The Champions League race has intensified after both Palermo and Sampdoria belied the table and recorded impressive wins. The Rosanero tore the old men of Milan apart in a 3-1 win, highlighted by a 69th minute wonder-strike by Fabrizio Miccoli to seal the deal. The Sicilian side desperately needed the win and they played with urgency throughout the game. Milan in comparison, were rather lack lustre and looked every bit a team with nothing left to play for. The battle for victory between the Milanese defence and the Sicilian attack was firmly won by Miccoli, Hernandez and Pastore. Good passing and clinical finishing combined with poor Milan defending handed the win to Palermo. A win rendered more important in retrospect as Roma – previously Serie A’s in-form club -lost that title to Sampdoria on Sunday.
Mathematically, nothing has changed in the race for fourth place. Palermo is still two points behind the Blucerchiati, but this weekend’s results heighten the anticipation for match day 37 which sees the two teams clash at the Stadio Renzo Barbera in Sicily. Sampdoria’s perfect April, includes a derby win and two impressive victories over title contenders and has resulted in them becoming the in-form team of the moment. Palermo’s win at home has added to their unbeaten home record this season of 13 wins and five draws. Sampdoria’s trip to Sicily in two weeks time will most likely determine which European competition each team will take part in next season. It would be foolish, however to overlook next weekend’s fixtures when Palermo and Sampdoria face Sienna and Livorno respectively, two tough opponents as Sienna is fighting for their Serie A lives, and Livorno for their pride.
Palermo’s fate lies in their own hands, if they win the remaining three games, they will finish fourth. The coaching staff will be aware of this, the fans will be aware of this and the players will definitely be aware of this. How they handle the pressure of the next few weeks will be a big factor in determining their final position in the league table. It is hard to predict how they will react as it is a largely in-experienced squad when it comes to pushing for top honours. So it will be on Coach Delio Rossi to calm the players and remind them to focus on what is on the pitch and not what can be achieved in the distance. There is a famous baseball quote from the great New York Yankees catcher of the fifties Yogi Berra: ‘Baseball is 90% mental, the other half is physical.’ This is true of most sports but it is especially pertinent for the Rosanero right now. Sampdoria will be feeling the pressure as well, as they have a tougher run to end the campaign. The local media, fans, and the whole city will be buzzing with anticipation for the next fourteen days. If the players can put this out of their mind and produce a good performance on the pitch they will have an excellent chance at playing Champions League soccer next year.
As seen on Sunday night with Roma failing to take any of their multitude of chances, pressure can have an un-ravelling effect. The longer they were level with Sampdoria, the more anxiety seeped from the fans in the crowd onto the field, save after save, miss after miss. A lack of control and a lack of calm heads led to them ultimately being caught on the break and losing the game, severely denting their title hopes. Another case of pressure getting the best of players this season would be the Champions League tie between Chelsea and Inter. Roman Abramovic would have loved nothing more than for his club to knock out the man who failed to win the one thing he desired the most, a Champions League title. The game became bigger than it actually was and consumed the players causing them to perform poorly. Chelsea was probably the better side but was drawn into a mental battle that they couldn’t handle.
The Sicilian capital club have seldom been this high in the standings before. The lofty ambitions of team President Maurizio Zamparini have pushed them to achieve greatness. They have to believe that they belong there and not pay too much attention to the nay-Sayers who still contend that they are not a deep enough team to compete in Europe. They have played well this season, especially under ex-Lazio Coach Delio Rossi and have earned the right to be competing for a Champions League spot. They must remember that and not be overawed by the moment. Mental strength can sometimes be more important than physical capacity. We will see over the coming weeks whether the team can show this and produce winning results on the pitch in the final stretch.
Previous articles in this series
Dead man walking seen at the Renzo Barbera
Milan, the island awaits
Back on track