Every Serie A season has a surprise and this season Torino have been exactly that. Expectations weren’t very high for them coming off last season’s ninth-place finish as they replaced their former manager Sinisa Mihajlovic with Walter Mazzarri in January 2018 after the Serbian failed to get the most out of the squad.
But this season has seen them become a dark horse to finish in a Europa League spot as their savvy summer transfer dealings and a commitment to Mazzarri’s style of play has dramatically changed their fortunes.
The summer of 2018 saw the departures of a couple of key players including Antonio Barreca, Afriyie Acquah, and Adem Ljajic, among others, leaving them with holes to fill and they did well to find impressive replacements for the departing players.
One of their best signings has been French midfielder Soualiho Meite. Torino bought him from Monaco for €10 million as they sent Barreca the other way for the same sum. This has proven to be a huge coup as he’s cemented his place in Mazzarri’s starting XI and brought stability to a previously inconsistent midfield.
Torino’s other key signings came in the defensive end with Armando Izzo arriving from Genoa for €8 million and Ola Aina coming on loan from Chelsea with an option to buy.
Izzo’s Serie A experience has helped him secure Torino’s backline and he’s even chipped in with three goals, tying him with Tomas Rincon and Daniele Baselli for third most in the team.
Aina meanwhile has adapted well to Italian football in his first season and provides Mazzarri with a true wingback that can also move forward in attack. If Torino secure European football next season they will almost certainly make the Nigerian’s move permanent.
Torino’s summer additions have done wonders to push the club into a battle for Europe, but a lot of the credit should lie with their manager. Fans of Serie A will remember Mazzarri from his time with Sampdoria, Napoli, and, most recently Inter. He took some time off after his spell at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza and, following a stint in the Premier League with Watford, he’s returned to Italy and has Toro flying high.
Mazzarri is able to get the most out of the squad because they have bought into his three at the back formation and play a tough defensive game.
Torino have conceded only 22 goals in 26 matches so far which ties them with Inter and AC Milan for third-fewest in the league. This is a remarkable turnaround from the 46 goals allowed last season.
Not only has Mazzarri had a huge hand in this but it also comes down to the resurgence of Italian goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu. The 32-year-old has posted 12 clean sheets in 24 Serie A appearances and has become an integral part of a stellar defence that hasn’t allowed a goal in their last six matches.
On top of Torino’s consistently strong defensive performances, their away form has been a big reason for their Europa League push. Mazzarri consistently sets up his team to take points away from home and so far they have only lost once on the road, 3-2 to Roma, giving them a 2-10-1 away record. The only team with fewer away losses is their cross-city rival Juventus.
Given the Granata’s spectacular defensive form under Mazzarri this season it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see them pip Atalanta and others to a Europa League place by the end of the season.