Captain fantastic christened his successive starts by bagging the winning goal in a game much closer than it should have been. Nevertheless, Palermo returned to Sicily, from Cesena, with another three points added to their tally. Now only two points off of the Champions League places and heading in the right direction, Delio Rossi has started to finally gel this side with them progressing into a highly competitive team.
The 2-1 win started with a wonder strike from Josip Ilicic emanating from a flowing counter attack. Fabrizio Miccoli released Federico Balzaretti to one of his typical surging runs who delivered a cross causing Ilicic to release his natural skill with a back heel flick to beat the ‘keeper. The equaliser was a case of scrappy defending by allowing Erjon Bogdani to tap in from six yards out. These kind of mental lapses are the primary problem for the Rosanero and ones they have been trying to overcome all season. Fortunately for Palermo this did not hurt them on Sunday as just after the break Mattia Cassani pulled the ball back to the captain who banged it into the bottom corner. This was Miccoli’s first goal since he returned from the knee injury that kept him out for six months. It was also a welcome goal for a team that has fundamentally struggled to garner goals from anyone in the striker position all season. If Miccoli can find his scoring shoes, then the goals this team will produce will lead Palermo into serious European contention.
Rossi was content with the display put out today: ‘We could’ve scored more, but I think on the balance of the match and the chances we had we deserved to win.’ The main thing is being able to grind these wins out on the road. Cesena, although in the relegation zone, are no pushovers. The parity in this league is fantastic and leads to an amazingly open season along with no certainties for any team on the road. Any away win should be highly thought of and is a sign of a good team.
The Head Coach went on to praise his two supreme attacking midfielders: Javier Pastore and his future replacement Josip Ilicic: ‘I’m seeing development from both Ilicic and Pastore.’ These two have led this side while they have been trying to develop and mature as a team. These two and Bacinovic have led from the fore and have given this side a chance in their quest for their Champions League goal.
The Europa League draw against Maribor proved to be the most beneficial fixture for Palermo this season. From this two-legged tie they were able to see both Ilicic and Bacinovic in action and witness the potential they have. It really is unlikely they would have been picked up so quickly without seeing them in front of them and it is remarkable to think how this season would be looking without the tremendous input from these two. A good guide would be looking at the Europa League form and actually seeing how little they cope without these young stars in their core.
One of the main problems for Palermo this season has been their defence and primarily the lack of form shown by Cesare Bovo. His form from last season hasn’t really been replicated and has led to the teenage Ezequiel Munoz taking charge and having to establishing himself. This has led to some strong rumours this week about their pursuit of the Villarreal defender Gonzalo Rodriguez. The Argentinean central defender has an EU passport and so would not affect the already large contingent of non-EU players the Rosanero squad contains. He could slot next to Munoz well with no language barrier to hinder them and offer a mentorship to Munoz about dominating in Europe.
A good sense of momentum is being built by this side and will be tested next weekend by the visit of last year’s runners up Roma. These back-to-back wins were against teams they were supposed to beat but nothing is assured this season and beating the teams you are supposed to will put this team in contention to achieve the top four position they so desperately need and crave to finally put themselves on the platform to compete with the pre-conceived notion of the Italian Giants.