Club Focus – Palermo – Europe on the horizon as Zamparini lays into his Coach

It’s been a quiet week at the Renzo Barbera with nothing major to report on but there has been one topic that has been dominating the Rosanero in the past week – UEFA Cup qualification. The recent Rosanero surge has propelled the Sicilians from an average mid-table position to those qualifying places. At present the Pink-Blacks currently sit in eighth place in the table, four points back from Roma who occupy the final automatic European spot for the soon-to-be Europa League. They are equal on points with seventh placed Cagliari who occupy the position to enter the qualifying rounds for the newly formed competition. Even though their European aspirations took a slight knock due to the defeat to Chievo at the weekend, many of the Rosanero players still believe they will be participating in the inaugural year of the re-branded European tournament. Rosanero midfielder Guilio Migliaccio thinks Europe is a possibility for Palermo: “We must do our best in order to hook the ‘UEFA train,’ but that won’t be easy. In front of us there are several teams that will not allow their opponents many points, such as Fiorentina, who can start to play at a higher pace but we still fancy our chances.” insisted the 27-year-old. In a recent interview with the Palermo media Rosanero Tactician Davide Ballardini had a different take on the matter at hand: “It is certainly premature to suggest European qualification, we know that there are some very competitive teams, both ahead of us and behind in the table right now.”

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The Rosanero’s encounter with Chievo on Saturday afternoon at the Stadio Bentegodi was a matchup between two teams oozing with confidence. The Flying Donkeys are indeed soaring of late and probably have been one of the best teams in the second half of the season putting together a decent run of results which has seen them to move away from the bottom three. On the other hand, Davide Ballardini’s side have put together two impressive victories defeating Fiorentina 2-0 and routing Lecce 5-2 but something had to give in this one and it proved to be the Rosanero. Their inconsistent form and away record came back to haunt them as they succumbed to a solitary strike from Brazilian Luciano just after the restart and fell to a 1-0 defeat which kept Domenico Di Carlo’s men undefeated in 2009.

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The game started brightly for the visiting side as they controlled most of the ball possession and the wide players were making decent runs up the pitch. Cesare Bovo came close to breaking the deadlock but his free-kick attempt was smothered away by Stefano Sorrentino in the Chievo goal. The Veronese then started to find their legs again and looked dangerous on the counter-attack. After 36 minutes the game turned on its head when Rosanero defender Mattia Cassani hauled down Sergio Pellissier in the box as he went through on goal alone and was a given a straight red leaving the Sicilians to play with ten men for over an hour. This forced Ballardini to change his tactics as Palermo switched to a three-man defence just after the restart. Then the deadlock was broken on 45 minutes as a long Pellissier cross found Brazilian Luciano at the back post and he converted from close range. The Islanders tried to throw everything but the kitchen sink at the Verona side but couldn’t muster any sort of attacking threat as the absence of banned Fabrizio Miccoli was felt.

This has been the story of Rosanero’s season – time and again they put together a good run of form only to be undone in a game that they really should have got something from. Following the Rosanero for some time I have learned that are two sides to the team. One side is a team that looks like it can challenge many teams in the higher echelons of the table, a side that defeated the likes of Fiorentina, Milan, Juventus and Roma this season. The other side, the ugly side of the le Aquile, is one that looks more like its fighting relegation then challenging for Europe, a side that has dropped points to many relegation contenders such as Lecce, Reggina, Bologna and now Chievo. Knowing which Palermo side turns up on the pitch to play is anybody’s guess.

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It looks like the frustration of this ever unpredictable side got to club President Maurizio Zamparini as well. Later that evening Zamparini vented his frustration with the defeat, pinning the blame of the loss entirely on the shoulders of the clubs Tactician: “I am really fed up with Ballardini, our team was not unlucky against Chievo, but our Coach simply failed to get things right on the field of play, we often give great merits to Ballardini when he deserves it, but sometimes we should also give him demerits.” Very harsh words from the President and really quite suprising as well considering the two have gotten along together very well this season with the President praising the bald-headed Tactician on numerous occasions.

The Rosanero next take to the pitch in about two weeks time due to the international break. They will suit up alongside newly appointed Giancarlo Camolese’s Torino side that after losing to 3-1 to Sampdoria on the weekend have found themselves in a crisis situation and staring relegation in the face. After not picking up a single win so far in March and having only managed an abysmal five wins in 28 games which screams relegation form, the Serie A table makes depressing reading for i Granata. One major problem that has plagued il Toro all season is their uncanny inability to score goals. At the time of writing i Granata are currently tied with Lecce for fourth last in total goals scored in the Serie A with 26, only Reggina, Siena and Chievo having scored less goals in the league which quite frankly tells the story of Torino’s frustrating season. More often than not Torino look better than their opponents on most nights, but it’s the lack of quality and cutting edge in the final third of the pitch that has undone them on most nights. The club’s top scorer Rolando Bianchi has only netted four goals this year in the league. This is truly a side starving for goals and if they don’t manufacture any in some shape or form then Serie B football looks a likely proposition for the Tuscans.

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The fixture will be played at the Renzo Barbera this time around where Ballardini’s side have probably displayed their best Calcio this season. The Pink-Blacks will more than welcome a side with such a poor away record to the Barbera. Torino is still the only side in Serie A yet to win on their travels and have netted only 11 goals away from the confines of the Stadio Olimpico in Turin. If the outfit do score then it will be the Rosanero’s 1100th goal conceded at Serie A level. It looks more than likely that the zero will still remain in the Granato’s away win column as Palermo has been quite solid at home picking up 10 of their 13 league wins in front of their fans.

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Ballardini should have a complete squad available to him by the time these two teams square off. Levan Mchedlidze returned last week against Chievo when he came on as a second-half substitute, Mark Bresciano has all but shaken off his back-injury, Igor Budan has returned to full training and Roberto Guana is been give the green light to return. One player that will sit out is centre-back Cesare Bovo as he picked up a yellow-card on the weekend and will serve a one-match ban, other than that there are no new injury concerns.

It looks like the frustration that has been building over the course of the season has been unleashed like a pack of hungry dogs. The tifosi have vented their frustrations, the club President has also had his say and even the Tactician has stated that the club is not good enough to compete for Europe. So it looks like the club’s players will not have an easy two weeks off as the management has scheduled a grueling double training session for Thursday, Friday and Saturday which will surely get the players in gear. It looks like crunch time has arrived in Palermo’s season.

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