Juventus came into today's Derby della Mole knowing that Sunday would not be the day they celebrated their second consecutive scudetto win. Napoli's 3-0 victory over bottom side Pescara Saturday ensured that the race would be extended at least another week.
After an exceedingly dull first 85 minutes, Arturo Vidal and Claudio Marchisio snatched three points for the bianconeri at the death, making the championship all but assured—on paper at least—going into next week's game at the Juventus Stadium.
Needing four points to win the title, a victory was not a necessity for Juve, but it would certainly make things a lot easier next week. Three points would mean that a mere draw against relegation battlers Palermo would clinch league glory for the second year running.
For Torino, things had a little more urgency, but not much. They came into the day seven points clear of the drop zone with five games to play—a decent enough margin to make you think that the other Turin team would be able to stay up next year.
Read on to see how the game progressed and for some thoughts on today's matchup.
It looked as though the fact that a win wasn't necessary was heavily in the minds of the bianconeri and granata as they made their way onto the field into a driving rain at the Stadio Olimpico di Torino. The game started sluggishly for both sides.
Juve dominated possession for the first 20 minutes, but as has been the theme for much of the season, they couldn't seem to find the final ball.
In the 11th minute, Paul Pogba—a regular starter now that Conte has shifted Marchisio up top in a 3-5-1-1 formation—put a beautiful through ball into the middle for Mirko Vucinic, whose shot went far wide to the left of Jean-Francois Gillet's goal.
Six minutes later, Marchisio picked up the ball on the left side of the box following a corner and blasted a shot that Gillet did well to parry.
A minute later Stephan Lichtsteiner—who marauded down the right side the entire first half—put in a cross that was punched by Gillet directly into the path of Vucinic. The Montenegrin's shot was deflected towards Pogba, whose shot was blocked at the final second by a lunging Torino defender.
The young Frenchman had another chance in the 29th minute when a Lichtsteiner shot was blocked to him, only for him to scuff it well wide.
By that point of the first half, Torino wasn't mounting much in the way of attacking play, but they had at least forced Juve into a battle in the middle third of the field rather than allowing themselves to be hemmed in to their defensive third.
This led to a few runs toward Gianluigi Buffon's goal, culminating in the 43rd minute when Mario Santana launched a shot from distance that Buffon did well to parry away for a corner.
The 44th minute saw the first bookings of the match, going to Lichtstiener and Riccardo Meggiorini for wrestling with each other in the box prior to a corner.
A few minutes later, we were treated to some comedy when referee Mauro Bergonzi blew for halftime 45 seconds too early and was forced to restart play with a drop-ball before finally blowing his whistle for real after two minutes of added time.
The second half quickly settled into a slow, dull rhythm. Juve held possession and passed the ball around the Torino half for the majority of the half but showed precious little potential for actually scoring.
Torino was content to let their forwards chase after long clearances with little success, as the defensive trio of Barzagli, Bonucci and Chiellini often sent the loose balls straight back to the Torino half.
Giampiero Ventura went with a like-for-like sub on 66 minutes, sending on Jonathas for Meggiorini. Antonio Conte responded eight minutes later with a double sub of his own, sending Martin Caceres on for Lichtsteiner and Fabio Quagliarella on for an underperforming Vucinic, who was nowhere close to his impressive earlier form today.
The match's endgame began in the 78th minute with the booking of Kamil Glik about 35 yards from goal. When Vidal tried to cross to Bonucci in the aftermath of Pirlo's free kick, Alessandro Gazzi did well to break things up and send Torino on the counter. Alessio Cerci, creator of Torino's best chances on the day, galloped up the right side only to fizz his cross ahead of his oncoming teammate.
Three minutes later Cerci was on the right wing again and delivered a beautiful cross towards Jonathas, who was a fraction of a second late to what would have been a sure goal. It would be Torino's best chance of the night.
The bianconeri had their best up to that point four minutes later when Kwadwo Asamoah sent a beautiful cross to the back post that Pogba cracked wide of the target. The teenager knew he'd missed a howler, and at that point it looked as though the game would end up as dreary as the weather.
Two minutes later, however, Juve had their goal. Marchisio passed the ball to Vidal, who ripped a low, hard shot from 25 yards out that gave Gillet no chance.
Quagliarella had a run disrupted two minutes later as Juve searched for a quick second, then was wrestled to the ground by Glik as the clock ticked into stoppage time, earning Glik a second yellow card and his second dismissal in as many games against Juventus this season.
Any doubts of the result were rested two minutes into stoppage time. Andrea Pirlo directed a free kick from the left wing towards the back post, and Quagliarella headed it back to the center for a waiting Marchisio, who half-volleyed it into the roof of the net from inside the six-yard box.
Torino sub Valter Birsa made it two shots on goal for i granata on the day when he sent a dead-center free kick from just outside the penalty arc right at Buffon, but the Italy No. 1 parried easily and Juve notched yet another clean sheet, moving them to within a point of clinching another championship.
This match was not nearly as ornery as the Derby della Mole has been historically. This is only the second time the fixture has been played since 2008-09, and only the sixth time since Torino's first relegation this century after the 2002-03 season.
Before then, it had been played every season since Torino returned to Serie A in 1990-01, and before their '89-90 season in Serie B had been played yearly for 20 seasons.
Even though it's been hard fought on the field this year, it's obvious that the absence of the fixture as a regular on the calendar has sapped some of the animosity from the field, if not from the fans. Hopefully if Torino can stay up a few years, one of Italy's best rivalries can find its edge again.
I'm still not sure what purpose Antonio Conte's change from the 3-5-2 to the 3-5-1-1 serves. There are three possibilities in my eyes: 1) Conte is trying to get Paul Pogba a more regular place in the starting XI; 2) he's trying to compensate for the lack of striking quality currently on his roster; or 3) he's using the leeway of his huge lead in the standings to experiment with possible formations that will take advantage of the incoming Fernando Llorente, who is better working as a central striker than as one of a pair.
If the answer to the above question is Option 1, it's probably not that bad a thing. Until Vidal's goal, Pogba looked Juve's most dangerous man when he got the ball in the attacking third.
He missed an absolute howler on Asamoah's cross late on and scuffed a long-range half-volley in the 63rd minute that could have been another of his trademark long-distance strikes, but he was sending the ball towards the goal, which is more than could be said of Mirko Vucinic.
A last comment on the 3-5-1-1: Marchisio looked good in this match in the hole behind Vucinic, but he's not a natural trequartista and is at his most dangerous when he's running the channels along with Vidal. In important games, that's where he should be.
Vucinic looked sluggish. He's been playing as Juve's main striker ever since the debacle in the first leg of the Champions League quarters in Munich, and it may be time to give him a rest. He wasn't sharp at all on the ball and made very little impact aside from a goal that was called back for a clear offside in the 36th minute.
Asamoah's performance was an improvement on many of his post-AFCON performances. His cross to Pogba was a thing of beauty, and as Juve's attack shifted his way in the second half (they were running almost exclusively towards Lichtsteiner until he was withdrawn), he caused some problems in Torino's defense. He should be run out regularly during Juve's victory lap to really get him back into the swing of things.
Torino came into the day seven points clear of the drop zone, but upset wins by Palermo and Genoa pulled both clubs within four of i granata. With Genoa facing Pescara next week and Torino facing the daunting challenge of AC Milan at the San Siro, things could get hairy for them in the last three weeks of the season.
What had for the most part been a dull relegation fight this season is suddenly turning into a four-team fight to avoid the 18th and 19th positions