Juric’s death metal approach has made Torino a devilish team to face | Nicky Bandini

Ivan Juric has brought the energy of his musical taste to Torino – who are reaping the rewards of a more destructive style

It has been 12 years since Ivan Juric told an interviewer from Rolling Stone magazine that footballers “don’t know shit about music”. The Croatian was enjoying the final days of his playing career at Genoa, soaking up knowledge from a manager, Gian Piero Gasperini, who would become his greatest influence as he prepared to make his own move into coaching.

Still, Juric harboured one regret. “The only other metal-head I have played with in a 15-year career was an Argentinian goalkeeper at Crotone,” he said. “I started at 14 years old with Metallica and Megadeth, then I moved on to more aggressive things. Death metal is my passion, bands like Napalm Death, Obituary and Carcass.”

Little did we know that he was preparing to bring the energy of those bands to Serie A training grounds. Where Jürgen Klopp unleashed “heavy metal football” on the Premier League, Juric’s approach was defined by one writer from the Sky Sports-owned analytics site ultimouomo.com this week as being outright “satanic”.

To be clear, nobody is accusing the now Torino manager of actual devil worship. The author defined satanism as “the practice of a negative theology, of turning good into bad”, the undoing of a “canonical idea of football as the creative expression of a human being through a football.” It was an elegant way of saying that Juric’s football is percussive, violent, destructive. And most of all fiendishly effective.

Torino are soaring under Juric, hired to replace Davide Nicola in the summer. A side that finished 16th and 17th in Serie A over the last two seasons ended this weekend in ninth – 15 points better off than they were at the corresponding point in 2021. In the space of five days last week, they thrashed Fiorentina 4-0 and then beat Sampdoria 2-1 at Marassi.

These were two very different games, each with much to tell us about the team’s recent growth. Fiorentina – a side with stated European ambitions who had even been discussed as a dark horse for the top four – were simply overrun, unable to escape Torino’s relentless high press.

The broad strokes of Juric’s gameplan were nothing new. Like his mentor, Gasperini, he frequently pairs players up one-on-one with opponents all over the pitch and trusts them to engage in individual duels. Where the approach sometimes differs is in the sheer levels of aggression. Juric encourages his forwards to attack the ball-carrier at almost every opportunity.

That approach can make for messy matches. Torino commit more fouls than any other team in Serie A, and it’s not close: averaging 17.6 per game compared with just 14.5 for the second-most prolific offenders, Verona – the team who Juric coached for the preceding two seasons.

Yet Torino sit middle of the pack when it comes to yellow cards, with 11 other teams collecting more. Their fouling is not reckless but often tactical, premised on the idea that it is better to give away an innocuous free-kick deep in opposition territory than to let a move get started. Such infringements are also far less likely to draw bookings.

Emmanuel Gyasi (pictured) scored a stunning 96th-minute winner as relegation battling Spezia came from behind to beat Milan 2-1 in a controversial match at San Siro on Monday, putting a dent in the home side's Serie A title hopes.

In-form Milan winger Rafael Leão put his side in front at the end of the first half after Theo Hernández missed a penalty, but the visitors struck back through substitute Kevin Agudelo.

Junior Messias thought he had won it for the hosts when he curled home in stoppage time, but the referee's whistle had already sounded for an earlier foul on Milan's Ante Rebic, and Spezia then hit on the break to win it at the death.

The decision left Milan furious as referee Marco Serra left hardly any time for advantage to be played, with around two seconds passing between the foul on Rebic and Messias' shot.

"I tried to calm down the players but couldn't," Milan coach Stefano Pioli told DAZN. "We know we have suffered an injustice. It's a shame, the responsibility is ours for the goal we conceded but that must be shared with the referee."

Napoli earned a comfortable 2-0 win at Bologna thanks to winger Hirving Lozano. The Mexican fired in his first after 20 minutes, before rounding the goalkeeper to tap in a second early in the second half. Lozano's two goals were as many as he had scored in his previous 21 Serie A games. 

In the late game, Fiorentina thrashed managerless Genoa 6-0 in Florence to go sixth, in the Grifone's first game since sacking head coach Andriy Shevchenko.

Cristiano Biraghi scored from two direct free kicks, while Alvaro Odriozola, Giacomo Bonaventura, Dusan Vlahovic and Lucas Torreira were also on target in a rout against the 19th-placed visitors, led by interim boss Abdoulay Konko. Reuters

And the longer that a team stay trapped in their own half, the more likely that they become impatient and flustered. As the above piece from ultimouomo.com also observed, Torino give up fewer passes per loss of possession to opponents than any other team in the league.

Not every adversary, however, can simply be shut out of a game. Saturday’s win was complicated by a goal conceded against the run of play. Francesco Caputo opened the scoring for Sampdoria in the 18th minute, punishing a careless clearance from Torino’s goalkeeper, Vanja Milinkovic-Savic.

Now Juric’s team had two sets of mental hurdles to overcome. They had not taken points from a losing position all season, and nor had they won away from home since September. Torino’s death metal dance has made them brilliant at not conceding goals, but they still often struggle to score them. Andrea Belotti, after hitting double figures in each of the past six seasons, has been sidelined for most of the campaign with injuries.

Torino’s Wilfried Singo, right, celebrates after scoring against Sampdoria.
Torino’s Wilfried Singo, right, celebrates after scoring against Sampdoria. Photograph: Tano Pecoraro/AP

His teammates turned things around on Saturday with two headers, Wilfried Songo converting a cross from Mërgim Vojvoda and then Dennis Praet doing likewise from a Sasa Lukic delivery. The ball went straight through a hole in the net on the second occasion, leading to a few brief seconds of confusion and then several minutes of amusement as an ever-growing cast of high-vis jackets arrived to consult before one finally accepted the task of stitching it back together.

The pause provided us with another moment to reflect on Juric’s successes. Vojvoda had begun the season as a back-up to Songo at right wing-back, collecting just a few minutes here and there before being swapped to the left in November. The Kosovo international was unfamiliar with playing on that flank but has grown into the role brilliantly. This was his second assist in as many games.

There are coaching success stories to be found all through Torino’s first team. Sasa Lukic’s improvement in central midfield has been remarkable to watch after two underwhelming seasons. Loan signings Praet and Brekalo have impressed behind the attack.

Sampdoria 1-2 Torino, Salernitana 0-3 Lazio, Juventus 2-0 Udinese, Sassuolo 2-4 Verona, Venezia 1-1 Empoli, Roma 1-0 Cagliari, Atalanta 1-1 Inter Milan

The question now is how far Torino can go. Their president, Urbano Cairo, was keen to play down talk of a European push on Saturday, saying they could leave such considerations for the end. “Every season Atalanta say that their first objective is to get to 40 points,” he observed. “If they say it, a team who have been in Europe for a few years, then we can say the same.”

Juric was a little less shy, saying that his team needed to stay focused on the present but that “up until now I think we’ve earned it”. Regardless, he will carry on the work he has been doing. Week by week, his team look more confident in the tune they are playing.

Pos Team P GD Pts
1 Inter Milan 21 35 50
2 AC Milan 21 23 48
3 Napoli 21 22 43
4 Atalanta 21 18 42
5 Juventus 22 13 41
6 Roma 22 8 35
7 Lazio 22 7 35
8 Fiorentina 20 5 32
9 Torino 21 9 31
10 Verona 22 4 30
11 Empoli 22 -8 29
12 Sassuolo 22 1 28
13 Bologna 20 -5 27
14 Udinese 20 -8 20
15 Sampdoria 22 -11 20
16 Spezia 21 -20 19
17 Venezia 21 -19 18
18 Cagliari 22 -22 16
19 Genoa 21 -19 12
20 Salernitana 20 -33 11


Nicky Bandini

The GuardianTramp

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