On a wintry night in Sicily, Palermo showed their Champions League credentials by humiliating Roma 3-1 in the Renzo Barbera. The game could have had a very different ending as the Rosanero’s offence was hugely disjointed for the opening passages and couldn’t retain possession for more than three passes. However, the defence was good enough to keep the powerful Roma offence largely toothless. The maturation was evident with the lack of an evolving tactic producing vastly different results this season. Only a few months ago, Palermo were punished by Inter by allowing them possession at home and trying to catch them on the break. With the same tactic here, they could nullify Roma, break superbly and finish their opportunities.
The star man for the Rosanero was the Slovenian replacement for Javier Pastore, Josip Ilicic. His performances over the last month have been sensational and he proved once again why he is already in demand all over Europe. Every move seemed to flow through him as he always found space and used his vision to release other rushing players. He assisted the first goal with an unbelievably precise pass that cut through the defence in their own area to an unmarked Fabrizio Miccoli. He then was able to pounce on some very lax defending and got onto the end of Federico Balzaretti’s cross six yards out to tap-in. He seemed to be omni-present, as the game wore on the Roma legs grew heavy and allowed Ilicic to roam at will and do what he wanted with the ball. Roma’s chief tactic was to limit Pastore, determined not to be beaten by him. But, the power of this offence is if you take one man out there are still plenty of other players to beat you. If this team are going to make the run to the Champions League they will need different players to stand up and produce dominating displays. Ilicic showed he can be more than the understudy and that he can be the main act when needed.
Head Coach Delio Rossi, who only three weeks ago was in a precarious position, believes he can get more out of this side: ‘Our spirit has improved, but for a Coach, getting a side from zero to 90 percent perfect is a quick process. It is going from 90 to 100 that takes years.’ They were by no means perfect but they showed the potential that they quite clearly have.
This was a clinical display, winning comfortably when they didn’t settle until very late in the game. Only one point of the Champions League places and seven points off of the top of the table there is growing optimism around the Island these days. With the parity in the league there is reason to believe that Palermo could make a run at the Scudetto, but it would require a considerable amount more of consistency: ‘In the first 20 minutes, we suffered a lot. After the break, the side did really well and was fully deserving of the three points.’ At the start of this season there were serious question marks about the validity of this team after a seeming drop in the quality of the squad. But Rossi is creating the best team of his tenure for just shear talent and has built an extremely exciting squad to watch.
Coming up this week is a visit from Sparta Prague in a seemingly dead Europa League campaign. Ilicic and Armin Bacinovic will be rested due to being cup-tied with Maribor earlier this year. It will be interesting to see if any other key players are given a break with the impending trip to Napoli looming around the corner. The Napoli game is of vital importance but with a five-day break between the two, Rossi may believe he can have his cake and eat it.
Ultimately, Sunday saw a great result for the young upstarts. Could this be the signal that the Rosanero are ready and that the hanging of the guards is only just around the corner? There is too much of the season’s narrative to unfold before a definitive conclusion can be reached. However, this team has made great strides in recent weeks and one thing is for sure, the Giants are certainly wary of their presence now.