"Tomorrow Juventus will not just be up against 11 players, but against our history, the Toro population and all those who work with us," said Sinisa Mihajlovic. In an evocative pre-match conference, the coach sat alongside a historic Torino fan, a long serving physio and midfielder Marco Benassi and delivered heartfelt comments in a bid to reawaken Toro's pride, reminding them of their history, legacy and ambition.
In 2011, Real Madrid fans held a banner aloft requesting "a worthy rival for a decent derby" as Atletico Madrid failed to provide a challenge for so many years. In Turin, the situation is not too dissimilar. In the last 20 years, Torino have only won the Derby della Mole once with the Old Lady picking up 15 wins. More importantly, the Granata have been defeated by their city rivals more times than any other team in the league.
Juventus have dominated the league and their opponent for so many years that a win is almost achieved even before a ball has been kicked. It is perhaps for this reason that Mihajlovic's chose his words so carefully, hoping his bold and passionate comments would reignite the excitement and ensure a worthy challenge especially as, for the first time, Toro will host the game in their newly renamed stadium, the Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino. Their history, the coach hopes, should inspire a performance worthy of champions.
Torino, under the auspices of their current coach, are an improved side. Boasting the league's third best attack (31 goals), no other team has managed as many goals from open play. Playing a 4-3-3 formation, the Granata know how to sit deep and defend, waiting for the opponent to attack. Once they draw out their opponent, they're capable of elevating the tempo and applying pressure in their quest for goal. Efficient and deadly, they are an opportunistic side who love to pounce on errors.
Boasting a dangerous triumvirate, Torino have a forward line that works well together. While Andrea Belotti has proved highly efficient, scoring 32% of the team's goals, it's important to note Iaqo Falque and Adem Ljajic's contributions. Playing close to the striker, they not only help score but provide the assists too. Working to create space for one another, the trio will make life difficult for Juve's defence.
In fact, newspapers have recently compared the impact Belotti has had on Torino to Higuain's on Juve. The Argentine has struggled to reproduce his dazzling form from last season, as the many injuries Juve have suffered have forced the forward to sacrifice his lethality in front of goal for the sake of the collective team. As a player who like Belotti, excelled as part of a trident while at Napoli, he will need to be patient as Massimiliano Allegri attempts to find the right tactical balance to unleash the talent of his strike force.
Allegri hopes that Higuain's goal midweek will help the striker recover his confidence. Against Dinamo Zagreb, Higuain second guessed himself and overthought his every movement, squandering opportunities until he scored the opening goal. As a man who relies on his instincts, the Argentine can only truly perform when he believes in himself and gives his all.
Against Torino, all eyes will be on him, comparing his every effort with that of Belotti's which suits Mario Mandzukic perfectly. The Granata may boast a fluid attack but they do have their problems at the back, conceding more headed goals (7) than any other team in the league. As such, Mandzukic's set of talents are bound to cause problems especially as continuity has gifted the forward a chance to truly perfect his skills. Determined, physical and an aerial threat, he has been the man Juventus have relied on in recent weeks, both in attack and in defence.
Since Paolo Dybala only just returned from injury, it's unlikely he will start the match so Allegri is set to rely on the Higuain-Mandzukic partnership yet again with Miralem Pjanic played just behind them. If Juventus can produce a united and determined performance similar to what they managed against Atalanta, they can win any game. However, far too often this season we have seen them succumb to individuality which could well hurt them against Torino. Mihajlovic has excelled at creating a solid unit with players willing to fight for one another and pitted against a team that has struggled in matches that have come after European adventures, this could be a special night for the home side.