A hat-trick from Fabrizio Miccoli has given Palermo a three-point cushion in the race for fourth place after round 31. A confident win against Bologna on Saturday night halted the slide of three previous league games without a win and, thanks to Sampdoria dropping points at home on Sunday, the Sicilian club has breathing space over the Blucerchiati, Juventus and Napoli, all of whom lie three points adrift.
Palermo resides in fourth place, primarily due to its dominance at home. The team has not lost in any of its 16 home league games, having won 11 of them. Contrast this with a poor away record – just three wins away from the Renzo Barbera this season – and we can see that there has been a clear issue with grinding out results on the road. It is very difficult to qualify for the Champions League on the strength of home form alone, just ask Liverpool. The Aquile’s failure to control games as well as a number of erratic performances away from home has cost them dear, but crucially has not yet derailed them. Since taking over in late November, Delio Rossi has led the Rosanero to the third best record in the league, only Roma and Milan able to boast better form. A tremendously successful Coach, Rossi has managed to bring a winning mentality to Sicily and draw on his wealth of experience, something that previous incumbent Walter Zenga struggled to do.
The defence has shown that it can work well as a unit and shut down high-powered attacking teams, a feature highlighted in the 1-1 draw against Inter last weekend. Fabio Liverani plays as the holding midfielder in the diamond formation employed by Rossi and, although he may not have the defensive prowess of a Michael Essien, can release the more attacking midfielders and forwards with an elegant passing game. At the head of the diamond sits Javier Pastore who attacks with flair and gets forward at every opportunity to support the front two of Edinson Cavani and Miccoli, both of whom have taken their goal count into double figures this season. The promise shown by the young Abel Hernandez is another bright spark for fans of the Rosanero. It is always pleasing to see young talent emerge, and this Uruguayan teenager has shown that he could well have a bright future in the game.
The run in for the Rosanero is a relatively simple one, but will certainly test the mettle of the players. This weekend brings a difficult tie against local rivals Catania, the reverse of this fixture earlier in the season being the last for previous Coach Walter Zenga. The other away games that remain are against Cagliari, Siena and Atalanta, all eminently beatable teams that Palermo will be expecting to take maximum points from. The three remaining home games are against Chievo, Milan and Sampdoria, the ties which will likely determine the Rosanero’s final position in the standings. With the Rosanero currently being sandwiched in the table by two of its remaining opponents, the battle for fourth place will undoubtedly be tough, but the prize will be worth the fight.
Ultimately, the most important game is the next one, that game happening to be Catania on Saturday night. Clichés are born out of truth and, although boring to say, Palermo must take the rest of the season game-by-game. One of the privileges of being an observer is that we can look into the future and speculate on the “ifs” and “buts” of the coming games, but the players must stay focused. They have put themselves in a fantastic position and have the opportunity to take this highly ambitious Sicilian club to new heights. This could be the defining season of the Zamparini era and one of Delio Rossi’s greatest successes as a Coach.