Tuesday night’s Coppa Italia fourth round tie with Serie B leaders Novara was deemed a complete success by Gialloblu Coach Stefano Pioli. He managed to rest the vast majority of his important players ahead of another difficult home game on Saturday night without seemingly causing too many disruptions to the flow of his side. Players such as keeper Stefano Sorrentino, defenders Andrea Mantovani, Bostjan Cesar and Marco Andreolli, midfielders Kevin Constant, Luca Rigoni and Gelson Fernandes, and strikers Davide Moscardelli and Sergio Pellissier were all told to take the night off and put their feet up whilst the fringe players were given their chance. And how they took their chance. The Gialloblu ran out comfortable 3-0 winners and that proves one of two things. Either the Flying Donkey’s have a greater strength in depth than they had realised, or they have an exceptional Coach in Pioli. There seems to be too much evidence for the later choice to be merely a coincidence.
Reserve players such as keeper Lorenzo Squizzi, who has spent the season on the bench so far apart from the Coppa Italia competition, firmly stepped up to the mark. Although the former Juventus and Perugia shot stopper had very little to do all night, he commanded his area with great authority and gave confidence to the back four in front of him. That back four consisted of Santiago Morero, Gennaro Sardo, Davide Mandelli and Bojan Jokic. There was a central midfield trio of Ledian Memushaj, Roberto Guana and Simone Bentivoglio with Mariano Bogliacino as the link man between midfield and attack.
Pablo Granoche was given a rare chance up front alongside Brazilian striker Marcos De Paula. De Paula has never seemed to get a decent run in the side since he signed for the Gialloblu back in 2001. He has been loaned out to various Lega Pro Prima Divisione and Seconda Divisione sides and still managed to bag 40 goals in Italian football for ten different sides. He was given a rare chance to shine alongside Uruguayan hit man Granoche. Both strikers took their chance as Granoche scored the opening two goals and De Paula grabbed the deciding third goal to light up a sparse Stadio Bentegodi.
This meant that again Coach Pioli got his gamble right. He managed to rest important first team members ahead of what will be a difficult week for the Gialloblu, his fringe players got all important playing time and the side progressed towards the last sixteen of a competition that he must now start to fancy his chances in. The fifth round is traditionally where all the big guns such as Milan, Inter, Juventus, Lazio, Sampdoria and Roma all join the knock-out competition. The draw has been slightly kinder to the Flying Donkey’s this year as they miss the big guns in the fifth round and instead travel to face Palermo at the Stadio Renzo Barbera, which following their fifth place finish in Serie A last season and subsequent performances in Europe this term, will be just as difficult. The winner of that fifth round tie will face either Parma or Fiorentina in the quarter finals with the winner of that likely to face the winner of Milan and Sampdoria in the semi final. This has given an extra edge to the Gialloblu’s season as it seems to have opened up the possibility of a second route to Europe other than just their league placing.
Coach Pioli can now confidently turn his thoughts to the next week and two crucial games for his Gialloblu troops. On Saturday evening they entertain last season’s runners-up Roma at the Stadio Bentegodi and next Wednesday they travel north to the Stadio Renato Dall’Ara to play the rescheduled Serie A game that was postponed last weekend because of snow. If the Gialloblu make it two wins from these fixtures, they will well and truly be amongst the European hopefuls going into the winter break. It will also just about kill off any lingering hopes of an outside title chance for Roma. Saturday’s fixture at the Bentegodi will definitely be the more difficult of the two. Prior to last weekend’s 3-1 defeat at Palermo, Roma had been on a great run which had since them rise out of the relegation zone and into cusp of the Champions League places. Chievo though have an appalling record against Roma. In their eight years of Serie A existence, the Gialloblu have only registered one victory in the league over the Giallorossi and that came at the Stadio Olimpico way back on January 12 2003. But it was the same story when they faced Inter at the Bentegodi a fortnight ago, Pioli will be hoping for the same outcome.