into a champion.
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His arrival on to the pitch proved to be a blessing in disguise and incidentally brings up another point. While Allegri has regularly gotten his starting lineup wrong, tinkering and rotating too often, he does know how to rectify his errors and affect the game with his substitutions. Bringing on Cuadrado was perhaps an obvious choice, but the decision to bring on Alex Sandro in the final minutes of the game made a huge difference to the scoreline, as it was the Brazilian's brilliant assist that led to the winning goal.
The more time Sandro is afforded on the pitch, the more he will develop into the man worthy of the hefty price tag Juventus paid for him. His offensive ability is the reason why he caught the eye of the Juve directors, and while the current identity crisis means the club needs experienced players to take to the pitch, the full-back is someone who, in the near future, should be slowly integrated into the starting lineup. With more consistency, he can regain his accuracy, delivering those perfectly placed passes and precise crosses into the box as he managed to do on Saturday.
It remains to be seen whether inconsistency will continue to haunt a team that once dispatched their fiercest rivals with relative ease, but Juventus can at least go into their next match, a Champions League clash against Borussia Monchengladbach, with a little more confidence after the Derby win.
Mina Rzouki covers Juventus and the Italian national team for ESPN FC. Follow her on Twitter: @Minarzouki.