The 2019/20 Serie A season for Torino saw them finish a mere 16th in the league with only forty points. This a poor feat in contrast with their seventh-place Europa League qualifying campaign from the season prior. The 2019/20 has also seen them with their third manager in charge of the club since the turn of the year, Marco Giampaolo, ex-Milan and Sampdoria boss. The board will be hoping that with the appointment of the cultured Giampaolo, and a few signings, Torino will be back fighting for European spots in no time.
Their style of play in previous years has been very direct. It relied on soaking up the pressure in their defensive shape and hitting their opponents on the break. This style of football has failed this year, and with Giampaolo’s arrival, the philosophy of the club will surely change. That relies on whether or not he is backed, however.
This tactical analysis article will be a season preview of Torino for the upcoming 2020/2021 season. It will be in the form of a team scout report and an analysis of their strengths, weaknesses, team tactics, and style of play from this past season, etc, as well as looking at how Marco Giampaolo will be likely to set his side up to play in the forthcoming campaign.
Squads and formations
Torino have predominantly played the 3-4-1-2 formation, as well as 3-4-2-1. This typically depended on the opponent’s system. Playing a back three has been a prominent tactical trend for Torino ever since 2013, under Gian Piero Ventura. In the 2019/20 season, they were quite defensive and only averaged roughly 48% ball possession per game. Their wing-back system allows them to have a back five when defending, with two defensive midfielders in front of them for central protection.
For the upcoming season, it would be widely expected that Torino will vastly improve their average ball possession per game. This is because of new manager Giampaolo’s emphasis on possession football, averaging 53% possession per 90 with Sampdoria. Giampaolo has mainly deployed a 4-3-1-2 at each club he has been with, in recent memory. More than likely this will not change, and Torino will see their familiar back three system changed to a 4-3-1-2. This narrow formation can be seen in the following footage.
Torino are used to playing with two strikers and a playmaker behind them. This will benefit them as the system change will not be overtly radical for Il Toro. Currently, it looks likely that Andrea Belotti and Simone Zaza will occupy the front two with Verdi/Berenguer sitting behind them.
Ansaldi/Aina and Di Silvestri will act as the full-backs, with Rincon, Meite, and Lukić as the midfield three. N’Koulou and Izzo may be partnered together at centre-back, although this depends on summer investment, meanwhile, Sirigu or Ujkani will play between the sticks.
Analysis of Giampaolo’s build-up play
As I stated before, Giampaolo’s coaching philosophy centres around ball possession and ball retention. This means that he likes for his sides to build their way through the thirds, rather than playing long. Torino will play no differently. This will take a lot of practice and patience considering how little time they have before the new season begins.
Torino’s build-up play will be consistent with their potential new change in formation to a 4-3-1-2 from a back three. In this 4-3-1-2, they will build out from the back using seven players. These seven players will be their goalkeeper, back four, and three central midfielders. Giampaolo generally deploys a single pivot in midfield.
This image was taken from a game earlier in the season of Milan playing out from the back, under Giampaolo. Torino’s build-up will be very patient and Giampaolo likes the players to maintain the width of the pitch. This is so that they can stretch the opponent’s press and find gaps through it.
Torino majorly used a double-pivot in central midfield last season, with Tomas Rincon and Soualiho Meite. However, Rincon has played in the single-pivot role pivot in a few matches for Torino. From his previous five games, Rincon has played more progressive passes than any other midfielder, with 23. He also had the second-highest number of accurate passes to the final third. If not Rincon, Meite would be quite comfortable playing this single pivot role. However, he has a higher number of defensive and attacking duels won than any other Torino central midfielder. This would make him more equipped to play further forward as a box-to-box player.
With this evidence in place, it would be suspected that in the new season, rather than deploying a double pivot, Torino will be using a three-man central midfield, with Rincon as the single pivot, and Lukić and Meite more advanced.
High pressing system
Under the previous manager, Moreno Longo, Torino pressed the opposition high if they tried to play out from the back. One of the major problems for them this season was their disorganisation in the high press. The opposition found it far too easy to find gaps and split Torino’s pressing lines. Their pressing scheme from the past season can be seen in the following image.
They deployed a man-oriented pressing system this season. In the image above you can see that each player has a specific man to mark during the opponent’s build-up play. It was an extremely disorganised system as they only played with two central midfielders. One central midfielder would have to push up and press the opposition’s pivot player. This left massive gaps in the central areas for the opposition’s players to drop into and exploit. It made progressive passing a lot easier for the opponent.
In contrast with the upcoming season, Giampaolo also likes his sides to deploy a man-oriented pressing scheme. However, the major difference is that his pressing scheme is far more organised. It is structured so that they are very secure in the central corridors, which forces the opponent wide.
This footage is from Milan vs Brescia when Giampaolo was in charge of the Rossoneri. The left striker is looking to angle his run forcing the centre-back to play into a condensed central area, or else force him long. The attacking midfielder positioned himself in front of the pivot, whilst the wide central midfielders push over to press the full-backs should they receive the ball. If the wide central midfielders push over, the whole midfield must follow to ensure there are no gaps to play through. This leaves them open to a switch of play, however.
This will likely be the refined pressing system for Torino going into the 2020/2021 season.
Nonetheless, if the opponent played through the press, Torino would quickly drop back into their defensive low block. The defensive low block looked like a 5-3-2 out of possession if their starting shape was a 3-4-1-2. If their starting formation was a 3-4-2-1, the out of possession shape would be a 5-4-1. Their defensive low block can be seen in the following image.
Usually, when teams deploy a 5-4-1 low block, they do so with the intention of covering the width of the pitch. Torino, instead, shifted their entire defensive block to the ball-side instead so to not be overloaded in the wide areas. However, by doing so, they left themselves susceptible to switches of play, which can be seen in the previous image. If their opponents switched the play quick enough, they would be able to take advantage of the space out wide and get a cross in. In back-to-back games against Inter and Genoa respectively, the opposition put in a total of 47 crosses and 16 of these were on target, with two leading to goals.
Giampaolo tends not to sit in a low block with his sides. He likes his teams to press the opponent and hunt the ball down before transitioning or retaining possession. In his final game in charge of Sampdoria, against Juventus, Sampdoria only allowed, on average, 9.7 passes per defensive action. Even more impressive were his side’s numbers against Brescia with Milan. Milan only averaged 7.1 passes allowed per defensive action.
Going into the new season, Torino will hopefully be transformed from a defensive-minded team into a highly functioning pressing side. They have averaged below the majority of the teams in the Serie A, this season, for ball recoveries.
Attacking style of play
As mentioned before, Torino liked to absorb the opponent’s offensive pressure and hit them on the break. Once they won the ball, they looked to play long into their forwards who are aerially solid. Of their four regular forward players, Zaza, Belotti, Verdi, and Berenguer, from the last five matches of the season, they won a combined total of 30 from 53 aerial duels. This roughly equates to 57%, which is a very good return for their forward players.
Belotti likes to drop deep to win the long ball once his side regains possession and looks to play direct. This is so that the opposition centre-back follows his run to compete with him for the header. In turn, it leaves space to be exploited by the other forwards, in between their opponent’s defenders.
In this footage, we can see the centre-back stepping out to compete with Belotti who, despite his height, is rather prominent aerially. The centre-back has left space and Zaza is already starting to make a run to attack with the second ball from Belotti’s knock-down. This was a recurring tactic for Torino in the 2019/20 season to create chances. However, it wasn’t the most efficient way of progressing forward.
When Torino transitioned from defence to attack, under Longo, their centre-forwards would split wide. They did so in order to isolate the opposition’s defenders during the transition, looking to create 1v1 situations. Zaza and Belotti typically occupied these striker roles.
The player in the conventional ‘number 10’ position always tracked back to help the team in defence. Verdi excelled in this role. Once Torino won back the ball, if they did not play long, they would look to play Verdi to his feet. He is excellent at carrying the ball and would turn and run with the ball, looking to play the split strikers, setting them up into the 1v1 situation. An example of this can be seen in the following footage.
Milan under Giampaolo used a similar type of attacking style with Andre Silva and Suso partnering together, in front of Samu Castillejo dropping as the ‘number 10’. Silva and Suso would split wide into the channels during their offensive transition to isolate the opposition’s defenders.
Despite this, a major difference for Torino under Giampaolo will be their lack of attacking transitions. Marco Giampaolo’s sides look to retain possession, allowing their players to position themselves to be ready for a structured, built-up attack, rather than breaking quickly forward.
His sides are not particularly known for putting a lot of crosses into the box. In the 2018/19 season, his Sampdoria side only managed 6.1 completed crosses per 90. Torino, in the 2019/20 Serie A season, managed 8.6 completed crosses per game in contrast. As crossing is one of Torino’s main attacking strengths, Giampaolo will have to adapt his philosophy slightly. Next season, crosses will more than likely still be one of their main attacking threats due to their strikers’ abilities from this type of attack.
In particular, Belotti excels when attacking early inswinging crosses into the box, such as the one above. He is fantastic at running in behind the defensive line and running onto these types of balls. Torino have looked to utilise this type of attacking move in the majority of their matches last season. This is a type of attack which Giampaolo will surely look to utilise again next season with his new team.
Regardless, their attack next season will be far more structured, including plenty of ball retention and patience, instead of relying on individual pieces of brilliance, attacking transitions, and crosses, much like what they relied on under previous managers.
Areas of investment
Centre-back is an area that needs decent investment in the summer, ahead of the new season. Torino have had to play right-footers at left centre-back throughout the season, mainly Bremer. This is because they currently have no quality left-footed centre-backs in their squad. The only left-footed centre-back they have is 18-year-old, Christian Celesia.
For Giampaolo, with his possession style of play, Torino’s board will need to also invest in better, ball-playing central midfielders. Dennis Praet from Leicester has been linked with a reunification with Giampaolo, whom he played as a single pivot for at Sampdoria.
Ricardo Rodriguez, from Milan, has also been heavily linked with a reunion with his former boss. Torino currently only have two players capable of playing as a left-back going into the new season, Aina and Ansaldi. This past season, both men have only won a combined average of 45% of their defensive duels.
The 2020/2021 season is likely to be a very important season for Torino as a football club. With the appointment of their new head coach, they have made a statement to their fans that they are looking to vastly improve the style of play and philosophy of the club. Giampaolo will certainly need time. This is because Torino have very much been a pragmatic side for nearly a decade now. Completely changing the style of play of a club within a number of weeks can be extremely difficult.
Hopefully, for Giampaolo, he will be backed by the board with badly needed squad investment and will be given time by the Torino faithful to fully integrate his style of play into the squad over time.