One of the best ways to get to know an opposing side is from someone who follows that club as passionately as we all follow the Giallorossi. That is especially important when Roma is preparing to square off against a side that is not heavily covered by the mainstream calcio media like the seven sisters are.
Torino is certainly no minnow, but thanks to sharing a city with Juventus and not lifting a trophy for quite some time, Il Toro doesn’t always get the most media coverage. So, when things are going well, the Granata fly under the radar just a bit.
After a couple of seasons of battling relegation, Torino seems to be on the rise again under new boss Ivan Juric. Since being hired, Juric has had a positive impact thanks to the defensive structure he's implemented, dramatically changing the fortunes of the Granata’s rearguard.
That much can be seen in the numbers, but to get an even more in-depth look on the Turin-based side we turned to an old friend, Rob Gillman, better known as Toro Rob.
How did one of the most storied clubs in league history go so sour the last two seasons after seemingly being on the rise under Mazzarri in 18/19? What was the squad’s biggest problem during those two seasons?
Rob Gillman: It is hard to pinpoint it to just one reason to be honest, the reality is it is probably a number of reasons that contributed to Torino’s poor form in recent seasons. Whilst the results under Mazzarri were good in the 19-20 season, the counter attacking tactics were found out very quickly that meant we became easy to play against. It was often a case that teams would find a way to stop Belotti, who was our main attacking threat.
Our recruitment was also disappointing. Simone Verdi was signed for a lot of money and has been very poor, whilst for other players they seemed to want a move to a ‘bigger’ club once we qualified for Europe. Nicolas Nkoulou famously refused to play the 2nd leg v Wolves having been allegedly promised a big move.
With that in mind, take us back to the hiring of Ivan Juric this summer. What were your initial reactions to his hiring?
RG: Juric achieved great results with Verona, but had previously failed with Genoa in a number of spells there so I was a little concerned. However, I’m happy to say I was totally wrong and even though it is early days, he has been a refreshing change.
With a third of the season gone and Torino sitting in 11th on 17 points, what has been the biggest change from last season? What has Juric been able to do with this squad that his predecessors weren’t able to do?
RG: Juric’s favoured 3-4-2-1 tactic seemed a natural fit for a squad who has been used to playing with three at the back under Mazzarri. However, our recruitment has also been much improved after many pleas from Juric - and the additions of Pobega, Praet and Brekalo have really helped.
What’s the biggest reason for Torino having the second-best defensive record: Is it Juric’s tactics, individual performances, a combination of the two, or something different entirely?
RG: I definitely think that Juric’s more aggressive tactics have helped Torino defensively, but Toro’s best defender Bremer is enjoying a really good season. He has definitely been a reason for our improved defensive displays.
In spite of that, the Granata only has a +4 goal differential because the team has scored the 6th fewest goals in the league (17). What’s been the biggest reason for the subpar offensive production?
RG: Andrea Belotti, our best striker has suffered with injury and lack of form this season. There are also questions marks regarding his future with his contract expiring at the end of the season. Antonio Sanabria has been an able deputy, but is not as good a finisher unfortunately.
Recently, we’ve seen Torino linked with Max Kumbulla. Do you think that move is necessary given Torino’s strong defensive record or do you see the club addressing other areas in the winter mercato? If so, what positions would you like to see addressed in January?
RG: Given that he played under Juric at Verona, Kumbulla signing is definitely a possibility. With Ola Aina and Wilfried Singo likely to be playing in the African Cup of Nations in the New Year - a wing back may also be necessary.
Looking ahead to Sunday, what worries you the most about Roma? Conversely, what gives you hope that Torino can come to the capital and get a result?
RG: I’m a big fan of Lorenzo Pellegrini, and am fully aware that Jose Mourinho is the master of getting a result despite not playing well. Felix Afena-Gyan is also likely to be full of confidence after his two goals and looking to add to his footwear collection.
Toro have played really well in away defeats to Napoli and AC Milan, losing 1-0 in each but having numerous chances. If we put in a similar performance against a Roma side who played on Thursday too, I’d expect we can pick up at least a point.
To close, who is one player on Torino that Romanisti might not be all that familiar with that they should keep an eye on?
RG: I’ll go with Sasa Lukic. The Serbian midfielder has been with Toro since 2016 but is finally starting to flourish. He’s also become a regular in his national side.