Palermo crashed out of the Europa League on Thursday night as a reserve side managed a respectable 2-2 draw with Sparta Prague. The team selection provided all the information you needed to know about the priority level of this competition for Delio Rossi. Players like Francesco Benussi and Nicola Rigoni got starts for the first time this season and played alongside the regulars of Federico Balzaretti, Ezequiel Munoz and Javier Pastore. Italian pride rested on Palermo’s shoulders after Juve and Sampdoria buckled the previous day and exited the competition. Unfortunately, it was not to be, as the Rosanero could not grab the final goal to keep that mathematical possibility of qualification alive.
Palermo took the lead in the 24th minute with an excellent curling shot just inside the box from Rigoni, marking his rare start in the side. The game was to change early in the second half, however, as Dorin Goian received his marching orders giving away a penalty for felling Bony Wilfred. The home team retook the lead with a reciprocated penalty, duly slotted by Mauricio Pinilla. But the European dream was to be ended by Juraj Kucka, who headed home from close range to level the scores for good. The match ended in ignominy for the Sicilians as Pastore was dismissed for a second bookable offence.
If we dissect this European campaign we can see that the problems stemmed from the gaping deficiencies at the start of the season. The really crucial games of Sparta away and CSKA at home came in the middle of a difficult period for this team as they were still trying to figure themselves out and develop as a unit. These two games set them back and in a group determined by six games it was always an uphill struggle from there. Whilst the retention of momentum is important, the lack of a continental distraction could be beneficial for this teams progress on the domestic front. With a small squad, only having one game a week will allow the key players to be fully rested for the Champions League race.
The Rosanero will have to forget about this disappointment quickly as they have a date with Napoli on Monday looming large. This is a big game to assess where these teams are in the league of parity. Both these teams have ambitions for the Premier European competition and will be striving for the win. This fixture has been given extra spice with the summer transfer of Edison Cavani and will be the first time he plays against his former employees. He has cooled off slightly since his unbelievable start but will still be a challenge for Munoz and Cesare Bovo, along with his partner Marek Hamsik. This offensive pair has been troubling every defence they have come up against all season. Palermo will be relying on their own weapons to steal the show and hope Pastore, Josep Ilicic and Fabrizio Miccoli can overcome any frailties they may have at the back.
To add more spice to this tie, rumours are swirling that the Rosanero are preparing a bid for Napoli defender Paolo Cannavaro. They are actively looking for more depth to challenge Bovo, who has not played as well as the previous season. Contract talks have stalled between the two parties and his agent is hinting at a move: ‘Palermo are a great club making giant leaps recently. Our priority remains Napoli, but if that fails then we will consider other clubs.’ It is safe to say that Palermo are seeing the ability this team has and the potential they are showing in achieving their goals A spending spree to bolster the squad in January is firmly on the cards as they board will try to help this team in any way they can.
So the European dream has come to a premature end after a series of underwhelming performances on Thursday nights. But with the lack of depth in this squad you can very easily look at the silver lining on the cloud. There are more pressing issues for this club now and the best remedy would be to learn from the early part of this season but not to dwell on the results of qualification. They are not the side they once were and have a realistic chance of European qualification, which is the only issue now.