Saturday, 31 August 2013

Atalanta v Torino Preview

Torino will make the short journey to Bergamo looking for back-to-back victories as they face Atalanta on Sunday evening.

After defeating Sassuolo on the opening day, enthusiasm amongst Granata supporters is high, and returning to the location of their most impressive victory in the last campaign - a 5-1 away win - could give them added hope for the season ahead.

New loan signing Giovanni Pasquale, a defender from Udinese, has been included in the squad although Matteo Brighi misses out and should be replaced in the Toro starting eleven by former Atalanta man Migjen Basha. Alexander Farnerud struggled in his league debut last weekend, and it would not be a surprise to see the former Swedish international replaced by Omar El Kaddouri.

The home side began the season with a disappointing 2-1 defeat against Cagliari, and will also be looking to gain revenge as Toro took six points from them last season. Talented striker German Denis will be leading the line for Atalanta, whilst Giacomo Bonaventura is also a player to look out for.

Match Prediction
Atalanta 1-1 Torino

Friday, 30 August 2013

Maratona & Elsewhere #13 : Toro v Sassuolo: “The one in which we’re very rude about Enzo Maresca’s mother”

Torino 2-0 Sassuolo - 25.08.13


Last week against Pescara didn’t really feel like the real thing, to be honest. More a holiday atmosphere than anything else. The Piemontese equivalent of a “Kiss Me Quick” hat and a stick of rock wouldn’t have been out of place. Much catching up with friends not seen since May, comparing suntans (not me, obviously, being a Barbarian), it felt like an aperitivo, as if we were all just dropping in to say “ciao” en route to another engagement.

But this was the real thing.

In M&E#12 I touched upon the possibility of Enzo Maresca joining the club and the reaction said possibility provoked. Some behavioural psychologists speak of the concept of reinforcement, whereby certain behaviours can be strengthened or increased via reward or punishment. I vaguely recall studying this in Manchester in the late ‘80s in moments of relative sobriety.

We entered the stadium as normal, bought beers as normal. Then the singing started: 

La mamma di Maresca è una puttana! 
Bastardo non ti vogliamo! 
Enzo Maresca gobbo di merda! 
Maresca tu sei un figlio di puttana! 

I would like to think that the many thousand fully-qualified Granata behavioural psychologists present were merely indulging in some form or another of reinforcement therapy for the benefit of Cairo, Ventura and Petrachi, something along the lines of “don’t you fucking dare try anything like that again.”

[The aforementioned songs and their many variations feature regularly in the Maratona songbook, along with many other popular favourites. In the coming weeks and months I shall endeavour to devise a drinking game called “Maratona Binge-O!”, the purpose of which will be to consume a certain quantity of a particular beverage upon hearing a given song or chant from the Curva. As there are obvious dangers and practical difficulties inherent in attempting a drinking game inside the stadium, this will be a TV-based game for armchair Ultras everywhere, season ticket holders who are unable or unwilling to attend away games, and for anyone who for whatever reason needs a drink when watching Toro. I know how you feel.]

The recently-but-not-dearly departed Angelo Ogbonna also received a “gobbo di merda!” for good measure. It would have been rude to leave him out, after all, and - as my late grandmother used to say -honey catches more flies than vinegar (which puts honey in second place, behind bullshit). I wish him well and hope he enjoys his next few months on the bench at Venaria Town before going to Sampdoria on loan in January in order to get a game before the World Cup comes around.

And so to the announcement of the teams. No prizes for guessing whose names were greeted with the least enthusiasm: Vives and the Meggiorini.

The Ultras still seem to be in pre-season. Perhaps the guys who can find their own arse with both hands are still at the beach? Any way you slice it, the banners (which were made from somebody’s mother’s floral wallpaper and single-sided, so those standing behind couldn’t read them) and general orchestration left something to be desired. The rendition of “Forza! Vecchio! Cuore! Granata!” was the weakest I have heard since my debut against Modena in November 2010.

I will also retain the right to get a little bit pissed off whenever they become so self-absorbed that the game (and others’ enjoyment thereof) takes second place to their collective ego. The €230 I paid for my season ticket was to watch the team play, thankyouverymuchrantover.

Continuing in contrary mood, many people in the Maratona – those in my immediate vicinity and myself included - disagreed with Rob and Peter and with 52% of ToroNews voters in their selection of Vives as Man of the Match. In the Maratona we don’t have the benefit of commentary, action replays and multiple camera angles, but we do have the advantage of being there.

My received wisdom (Maratona level 2, section 213) was that Cerci had a good game and was M.o.M., despite playing out of position for much of the game as a second striker. No surprise that his goal – an almost carbon copy of the beauty he scored at Fiorentina last season – came from the right wing. Honourable mentions also for Matteo Brighi for his goal and all-round first half performance (I hope his injury - an adductor strain, I believe - is a temporary inconvenience), for Migjen Basha who came on in his stead second half, El Pelado Rodriguez and Padelli in goal (who made only nine tackles fewer than Vives, according to!).

As an aside, four days later 67% of ToroNews readers who responded said they would replace Vives with Bellomo for the Atalanta game! Shall we add “fickle” to “superstitious”, and/or get bogged down with statistics instead? Nah. Let’s not.

I think Ciro Immobile can be happy enough with his performance, if not with the cretinous short corner routine on 80 minutes that led to him receiving a yellow card on the halfway line for what could be considered a professional foul. We had three guys waiting at the far post, for fuck’s sake. The exact same kind of moronic set-piece – I’m assuming we don’t practice set-pieces in training – that all too often last season led to the ball arriving in our penalty area for Gillet to deal with.

I also have to disagree with ToroNews regarding Orsato, the referee. He seemed keen to wave play on when there was no discernible advantage to be had, and there was one comedy moment where he ran 30 metres to bark at Ventura, having just given us a free kick. Ah well, it could have been worse, I suppose; we could have had Bergonzi (who refereed the most recent derby after his short break in Dubai with Beppe Marotta, and the pleasure of whose company we’ll have again in Bergamo next Sunday), or Rocchi, Tagliavento, Peruzzo, Banti or any of the other clowns. Orsato getting a favourable review for being merely average shows you the standard of officiating we have in Italy.

So, for Pescara 3-0 in 2012, read Sassuolo 2-0 in 2013. We saluted our first win and first Fisherman’s Friends of the season with “Tutta la notte, coca e mignotte!”(“All night, cocaine and whores!”) and invited the players to join us under the Curva, which they duly did – cf. the Pescara game.

And what of the new-fangled 3-5-2 formation? I’m not a fan, on the evidence of this match. Kamil Glik doesn’t look comfy on the right of a back three, Darmian and D’Ambrosio aren’t wingers, and Cerci doesn’t play with his back to goal. I’m hoping for a counter-attacking 4-4-2 and Farnerud playing left right out for the Atalanta game, which is yet another 2045 kick-off on a Sunday night. Don’t Lega Serie A realise that some people have to get up for work on a Monday morning?! It’s not exactly conducive to attracting away fans to add to the atmosphere and/or televisual spectacle, either.

FORZA! to our travelling tifosi.

Tune in next time for M&E#14: “Toro 0 - 2 Milan”


P.S.: Whisper it - fourth place in the classifica! Officially we’re 4th, because (get this) in the event of two or more teams having identical records the tie is broken according to last season’s final league position (shakes head). We’d be 4th alphabetically, too, BUT WE’RE FOUR PLACES ABOVE THE GOBBI.

P.P.S.: Final word on superstitions. Mine is wearing a silver earring in the shape of the Warner Brothers Tasmanian devil –yes, I know I should know better at my age, but I didn’t wear it against Pescara while I did against Sassuolo. And which game did we win? ;-)

Steve is a season ticket holder who moved to Torino in 2009 after meeting a Torinese lady called Raffaella on Facebook - you can follow Steve on Twitter here.

Maratona & Elsewhere #12: Toro v Pescara: “17 is unlucky for some.”

Torino 1-2 Pescara - 17.08.13

The number 17 is considered unlucky in Italy, and so playing against Pescara in the Coppa Italia (I refuse to use the name of the sponsor) on August 17th turned out to be for us. But not for them, curiously. Lady Luck is a capricious creature, isn’t she? Italians generally are a superstitious bunch, prone to using certain gestures to ward off the evil eye, knocking on iron (“tocca ferro”) for luck, not cutting their nails on a Thursday, practising Catholicism, etc…

My personal favourites relate to the selection of lottery numbers. There are many television charlatans in this country with premium-rate telephone lines who claim some kind of paranormal ability to predict numbers. There is an ancient Neapolitan system known as La Smorfia, in which the first letter of something you dreamed about corresponds to a lottery number. I have a book on this stuff which dates from 1996, in which a naked woman represents 21 and head lice represent 87, to give but two examples. I’m not sure what number equates to a naked woman with head lice; I’ll get back to you on that.
“But Steve,” I hear you say, “last night I had a dream about an octopus living inside an acoustic guitar!” That’s 67, my friends (I kid you not).
The book includes many photographs of famous people, accompanied by seemingly random digits. I include one below for your dining and dancing pleasure.

(Yes, that is James Hewitt.)

The relevance of all this? I repeat, the number 17 is considered unlucky in Italy. I am led to believe that Italian high-rise buildings often do not have a 17th floor – bear this in mind if you intend to visit Italy on your next bungee jumping holiday - and Alitalia don’t have a Row 17 on their seat plans. But why is this? Well, if you rearrange the Roman numerals XVII you get “VIXI”, which can be found on tombstones. This is Latin for “he lived” (i.e., “he’s dead now!”). Salvatore Masiello wears 17. Make of that what you will, but he’s certainly been no good luck charm for us thus far. I recently bought a lotto ticket and chose his shirt number and those of Vives and the Meggiorini. Won bugger
all. Q.E.D. 
But I digress. The match? Considering the fact that most of Italy is still on holiday during the third week in August, a crowd in the region of 10,000 for a cup game was quite impressive. Which is more than can be said for the game, more’s the pity. After about 3 minutes I took out my notebook and pen, ready to scribble some pithy aperçus, but before I knew it one of the Ultras (possibly drugged) conducting the singing had jumped up ten rows of seats and was in my right ear, berating me for not joining in! Trying to explain that I was writing for an English language blog about Toro was as much use as trying to teach a dog a card trick. Fortunately I am not an aggressive person by nature and I was too surprised to react to the invasion of my personal ear, to be honest. I do, however, have a contingency plan for any repeat performance :-)

Other than nursing my perceived grievance – there were many others not singing, and none of them were writing! – I have little to report other than that one of the thirty-or-so Pescara supporters lit and threw a flare at our brothers and sisters in the Curva Primavera. This unsurprisingly brought a reaction from the Maratona: a chant of “Uccideteli!” (“Kill them!”) and a not-so-friendly invitation to a rendezvous after the game. For their supporters’ behaviour, Pescara were quite rightly fined €7.000. Quite unbelievably, our club was fined the same amount for our brothers and sisters having the temerity to throw the damned thing back!

So, a defeat to a team from Serie B, one that we beat 3-0 in our opening game in Serie A last year. What to read into it? Well, we have nine new faces in the squad – eight if you don’t include Cesare Bovo, who was with us on loan in 2007 – a new Captain, and a new formation, so it will be interesting to see how and how soon we find the correct blend. Pescara themselves appeared to me to be fitter than us and seemed to know each other better. I must add, however, that I’m not 100% convinced we set out to win that game. The second half had the feel of a pre-season friendly, a training exercise, a let’s-concentrate-on-the-league, boys. 

The general mood of the Curva was less-than-positive in the immediate aftermath. Indeed, we sent the players away with a flea in their collective ear and a respectful suggestion that they show some balls in future. My ticket had a face value of twenty centesimi (about seventeen pence), though, so I suppose I can say it was value for money. (I have no idea why I was given a paper ticket, as my season ticket is in the form of a smartcard.)

I could rant and rave about the Coppa being seeded, but if we can’t beat Pescara in the third elimination round I’d be wasting my breath. They now play Spezia in the fourth round, which will be useful for both teams in terms of fitness and squad rotation, and the possibility of playing Milan at the San Siro will be something to look forward to for their supporters. I think it would have been of benefit to OUR players and OUR supporters, too!

Just to put the cherry on the turd weekend, we also had the inaugural Mamma Cairo trophy, a four-team tournament contested by our Primavera squad and those of Milan, Inter, and Venaria Town, celebrating the life of the late mother of our club president. Unfortunately, the team from Venaria just happened to win the thing. So an unpleasant weekend all round; a cup defeat to a team in a lower division, and our president’s mother’s trophy awarded to the gobbi. The latter embarrassment was 100% avoidable. I wouldn’t have invited them, personally. 

In the week separating this mess and the beginning of the new Serie A campaign there was much noise aboutnCairo-Ventura-Petrachi bringing Enzo Maresca to the club (though both Petrachi and Ventura have subsequently employed a sloping-shoulders policy and denied any responsibility). Maresca is probably best-known in Granata circles for scoring against us in the February, 2002 derby and mimicking Marco Ferrante’s “horns” goal celebration (see below). 
The idea of a piss-taking ex-gobbo joining Toro did not exactly go down well. Indeed, Piero Chiambretti, who is a famous TV and radio personality in Italy and a proud Toro tifoso, declared he would change his lifelong allegiance if the deal went through. His and other supporters’ protests led to the idea getting kicked into the long grass, if you’ll forgive the pun. But more of that next time. For now, I’ll leave you trembling with antici...


Steve is a season ticket holder who moved to Torino in 2009 after meeting a Torinese lady called Raffaella on Facebook - you can follow Steve on Twitter here.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Torino 2-0 Sassuolo

Torino made the ideal start to the new season, as goals from Matteo Brighi and Alessio Cerci gave them a 2-0 victory over Sassuolo on Sunday evening.

As expected the Granata lined up in a 3-5-2 formation, although there were a few surprises in Giampiero Ventura's line up as both Giuseppe Vives and Alexander Farnerud started in midfield.

Ciro Immobile showed some early signs of what Torino fans should expect from their new striker, as he ran from the half way line before shooting straight into the arms of away keeper Antonio Rosati. At the other end, new Toro stopper Daniele Padelli was tested by Sassuolo striker Simone Zaza.

Five minutes before half time, Toro took the lead when Immobile intellingently played the ball back to the edge of the area, and that allowed Matteo Brighi to drill home into the corner of the net.

The impressive Giuseppe Vives came narrowly close to doubling Torino's lead in the second half, but his long range effort went wide of the post. However, Toro didn't have to wait long to extend their lead, as just after the hour mark Alessio Cerci opened his account for the season as he scored a trademark 'Cerci' goal by cutting in on his left foot before curling a shot into the bottom corner.

Simone Zaza and Leonardo Pavoletti both had half chances to score a consolation side for Sassuolo, but it was infact Ciro Immobile who came closest to scoring a third goal as he hit the post from an acute angle.

Whilst this may have only been a victory against a newly promoted side, Torino showed a number of positive signs in this match, and although next Sunday's match at Atalanta will be a much tougher test - it is always good to start the season with three points.

Forza Torino

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Torino V Sassuolo Preview

Torino kick off their Serie A campaign with a home fixture against Serie A debutants Sassuolo at the Stadio Olimpico this afternoon.

The Granata are expected to line up in a 3-5-2 formation, with six players including new striker Ciro Immobile set to make their first league starts for the club. After suffering a defeat at home to Pescara last week in the Coppa Italia, Torino will be looking for a more favourable result this weekend.

Toro have a good record against Sassuolo in recent seasons, and won 3-0 the last time they met in May 2012, as the Granata went on to gain promotion to Serie A.

Torino 2-1 Sassuolo

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Serie A 2013/14 Season Preview

With just two days to go until Serie A gets underway for another season, below is my preview with a few predictions thrown in as well.

Title Challengers
As hard as it is for me to admit, it is difficult to look beyond Juventus as the favourites for the scudetto as the team who were head and shoulders above the rest of the division last year have further improved their squad. The acquisitions of former Toro defender Angelo Ogbonna along with strikers Fernando Llorente and Carlos Tevez have given Juve more strength in depth and should help them cope with the demands of the Champions League. Napoli were Juve's biggest challengers for much of last season, and under the stewardship of Rafa Benitez, they should be able to mount a title challenge for the forthcoming campaign. Edinson Cavani may have departed, but Gonzalo Higuain is an adequate replacement and it will be interesting to see whether Dries Mertens can replicate his PSV form in a Napoli shirt. With Mario Balotelli in their team - arguably the best player in the league - AC Milan should be able to mount a better title challenge this campaign, provided they don't start as poorly as they did last year. However, Milan have not strengthened their much maligned defence, and this could prove to be their downfall.

European Contenders
Fiorentina impressed many last season as they narrowly missed out on a place in the Champions League, and after spending big to sign Mario Gomez from Bayern Munich they should be able to mount a similar challenge this season. Despite some pundits (including myself) predicting Lazio to struggle last season with unknown Bosnian Vladimir Petkovic at the helm, the Biancocelesti qualified for Europe due to their Coppa Italia victory. However, they will probably want to improve on their league standing this season, and experienced striker Miroslav Klose will be key in order to do so. After suffering an incredible 16 defeats in the league last season, it would almost be impossible for Inter to have a worse campaign. New coach Walter Mazzarri has been busy in the transfer market, and youngsters Mauro Icardi, Mateo Kovacic, Ishak Belfodil all have good potential. Despite the departure of Pablo Daniel Osvaldo to Southampton, Roma will feel that they are capable of replicating last season's 6th placed finish. New coach Rudi Garcia did a great job at Lille, and if they are able to keep Erik Lamela away from the lure of the Premier League they could be one of the surprise packages this campaign. Francesco Guidolin continues to work miracles with Udinese as evidenced by their fifth placed finish last season, and a strike partnership of Antonio Di Natale and Luis Muriel will guarantee goals.

Upper Mid-Table
Catania will be Sicily's only representative in Serie A this year, and whilst it will be difficult to replicate last season's 8th placed finish due to the loss of Alejandro Gomez and Francesco Lodi. However, they have a habit of upsetting the odds, and their home form has been incredible over the last couple of years. Despite not making many new signings, Cagliari have been able to keep a hold of Davide Astori, Radja Nainggolan, Victor Ibarbo and Marco Sau - and this should make them extremely competitive, despite question marks over where they will play their home matches. Despite the loss of promising young striker Ishak Belfodil to Inter, Parma have managed to sign Antonio Cassano as part of the deal, and his partnership with Amauri promises to be an exciting one.

Lower Mid-Table
Bologna may be without Alberto Gilardino but former Torino captain Rolando Bianchi is certainly an adequate replacement. Alessandro Diamanti will also provide the creativity to keep the rossoblu from relegation trouble. Sampdoria have lost Mauro Icardi, but Manolo Gabbiadini should be able to replace his goals, and Delio Rossi is a veteran tactician who will be able to keep his team in the division.
After a couple of difficult seasons fighting relegation, Genoa would willingly take a boring season in mid-table. The return of Gilardino is certainly a boost, whilst Francesco Lodi is an extremely good acquisition. However if inexperienced coach Fabio Liverani makes a poor start to his reign, there could be more misery on the horizon for il Grifone. Returning to Serie A for the first time in eleven years Hellas Verona will be hoping their stay will be a prolonged one. The signing of Luca Toni is an interesting one, and whilst there are doubts over whether he can still cut it at the top level, he could score some important goals to keep them up.

Relegation Battlers
As much as it hurts me to say this, I do feel that my beloved Torino could be in some trouble this season. The change in formation from 4-2-4 to 3-5-2 is extremely risky, especially when one considers the Granata have yet to win a single competitive match under Giampiero Ventura whilst playing in this new formation. Whilst Angelo Ogbonna and Rolando Bianchi have been replaced by Cesare Bovo and Ciro Immobile, doubts remain over the strength of their midfield - which was often their downfall last season. The suspensions to key players Jean-Francois Gillet, Alessandro Gazzi and Paulo Barreto are a worry, and could mean that they start the season slowly. However, being able to retain the services of Italy international Alessio Cerci was a major coup for the club, and moving him to a striking role could be a masterstroke. Atalanta have enjoyed a number of steady seasons under the stewardship of Stefano Colontuono, however in their two fixtures against Toro last season they failed to impress. The Bergamo side should have enough to stay up, but they could endure a more difficult season than they have in recent years - especially if German Denis fails to find the net on a regular basis. Chievo have also enjoyed some consistency since returning to the top flight, but replacing club legend Eugenio Corini as coach was a strange decision, and if new man Giuseppe Sannino makes a slow start they may find it difficult to recover. Sassuolo will often be referred to as "minnows" by numerous pundits, but it is important to remember that they were Serie B champions last season. However, much like Pescara before them, I doubt whether they have enough experience in their squad to cope with the demands of the top tier. Simone Zaza was prolific for struggling Ascoli last year, and they may be over-reliant on him replicating that form. Livorno gained promotion to Serie A via the playoffs last season, and have therefore have had less time to prepare for their return to the top flight. Talented duo Ibrahima Mbaye (who is excellent on Football Manager 13 by the way) and Alfred Duncan have joined on loan from Inter, and whilst they may gain a number of impressive results, I doubt whether they will have the consistency to stay up.


Champions - Juventus
Runners Up - Milan
Champions League - Napoli
Relegated - Chievo, Sassuolo, Livorno
Top Scorer - Mario Balotelli

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Bourne's Transfer Review

A few months ago, I ran my thoughts on Toro’s 2012-13 season and what needed to be done position-by-position over the summer. Although the transfer market still has a few weeks to run, a few thoughts on the status quo with the season opener against Sassuolo just days away. 
In: Padelli (Udinese) 
Out: Gillet (suspended for 43 months), A. Gomis (Crotone, loan), Coppola (released) 
My feeling was that very few changes needed to be made in this position with the small caveat being the potential suspension hanging over first choice ‘keeper Jean Francois-Gillet. The club were confident that the Belgian would escape any wrongdoing. Therefore the 43-month sentence handed to the former Bari man has hit the club’s plans hard. One could argue that signing a player (relatively expensively) with this cloud already hanging over him was not necessarily the most pragmatic move.  Petrachi and Cairo have taken their time to act. The suspicion is that they were hoping that new signing Daniele Padelli (bought in as number 2) could make the step up but an unconvincing performance in the Coppa Italia defeat by Pescara has caused a dramatic rethink. With so many excellent keepers available (Pegolo, Sorrentino, Viviano) it’s likely that the club will now move fast. Pegolo is not my preferred choice but seems the most like-for-like in regards to Gillet. In the event of a new arrival my other wish - that Lys Gomis moves out on loan - should come to fruition. 
Overall: Short-term weaker than last season. Even if Gillet’s eventual replacement is of a better quality and that Padelli is a step-up from Coppola, not having decided on a first choice goalkeeper during pre-season is ill-advised. 
Out: Caceres (released) 
Ventura will switch to a 3-5-2 this season meaning less need for wingers, greater reliance on wing-backs. On the right side the impressive Matteo Darmian and Danilo D’Ambrosio will again contend for the role although D’Ambrosio can cover other positions. My sensation is D’Ambrosio is more suited to an attacking role and Darmian may start more games against the top sides. Worryingly though D’Ambrosio’s contract has less than 12 months to run and neither party seems close to a deal. The left-side is still a chronic problem. Throughout last season it was plugged by stop-gaps or inadequate players. For Mesbah last season read Ghoulam this year. Toro have concentrated all their efforts on an Algerian left-back. Mesbah never arrived, for the Saint-Etienne player there is still hope. Otherwise Toro will be forced to field the frankly average Salvatore Masiello (given a new one year deal), shift Emiliano Moretti from centre-back or D’Ambrosio across to his least preferred side. 
Overall: Although no great personnel change, I’d argue this position is weaker given the need for players who can attack with greater purpose. Final verdict will come from the quality of left-sided player introduced.
In: Bovo (Genoa), Maksimovic (Red Star), Moretti (Genoa) 
Out: Di Cesare (Brescia), Ogbonna (Juventus) 
Ogbonna has left. It was inevitable as was that Juventus were almost the only Serie A side to cough up the cash. Fortunately, the deal was concluded relatively quickly. The price, in the 11-13 million euro range, reflects the player’s value. Until now, not much of it has been reinvested. Ogbonna’s departure has upset a large section of the tifoseria, more for his cold pursuit of the transfer rather than his decision to move across the city. Kamil Glik has been appointed as captain to widespread euphoria. I’m still to be convinced he was the right choice. From 4-4-2 to 3-5-2, Glik will marshal a new-look defence both tactically and in terms of personnel. The signings are relatively solid and the team seem well-stocked in central defenders. Guillermo Rodriguez has been retained and will vie for the role of sweeper with the injury-prone Cesare Bovo who begins his second spell at the club following a difficult time at Genoa. Moretti brings experience and tactical versatility while the young Serb Nikola Maksimovic arrives with plenty of potential. Valerio di Cesare returns to Serie B, in my opinion his level. 
Overall: Despite loss of Ogbonna, it is more adaption to the system than personnel that worries me. A lack of pace may be a concern as will the tendency of Glik in particular to dive in. 
In: Bellomo (Bari), El Kaddouri (Napoli), Farnerud (Young Boys) 
Out: Bakic (Fiorentina), Birsa (Genoa), Santana (Genoa), Stevanovic (Palermo), Verdi (Empoli) 
Chronically understaffed last season, the midfield has enjoyed something of a revamp. The departures of Birsa, Santana, Stevanovic and Verdi (non of whom replaced) reflects Ventura’s desire to be rid of wingers. Therefore the club are stocked with central midfielders. Matteo Brighi and Alessandro Gazzi, the best of last year’s crop, have been retained although Brighi is injury-prone and Gazzi faces a 6-game ban. Mijgen Basha and Giuseppe Vives are also still in the squad although the latter may be a Serie B player by September 2. The three new signings are all hungry to make an impression in Serie A. I was impressed with the capture of youngster Nicola Bellomo who demonstrated promise at Bari. Likewise Omar El Kaddouri brings youth and the promise of goals. At 29 and following a few decent years in Switzerland, Alexander Farnerud seems more of a gamble. His pre-season has not been particularly encouraging and only eight caps for Sweden suggest some limitations. 
Overall: Still lacking a regista to dictate play – even more important in a 3-5-2 line-up which points more to possession than counter-attack. Genuinely the team looks stronger here although slight loss of penetration with departures of wing talent. Will be interesting to witness evolution.

In: Immobile (Genoa), Larrondo (Siena) 
Out: Bianchi (Bologna), Diop (Juve Stabia), Jonathas (Pescara)  
As expected @torinoblogger favourite Rolando Bianchi has left after 5 years and 73 goals. The team needed to move on, the question was how good the replacement would be. The jury is still out. Ciro Immobile looks like an assured acquisition but too young to carry the entire weight of the attack. In addition, I’d like to see the remainder of his contract bought out from Juventus which had been the original promise. A more direct replacement for Bianchi is Siena’s Argentine Marcelo Larrondo. Much promise but very few career goals. The two have linked up well in pre-season but my feeling another addition is required. Pursuits of Maxi Lopez (thankfully) and Eren Derdiyok have so far come too nothing. Completing the roster are Paulo Barreto and Riccardo Meggiorini. Like Gazzi, Barreto will miss the first six weeks and this seems to have affected his morale and pre-season. The Brazilian showed enough last season to suggest he could come on strong in 2013-14. The much-maligned Riccardo Meggiorini is still in the squad. The change in formation is unlikely to benefit the Ventura favourite as the need for a forward who tracks back less crucial in a 3-5-2. Meggiorini is likely to make way for the fourth forward. And completing the roster is the team’s star man: Alessio Cerci. Devastating last year and in World Cup year likely to be highly-motivated, the club did well to retain his services. However, it remains unclear as to where Ventura will fit in his wide man in the change of formation.  
Verdict: Potentially stronger if a fourth forward replaces Meggiorini and Cerci is given room to shine.  
General verdict: Perhaps slightly stronger than last season but the change in system is a gamble. It suggests Ventura realises the team was over-run last year. A more conservative Toro is likely. A great reliance on playing through the midfield rather than width seems the plan. My worry is the team could be incredibly predictable and static and the young forwards will struggle under the weight of expectation. A goalkeeper, left back, a regista and another attacking option are needed. Two of these positions have been vacant now for a few years. 
Probable line-up based on current squad: 
PADELLI; Glik, Rodriguez, MORETTI; Darmian, BELLOMO, Brighi, Gazzi, D’AMBROSIO; Cerci, IMMOBILE 
My preferred line-up: 
VIVIANO; D’Ambrosio, Glik, Rodriguez, GHOULAM; BELLOMO, Brighi (or new regista), Gazzi; EL KADDOURI (or new forward), IMMOBILE, Cerci

Peter is the author of the outstanding Torino book 'Passion in the Piazza' which is available on Amazon, and you can follow him on Twitter here.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Torino 1-2 Pescara

Torino were dumped out of the Coppa Italia after a disappointing 2-1 home defeat against Serie B side Pescara on Saturday evening.

The Granata included six debutants in their starting line up, as Daniele Padelli, Emiliano Moretti, Alexander Farnerud, Nicola Bellomo, Ciro Immobile and Marcelo Larrondo made their first competitive appearances for the club.

Argentine striker Larrondo almost gave Toro the lead in the first half, but he was unable to convert captain Kamil Glik's low cross. Just a minute into the second half, Pescara took the lead as Riccardo Maniero waltzed past Guillermo Rodriguez before rounding Daniele Padelli to score - although Emilliano Moretti would have been disappointed not to clear the ball off the line.

However, Torino were level less than ten minutes later when Larrondo fed his striker partner Immobile and he showed great composure to score against his former side. But Pescara only needed five minutes to regain the lead as Antonino Ragusa scored from outside the area with a powerful shot.

Substitutes Alessio Cerci and Migjen Basha both had half chances to take the game to extra time, but they couldn't convert them to spare Toro's blushes.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Maratona and Elsewhere #11 : ’Better late than never’ is a matter of opinion.

My apologies for the delay. I lost interest for a while there.  I went to the derby (purely as a spectator and not as a blogger, hence no notes taken) and the pantomime that was the game against Genoa - more of that to follow - and I felt so generally disgruntled about that game and our not-exactly-scintillating form in previous matches that I boycotted the Catania match and planned, as you may remember, to take up watching women’s volleyball.

Let’s face it: we weren’t great last season. We were the least-worst team in the division, and thoroughly deserved to be 17th. For the most part, excluding some aberrations - such as the 5-1 at Atalanta, the win against Lazio, the brief lead against Napoli at home and the ultimately futile recovery from 0-3 away at Fiorentina - it didn’t make for enjoyable viewing. We were lacking in at least one department at some point in nearly every game, be that concentration (especially immediately after kick-offs and in the last 10 minutes), street-wisdom, tactics not suiting our top goalscorer, use or otherwise of the bench, and (in some cases) talent, to name but a few. We weren’t slash-your-wrists awful, and indeed would have finished higher with some luck and some better refereeing, but we simply weren’t good enough for most of the season. 

But “time heals nothing; it merely rearranges our memory” (© G. Numan, though he probably stole it from Philip K. Dick), so I’m back, memory rearranged, season ticket renewed. As much as I admire the ladies of Chieri Torino Volleyball (and I wish them well for their new season), they don’t play at the Comunale/Olimpico and that is where the Maratona is. 

Our transfer activity during the summer has been interesting and, I feel, generally positive. There’s still the small matter of the bans for the ex-Bari players and what to do with the autographed Ogbonna shirt that’s under my bed, but, like a second marriage, this has been a triumph of hope over experience for me. And at least I have a better idea this time around of the emotional rollercoaster ride ahead.

So, my take on the last three home games of the season?

The derby remains a bit of a blur. It was preceded by a very enjoyable Full quasi-English breakfast for eight which did involve certain amount of alcohol, ostensibly to settle any pre-match nerves.

After parking our cars we encountered a group of young gobbe who immediately crossed to the other side of the road and began hurling insults at us, especially at the women in our party. We responded in kind but I felt (and still feel) that that type of behaviour should be kept for the stadium. Not that it’s particularly decorative or edifying inside the stadium, of course... 

As I said previously, I didn’t take pen and paper to the derby, so my recollections are a bit sketchy, not that the alcoholic breakfast helped. I recall losing my voice. I recall the atmosphere being poisonous. I recall they had at least twice as many fans in our stadium as we had at theirs. I recall that it was 0-0 after 80 minutes or so. I recall that Bonucci was not red-carded for pulling Jonathas down by his shirt in the penalty area and that we were not given a spot-kick, even though the referee (the clown Bergonzi, who was reportedly staying in the same hotel as Beppe Marotta in Dubai in the week leading up to the game), linesman and goal-line official all had a clear view of the incident. I recall Kamil Glik being booked twice and sent off for fouls that weren’t fouls. Much like his straight red in the reverse fixture, funnily enough.

So, an unpleasant aftertaste, though it seemed to me that both sides were playing to win but we suffered from the usual dubious/pro-Venaria Town officiating and the aforementioned lack of street-wisdom.
The Genoa game was the diametric opposite: neither team played to win and the referee (the notorious alleged gobbo sympathiser Gianluca Rocchi) was barely noticeable! 

The match was preceded by what should have by all accounts been a moment’s silence for the victims of the accident in Genova harbour that week, a week that included the death aged 94 of ex-Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti (of whom the legendary Peter Bourne commented: “only the good die young.”). However, the tribute went awry. The stadium announcer only got as far as “... ex-Prime Minster...” before his voice disappeared in a cacophony of whistles. I was told after the game that many people in the Curva Primavera were holding aloft photos of Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, two anti-Mafia magistrates from Palermo who were assassinated in 1992 (may I suggest that the gentle reader looks elsewhere for the historical background?). I couldn’t see any of this as somebody in the Maratona had overdone it slightly with the fumogeni; I was more-or-less blind for three minutes and had to breathe through a t-shirt that is still stained purple from the smoke.

So the mood within the stadium was already fractious. Add to this the fact that the Maratona was split roughly 50/50 between those who had forgiven Genoa for relegating us in 2009 and those who hadn’t, and the realisation that we were watching a fixed match, and you have one angry stadium.

There was no football of which to speak.  No challenges of note. No attempts on goal (though the Lega Serie A website claimed there were 3 on-target and 10 off; I’m calling bullshit). Angelo Ogbonna ducked out of two attacking headers six yards from Genoa’s goal in the second half. The Maratona quickly grasped the situation and voiced it: “We have to win to stay in (Serie) A!”, became “Fuori le palle!” (“Show us some balls!”), which evolved into “Ma giocate o no?” (“Are you playing or not?”), then “Venduti!” (“Sold!”), which then dissolved into us olé-ing Genoa’s completed passes and telling all 22 players to fuck themselves.

The newspapers “Repubblica” and “Torino Cronaca” rated the players in their next editions. Neither gave any points for either keeper, deeming them spectators rather than players, whereas  the” Gazzetta dello Sport” gave the Maratona 8 out of 10, so with my fraction of 8 I had a better game than Gillet.

I am no different to the average bear in that I resent being treated like an idiot, and so did not take very kindly to being presented with a match that was so clearly fixed prior to kick-off. It stood out like a sore thumb / dog’s balls / Lady Gaga’s cock (delete as appropriate), and it highlighted the club’s general ignorance when dealing with the tifosi. Leading up to the derby, much was made of the offer of a mini-season ticket for the last three home fixtures. Many (admittedly fair-weather) supporters forked out for the three-match ticket, went to the derby and then brought their kids to the Genoa game, only to be presented with a farce. What kind of club sells a ticket knowing – and Cairo had to be complicit in this - that 33% of those games are not fair sporting contests? Does that club deserve to have supporters? With this in mind, I thought “Bugger it!” for the Catania game, and so missed Rolando Bianchi’s farewell... and that, I thought, was that.

But then I watched some of the Euro Under-21 tournament, was impressed by players such as Gabbiadini, Insigne and Immobile, and was then pleasantly surprised when the latter joined us, and so my interest slowly began to return. Then the peer pressure kicked in, so eventually I went to the stadium ticket office and handed over my €230. Not bad for 20 games, really.

As I said above, we’ve had a pretty good off-season thus far in terms of transfer activity (Bovo, Bellomo,  El Kaddouri, Maksimović, Immobile and Larrondo et al), and the latter pair appear to have an understanding from what I saw during the friendly against Novara. I feel we need 2 or 3 more bodies in and Vives and the Meggiorini out, but with the new personnel and the tactical shift from Ventura to 3-5-2 / 5-3-2 I think we’ll have a slightly more comfortable season than last season. We won’t be the least-worst team in Serie A this time around. He said, confidently.

I leave you with something I wrote in the heat of the moment after Genoa:

My anger, well… instead of a new season ticket, I’ll give the money to my dentist, who is gobba, strangely enough. At least I’ll have something to show for the money, and I’ll get an anaesthetic with it.”

M&E 12: Pescara on Saturday. F.V.C.G.!  
Steve is a season ticket holder who moved to Torino in 2009 after meeting a Torinese lady called Raffaella on Facebook - you can follow Steve on Twitter here.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Transfer Updates

With the Serie A season only three weeks away, Torino have continued to make additions to their squad ahead of the opening fixture.

Serbian International centre back Nikola Maksimovic signed for the Granata on loan from Red Star Belgrade a fortnight ago. Whilst more recently, striker Marcelo Larrondo signed on a co-ownership deal from Siena. The former River Plate striker scored two goals whilst on loan at Fiorentina last season, but has struggled to become a prolific goal scorer in the Italian top flight.

Both players featured in yesterday's 4-0 friendly victory over Savona, with Larrondo finding the net on two occasions - both goals can be seen here.

In other news, young striker Abou Diop has moved on loan to Serie B side Juve Stabia. 

Forza Torino