On Sunday, Andrea Belotti left the pitch on a stretcher with a knee injury at the 82nd minute: Torino were up 2-0 against Hellas Verona and had already used the three substitutions, so they finished the game in ten men. The Scaligeri ended up tying the game thanks to a dubious Moise Kean’s goal and a penalty. Both circumstances were kind of fitting to underline how important Belotti is. Later tests revealed that Belotti avoided the dreaded ACL tear, but still sprained his MCL. He will not need surgery, but he will be sidelined him for four weeks, as per Torino’s official statement. According to Gazzetta dello Sport, the recovery might take a little longer and he could be out until mid-November. The Rooster has had a good start of the season: he has tallied three goals in seven Serie A matches, adding two more in Coppa Italia. Torino are in sixth place in the standings.
Last season, Torino struggled in the three occasions they were forced to play without the star centre-forward. He suffered a minor injury with Italy and missed two games early: they lost to Atalanta and drew a goalless against Empoli, scoring only once in that span, thanks to a Iago Falque free kick. He was suspended for Bologna-Torino later in the year and the Granata were defeated two-nil.
Torino have let Maxi Lopez go this summer, they do have a deeper roster but there is no readymade solution for the absence of their emotional leader. After flirting with the idea of adding another strong striker that could team up with Belotti upfront, such as Duvan Zapata, they settled on Umar Sadiq as backup centre-forward. Sadiq is a very different player from Belotti, much taller and more physical: he struggled with injuries in the loan spell at Bologna, recording only 230 minutes and failing to score. He never really managed to threat Mattia Destro’s spot. He has scored twice in the six Serie A matches with Roma: he was a force in the youth system, especially during his time with Spezia, but so far he has not managed to assert himself in the pros.
Even if that is the easiest route, Sinisa Mihajlovic sometimes struggles to trust the youngsters and the task is massive in this case. The first option will probably be to rely on M’baye Niang as lone striker: the former Milan player has had a poor start in Piedmont, but has found the first seasonal goal in last game. He is not a pure centre-forward, but he has showed the ability to play centrally with Genoa and Milan. With the Grifone, he scored five goals in 19 games in 2014/2015, when he was primarily used in a similar position, and earned a return at Milan. The following season, he logged five goals and five assists with the Rossoneri as a second-striker in an injury-plagued year. He was used as a forward also at Montpellier. He does not have Belotti’s muscularity and tenacity, but his quickness could still be menacing.
Using Niang centrally will open up some minutes on the left in their 4-2-3-1. They signed Alex Berenguer from Osasuna this summer, but they were not totally satisfied with him in the early games and opted to add Niang on that flank. A very technical player, he might be a little too defensive and passive for the coach’s liking, but could improve over time. They have kept the youngster Simone Edera after a stint at Parma in the third league where he did not feature much, but he impressed Mihajlovic in the preseason: another speedster, he could earn himself some valuable minutes. Lucas Boye has just returned from an injury and the fact that he was here last season puts him on top of the pecking order: a winger in a center-forward body, he collected thirty appearances in 2016/2017, scoring once and assisting twice. He has impressive technique and dribbling skills and could be another option centrally as he was deployed there with Newell’s Old Boys.
In the next few games, Torino will face Crotone, Roma, Fiorentina, Cagliari and Inter. No matter who is chosen to replace him, a lot more will be asked to Adem Ljajic and Iago Falque, who started the season well but will need to take a further step forward. If things go awry, Mihajlovic could decide to bolster the midfield and revert back to 4-3-3, moving Ljajic to the flank, or even opting for a false-nine as a hail mary. There are some very demanding games ahead for Torino and their success, or lack thereof, without Belotti will set the tone for the rest of their season.
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