Brave Conte almost pays for snubbing prickly Pirlo
Ahead of last week’s Rome derby, Roma chief Rudi Garcia declared such a match was not there to be played, but to be won.
Torino coach Giampiero Ventura echoed the Frenchman ahead of Sunday’s Turin showdown, and his side certainly lived up to the first part.
Ventura set up his side with one aim in mind: to stifle the Bianconeri. But all it achieved was a dire display that ended with its just reward – defeat. Paul Pogba’s second-half winner settled this dour lunchtime encounter, as the 1-0 scoreline summed up the less-than-appetising fare on show.
One can hardly blame Ventura for relying on a physical approach from his team; Toro, after all, had not won the Derby Della Mole since 1995 or found the net in 11 seasons against their city rivals. Last year they were soundly defeated 3-0 and 2-0, so damage limitation was always going to be the game plan.
Ventura had also taken a leaf out of Chievo Verona’s tactical book, who faced Antonio Conte’s side the previous Wednesday. Sitting back deep in defence and swarming the midfield with willing workers, the Flying Donkeys blocked the centre of the pitch, forcing Juve back and then out to the flanks for long periods. The champions had to be patient in a manner that verged on tedious, but stumbled home 2-1 winners.
Even though Torino were at home here, Conte was well aware of the minimal attacking threat they would offer. Thus, he was prepared for another 90 minutes of monotonous midfield circulation.
Nonetheless, Conte decided to leave Andrea Pirlo out of his starting line-up, which inevitably left a creative hole that couldn’t be filled by the unimaginative Claudio Marchisio. It was he who was handed passing duties until the more accurate Pogba took control.
Pirlo had made it clear that despite playing non-stop for the last two seasons and now 34, he is still expected to remain the hub of the team. No surprise, then, that in last Sunday’s win over Hellas Verona he didn't take his early second-half substitution well as he stormed down the tunnel.
An irritated Conte explained that a player had to return to the bench when he was substituted, unless he was being stretchered down the tunnel. Pirlo’s reaction was awaited with baited breath but, regardless, he was there for the full 90 minutes at Chievo.
Therefore, it was puzzling that Conte left Juve’s dandy out when faced with the workmanlike Toro.
Juve played the Pirlo way with their main ingredient missing. In a way, Conte willingly walked into Ventura’s less-than-subtle trap, but with Galatasaray coming up after an intense week of three domestic games, perhaps he felt this the right moment to rest his pass master.
However, a physical battle would have suited a more robust attack in the shape of Fernando Llorente, rather than the lightweight Sebastian Giovinco who was left to compete for long balls and lofted crosses.
Even though the visitors completed over twice as many passes in the final third, too many of them were over-hit or misdirected as Toro’s midfield edged back to form a barrier in front of their three central defenders.
It was only when Carlos Tevez took it upon himself to drop deeper that Juve looked like true champions. When the deciding goal arrived just before the hour mark it was the Argentine who played a decisive part when he hit the bar from a corner, allowing Pogba to nod home the rebound.
The Granata complained Tevez had been in an offside position – and replays proved that their complaints had been justified, just as Chievo felt aggrieved that their striker Alberto Paloschi had been disallowed a goal against Juve in midweek.
The Old Lady and controversy are no strangers. Indeed, the club has always been well equipped to deal with the barbs thrown their way when detractors grumble about officialdom giving them the benefit of the doubt.
But Conte’s post-match comments fanned the flames as he claimed his side had enjoyed 70% of the possession, despite the statistics revealing that figure to be just under 50%. Meanwhile, he lamented a late challenge on Tevez from Ciro Immobile, which leaves the former Premier League man doubtful for his side's Champions League clash on Wednesday.
As the war of words (more evenly contested than the match had been) raged on, Tevez posted a photo on Twitter of his lacerated ankle.
That was a mere sideshow, though, and apart from their 4-1 win over Lazio, Juventus have yet to put opponents away in the manner they have been accustomed to for the last two seasons. Yet they are still joint second alongside Napoli, three points behind leaders Roma who maintained their 100% start to the campaign with a 5-0 demolition of Bologna.
The season may be in its infancy but Conte will be aware that he cannot put graft ahead of craft too often.