Lecce breach the shores of Sicily this weekend hoping they won’t be gunned down. Whilst Catania are defying the odds sitting proudly in the top half of the table, the Serie A new boys are perched precariously above the drop zone.
When Walter Zenga took the reigns at Catania towards the end of last season, the Sicilians were in dire trouble and looked set for a return to Serie B. However, the former Inter and Azzurri goalkeeper masterminded a great escape and saw his team claw their way to safety in the final game of the season with a Jorge Martinez equaliser five minutes from time against Roma. They were expected to be relegation candidates again this term, but “Spiderman’s” side are climbing their way up the table.
Zenga has reinvigorated the team, proving to be one of the most promising young coaches in Italy. After six wins and three draws from 13 played, Gli Elefanti currently occupy ninth spot. Despite these heady heights the club are not allowing themselves to get too carried away with President Antonio Pulvirenti warning: “[the club’s] objective remains safety and to get caught up in talk of anything else would be damaging.”
The confidence seeping through the team has been reflected in their performances and there is mounting belief they can have a successful season – at least by Catania standards. The optimism has not escaped Zenga though as he declared: “The biggest mistake we could make right now would be to consider ourselves a great team. It would be the quickest and most efficient way of ruining everything.”
The key to the Rossazzurri’s success this term has been their home form, winning five of their six games at the Stadio Angelo Massimino, conceding just three goals. Zenga prefers a 4-3-3 formation and will keep faith in the rearguard that has served him so valiantly for Saturday’s visit of Lecce. As always Albano Bizarri will be between the posts, protected by Gennaro Sardo and Rocco Sabato in the full-back berths and Matias Silvestre and Christian Terlizzi retaining their places in the middle as Juventus target Lorenzo Stovini has only recently recovered from injury.
The Etnei attack is also proving to be a force. Last season the three-pronged attack of Martinez, Giuseppe Mascara and Michele Paolucci (for Atlanta) scored only 12 goals between them, but have already chalked up 11 this time out. Mascara in particular has been rejuvenated having grabbed seven goals in eleven appearances in comparison to the miserly four he claimed in 35 appearances last term.
The summer acquisition of playmaker Pablo Ledesma from Boca Juniors is one of the residing factors to Catania’s improved strike force and the 24-year-old Argentinean is tipped to be one of Serie A’s new stars. He is likely to team up in midfield alongside Giacomo Tedesco with Marco Biagianti in the holding role.
In comparison, Saturday’s opponents Lecce have not won on the road all season and look ominous to take anything from this game. Mario Beretta’s young, relatively inexperienced side has registered in the Goals For column a paltry three times away from home and conceded ten, though his men have limited Inter, Milan and Lazio to just the single goal in their respective meetings, picking up two vital points in the process. However, this matter will be of scant consolation to the former Siena coach when his side leak goals to teams they are competing against for survival.
The Salentini know they need to play as a team and raise their game against the lesser Serie A sides in the same manner as they have done against some of the league’s elite. Keeping clean sheets must be considered a priority as teams can’t lose if they don’t concede goals, and with half their games ending with the points shared already, Beretta’s men won’t be concerned with being labeled draw specialists if it means avoiding the drop.
Having found the net on only 12 occasions, a cutting edge is needed up front. And Beretta may have found the answer to his problems with the capture of Dimitrios Papadopoulos on a free transfer from Panathinaikos. The 27-year-old striker was a member of Greece’s triumphant Euro 2004 squad and has scored 52 goals in his six years in the national side. The Coach could well decide to give the former Greek Footballer of the Year his first outing alongside Simone Tiribocchi with the out-of-form Daniele Cacia and Jose Castillo making way.
Almost certain to be recalled to the starting line up is the young Portugal international, Vitorino Antunes, who has impressed in the left back berth during his loan spell from Roma. He will most likely be joined by Souleymane Diamoutene, Guglielmo Stendardo and Tiziano Polenghi to protect Francesco Benussi’s goal.
Another of the Salentini’s problems this term has been their ball retention and is an area the midfield four of Gianni Munari, Andrea Zanchetta, Andrea Ardito and Luca Ariatti will need to work on if they are to reduce the number of opportunities for Catania to get forward. However, Lecce will expect the home side to come at them at every given opportunity so must work diligently in defensive areas, setting up two banks of four, looking to hit on the counter.
Both teams will be eager to collect points to put pressure on teams around them. With Lecce hovering just one point above the drop zone, Beretta will be happy to come away with just the one point, whilst Zenga will want his men to pour forward looking for a win that would keep them in the hunt for a UEFA cup spot.