At Sunday dinner time, fans and critics alike could have been forgiven for believing that reality had begun to set in for the Gialloblu. Under the stewardship of new Coach Stefano Pioli, experts had predicted that the Flying Donkeys would struggle to confirm their place in Serie A for next season. The season had begun with back-to-back victories at home to Catania and away to Genoa, but on Sunday it seemed to be a return to business as usual as they fell at home to newly-promoted Brescia, where the bubble was supposed to burst. To anyone involved with the club, or to the true supporters themselves, this doesn’t feel like the ordinary season of struggle: indeed, there seems to be something different or magical about what is happening at the Stadio Bentegodi this time around.
With this in mind, then, it came as no surprise when the Gialloblu travelled to San Paolo to face a rejuvenated Napoli side and returned with three points. This fact is made even more remarkable when one looks at the statistics and realises that in four meetings at home, Napoli have won three while the other one was a draw. Indeed, the Gialloblu’s only two goals in this fixture came in the same game some 11 years ago. The side from Verona went into the match on the back of that disappointing defeat to Brescia, whereas Napoli was flying after overturning a 1-0 deficit away at Sampdoria, to win 2-1 with two late goals. This meant that, although it was their first win of the season, they remained unbeaten from the start of the season.
Pioli knew he had one enforced change to make from the Brescia defeat as Brazilian midfielder Luciano had hobbled off after 15 minutes with a knee injury, and, therefore, wouldn’t be available in the San Paolo. Fans of the Gialloblu weren’t expecting the other changes that Pioli chose to make. The Flying Donkeys’ tactician opted to keep the same formation with four at the back, three central midfielders, an attacking midfielder and two strikers. However, he did alter the team structure at the back, dropping right back Gennaro Sardo to the bench and recalling Nicolas Frey in his place. In the centre of midfield also, Pioli decided to intervene rather drastically. He moved attacking midfielder Simone Bentivoglio back as one of the three central midfielders alongside Luca Rigoni. On the other side of Rigoni, there was a first start for French-born Guinea international midfielder Kevin Constant, who was signed in the summer from LB Chateauroux in the French second division. This signalled a debut even for Mariano Bogliacino, who has appeared as a substitute in each of the Flying Donkeys’ opening three games so far, and aptly enough, it came against his parent club as he is currently on loan from Napoli. Bogliacino played in the attacking midfield role, whilst upfront skipper Sergio Pellissier was joined by Uruguayan hit-man Pablo Granoche. This meant that new signing Davide Moscardelli was dropped to the bench despite scoring two goals in his opening three games in Serie A.
By making the unenforced changes, Pioli has shown the Stadio Bentegodi faithful that he is capable of making tough decisions and, more importantly still, that he can pick a completely different team solely to win a particular football match. He has also picked up the side by the scruff of the neck and put them back on the right track. The Gialloblu could have easily gone to the Stadio San Paolo under the burden of the recent past, which saw a disappointing defeat to Brescia, all the more disappointing because of the way it was suffered, following a ruinous start nine minutes into the match. Instead, the side showed the remarkable self-belief and confidence that they have shown all season so far and for the second consecutive away game, silenced the home fans by scoring three great goals without further reply.
There were two great strikes from Gialloblu skipper Sergio Pellissier (taking his tally for the season to 4 goals in as many games) and a further strike from Gelson Fernandes. The Swiss international midfielder has yet to start a game since his transfer deadline day move from Saint-Etienne, but he came on to replace the injured Kevin Constant early in the second half and scored within three minutes of arriving to put the Gialloblu ahead. This game was very reminiscent of the previous ones as it was full of surprises and begins to show the true character of Pioli’s Chievo and why so many of the Stadio Bentegodi faithful are beginning to dream of the possible return to the halcyon days of Luigi Delneri and regular European football.