Andrea Pirlo could be out of a job if Juventus suffer a derby disaster against relegation-threatened Torino… but with a midfield crisis after his stars broke lockdown rules, the problems are piling up for the under-fire boss ahead of Saturday’s crunch clash
- Juventus look like falling short in their bid for a 10th straight Serie A title
- Boss Andrea Pirlo is under pressure and reports in Italy before the international break claimed he had this game to save his job
- Juve have been dominant in this fixture, winning 25 of the last 35 meetings
- They will be without Leonardo Bonucci after a positive Covid-19 test
- Torino head into the Turin derby just one point above the Serie A drop zone
- They have won just one home game this season, against Sassuolo
- The Turin rivals square up on Saturday evening
‘They are strong, but we are ready,’ Torino forward Antonio Sanabria declared to Gazzetta dello Sport ahead of Saturday’s Turin derby against Juventus.
The two teams – much like last season when they finished 16th and top respectively – find themselves at opposite ends of the Serie A table, but both are fearful of the repercussions if results do not improve, and fast.
And where better to start than against your old rivals?
Torino are facing a battle to avoid relegation this season and sit 17th ahead of the Turin derby
Antonio Sanabria insisted his side were ready to cause an upset against Juventus on Saturday
Before the international break this match was billed, by sections of the Italian press, as a must-win for Juve boss Andrea Pirlo if he was to keep his job after slipping 10 points off the pace in the title race.
At the other end Torino are very much in a relegation battle in their ninth consecutive season in the top flight since promotion in 2012.
They have struggled to build any sort of momentum at any point in the campaign, highlighted by their form immediately preceding the international break.
Having claimed a 3-2 win over Sassuolo, they suffered a 1-0 defeat at Sampdoria on March 21, a game in which they did not manage a shot on target and never appeared close to getting an equaliser after conceding an Antonio Candreva goal.
The defeat left them just one point above 18th-placed Cagliari, and a run of three losses in their last four matches means they have not looked like hitting form any time soon.
Torino have managed to gather no momentum, losing to Sampdoria having beaten Sassuolo
Even more worrying for the hosts is that the win against Sassuolo remains the only victory in a dreadful home record at the Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino in 2020-21.
Only Cagliari (48) have conceded fewer goals than Torino (50) of those sides sat in the bottom six in Serie A, but the defence has been a cause for concern recently with Davide Nicola’s side having let in nine goals in their last four matches.
And at the other end, they have struggled to find adequate support for top scorer Andrea Belotti, who has 11 of their 39 league goals this term and is returning off a fruitful break with Italy. Simone Zaza is next on the list with five.
Goals were also an issue for third-place Juventus in their surprise home defeat by Benevento in the last game before the international break, increasing the pressure on already under-fire Pirlo.
The reigning Serie A champions had 21 shots on goal in their most recent encounter, but just a third of those were on target, meaning they failed to make their superior shots tally and possession statistics count.
The hosts have won just once at home and rely too heavily on Andrea Belotti for goals
Moreover, the shadow of their Champions League last-16 exit to Porto continues to hang over the Allianz Stadium, with the long-term project of recruiting Cristiano Ronaldo to win them the European crown having failed so far.
But their elimination from the Champions League may well be eclipsed by the disappointment of finally conceding the domestic title after winning nine in a row.
Whether they can avoid this may well rest on the frame of mind Ronaldo has returned in following an eventful run of international fixtures with Portugal.
The 36-year-old threw his latest tantrum after being denied a late winner against Serbia, chucking the captain’s armband to the floor and storming off the pitch in disgust.
Ronaldo had also faced criticism in Italy before his tantrum on international duty, with critics claiming he is not the same player who led Real Madrid to four Champions League trophies despite scoring 23 goals already this season.
Juventus’ ability to claw back the gap to leaders Inter Milan will rest on Cristiano Ronaldo’s frame of mind
His latest three came in their last away trip at Cagliari, Juventus’ fifth win on their travels in their last eight matches in Serie A, signalling there is life in the Portugal star yet despite the recent negativity that has come his way.
Portugal coach Fernando Santos insisted Ronaldo remained ‘an example for everyone’ despite his antics, and now Pirlo must support his main star in a similar way and encourage him to bring that hunger for goals out if he is to help Juventus claw back the gap to the top.
Antonio Conte’s Inter Milan lead Pirlo’s men by ten points with just 11 games of the season remaining, leaving the champions with no margin for error in their pursuit of a 10th straight domestic crown.
Their run-in does feature game against the two Milan sides – the two teams ahead of them in the table – but Pirlo’s main concern will be reaching early May having suffered no further slip-ups.
Leonardo Bonucci was the hero last time but will miss the game due to coronavirus
However, if history is anything to go by, their local rivals should prove to be no impenetrable obstacle.
Juventus have the overwhelming advantage in this fixture, winning 25 of the 35 previous encounters between the sides. Torino’s win tally in those fixtures meanwhile stands at just three.
More recent derbies between the pair makes for even more ugly reading for Saturday’s hosts, with the current Italian champions winning seven of the last eight meetings.
The latest of those meetings however was far from straight forward for Pirlo’s men, overturning a 1-0 deficit to win 2-1 in December.
Weston McKennie and Paulo Dybala could also be out after breaching Covid protocols
Nicolas Nkoulou fired home after poor Juventus defending from the corner, and the visitors held out until Weston McKennie’s header restored parity before Leonardo Bonucci thumped home a headed winner in the 89th minute.
However, while problems were eventually overcome on the pitch in December, Pirlo is already facing a number of issues before the second derby of the season has even kicked off.
Bonucci will not be able to produce such heroics this time after returning a positive test for coronavirus, while Pirlo has been handed another defensive headache with Merih Demiral also ruled out of the derby.
Midfield meanwhile has been the biggest area of concern for Juventus this season and it could be even more of an issue with some reports suggesting McKennie, Paulo Dybala and Arthur Melo could all miss the game after attending an illegal lockdown party.
That could lead boss Andrea Pirlo to pick players in midfield that he does not seem to trust
The trio were set to be heavily sanctioned by the club after police were called to the American star’s home with private parties banned due to the virus.
Should they all fail to feature, it would leave Pirlo with precious few options in midfield, and the burden would consequently fall on players he does not ultimately seem to trust.
While he is not solely to blame for Juventus’ failings this season, Aaron Ramsey appears closest to the exit door in the summer with the club reportedly running out of patience.
Pirlo tried but ultimately found it difficult to justify the Welshman’s latest absence after he broke down again just before the international break, and rumours around the club over the last fortnight have also centred on his and Adrien Rabiot’s future.
Rodrigo Bentancur has underwhelmed while Adrien Rabiot has been linked with an exit
But those two – alongside under-fire Rodrigo Bentancur – represent the only central options available to Pirlo, if indeed the Welshman has recovered from his thigh injury, as Juventus attempt to keep pace with the Milan sides.
However, the former Italy midfielder could hardly have handpicked a more convenient opponent to face with the potential of several big-names missing, given his side’s total domination in this fixture and the hosts’ lowly position in the table.
This fixture has not come to define a great deal in previous seasons, but this latest instalment of the Turin derby may nevertheless go some way to providing a strong indication as to how both teams mean to go on ahead of the final stretch of the season.
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