Catania – Genoa, or when football becomes a metaphor

With all eyes turned to the upcoming Milan-Napoli match, most will have missed the small capsule of drama represented by Catania-Genoa. The game ended 2-1 for the Sicilian team, with a number of controversial calls by the referee which included three red cards and one dubious penalty.
Both the teams are worth a watch this year. Genoa used to be one of the most offensive teams in Italy under Gian Piero Gasperini. Coach Davide Ballardini, who inherited the squad, has struggled to reproduce some of their most dazzling play. His shift to a more conservative 4-4-2 has somewhat dulled their spirits, but they still show some flashes of skill. Domenico Criscito, one of the most valuable players for the Rossoblu, has been shifted from full-back to winger, which allows him to press forwards with less caution. It could be argued that this is a misuse of the player, but it certainly allows for some interesting new variations. Their acquisition of Kakha Kaladze, an excellent central defender with experience from his time with Milan, has further consolidated their back-line, and Genoa went from having the second-to-last worst defence of Serie A last year, to the fifth best this season (behind Milan, Napoli, Lazio and Sampdoria).
Catania have had a complicated year this season, with Coach Marco Giampaolo lasting but half of the season, and current manager Diego Simeone starting off with difficulty. Though they are still in the bottom third of the table, and despite having had alternating fates in their recent history, Catania has witnessed a slow but tangible growth in the last five years. Their hooligan trouble, notably since the death of Filippo Raciti, has lost intensity, and their team plays offensive football with interesting young talents. Alejandro Gómez is the clearest example – another excellent South American talent unearthed by the Catania team (after the likes of Juan Vargas and Jorge Martínez). They play wide and fast, and they have a number of different solutions up-front.
The game was entertaining in its own right, with indefatigable Genoa midfielder Marco Rossi running his usual five million laps and Simeone showing some good motivational skills at half-time, sending out a team renewed in spirit and mentality. Simeone is doing a decent job for someone with his (lack of) experience and means, though it is unclear why he does not start midfielder Adrian Ricchiuti instead of Pablo Ledesma (not to be confused with Cristian Ledesma of Lazio). Ricchiuti changed the face of the game when he was introduced against Napoli last week, and he did the same yesterday with Genoa.
But the real source of interest was the game’s apparent metaphorical value. Occasionally a football game seems to encapsulate the histories of the two teams playing, and this was one such case. Genoa, a team who did wonderfully a few years ago, took the lead by 1-0. Catania, who were among the worst teams in Serie A a few years ago, have grown back into a more interesting group, and they correspondingly climbed back to 2-1, mirroring the loss in courage and entrepreneurship seen in Genoa recently. Unsurprisingly, the most interesting young player of the game – Genoa’s 20-year-old striker Alberto Paloschi – was incapable of expressing his talent, surrounded by a team built around defending and based on a philosophy that looks backwards instead of thinking forwards. Catania, for their own part, could reveal yet more interesting players and surprises in the next few years. The balance between these two teams has shifted, and the game exemplified it more eloquently than words ever could.

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