Whether it is Boca Juniors vs River Plate, Rangers vs Celtic or Corby Town vs Kettering, rivalries have a way of bringing the most intense passion out of people. It adds an extra dimension to the game, bringing an electric atmosphere to the stadium and a heightened anticipation in the days and hours leading up to kick-off. These are the games upon which, the fans look for first when the fixture list is released. The fresh chance for yearlong bragging rights over your most fierce and closest rivals. On Saturday night, Palermo will have their chance to avenge last years 0-4 drubbing at the Stadio Barbera against Catania.
Unfortunately, it is impossible to talk about the Derby di Sicilia without mentioning the violence of three years ago. A match, which started with a minute’s silence, due to a lower league violence related death just the week before, was halted for an hour mid-game. Tear gas being used by the police trying to separate the fans drifted onto the field and affected the players. After Palermo’s 2-1 win in Catania there was mass rioting outside, leading to the death of a police officer. This sparked a very tense period in Italian history between the police and the public when it was linked to the death of an anti-globalisation protester in 2001. The aftermath of this violence was to lead to the Italian Football Federation commissioner to cancel all football, from the non-professional level all the way up to the international level. Blamed on a lack of stadium safety, akin to Britain in the 80s, any club who didn’t have their stadium up to scratch had to play behind closed doors for the rest of the season. Now, in the 21st Century, it does seem to be ridiculous that it should come to this. However, it is born out of the fanatical love Italy has for football and the fervour that surrounds it. You cannot regulate for the passion of the masses, but hopefully now, this sorry event, will not be repeated.
With that firmly behind us now, we can talk about the future, and more specifically Saturday’s game between the Champions League hopefuls and a team heading for mid-table safety. Catania lost 1-0 last weekend despite a spirited performance against a strong Napoli side. But in their last two home games, they have beaten Inter Milan and Fiorentina to pull themselves out of any relegation problems they had before Sinisa Mihajlovic took over in December, and haven’t lost at home for seven games. In those seven games, they have scored 12 and conceded just two goals. Playing a 4-3-3 system, they play in a very balanced way, and the Rosanero defence should be wary of in-form striker Giuseppe Mascara, who was very impressive in their last fixture.
For Palermo, Cesare Bovo should have recovered from injury, Simon Kjaer and Federico Balzeretti should also return from suspension. This will strengthen up the defence and take the pressure off of Liverani to be such a defensive presence and allow him to utilise his passing game more. Coming off the back of a hat-trick, Miccoli will look to take some more chances to add to his season haul, along with Javier Pastore and Edinson Cavani, who will also return from suspension. It will be interesting to see how those two will cope aerially against a strong Catanian rear guard. The Rosanero’s attacking force lies with having the ball at the feet of the front three. With these three running at defenders with the ball, it will create problems and indecision, which Palermo will need to take advantage of.
These two clubs have had parallel seasons in different parts of the table. Both clubs struggled early, but have turned it around since the change of Head Coach and have been looking up the table ever since. The jobs that Mihajlovic and Rossi have done have been remarkable, stewarding shaky teams, giving them leadership and pushing them forward. Catania are a dangerous team whose table position of 14th belies how well they have been playing since the winter break. Up until last weekend, it was Catania who were playing like the Champions League team. The Rosanero will find overcoming Catania a difficult task, with the bookies are making the draw the favourite. These games are difficult to predict and other such clichés, but whatever the result, it should be a cracking tie.