Palermo recorded back-to-back wins for the first time this season and have started to build some much-needed momentum. On Sunday afternoon, the Rosanero marched into Florence and stole a 2-1 victory thanks, in large parts, to a fabulous performance by Salvatore Sirigu.
The goalkeeper was in outstanding form in the second half, pulling off a penalty save and two remarkable full stretch efforts to deny the Fiorentina front men.
Palermo took the lead through a thunder strike from Josip Ilicic, marking his third goal in the league since arriving in August. Just when La Viola started to build some dominance, Pastore started and finished a counter attack and put the visitors up by two.
The second half was about protecting the lead and a task that was made more difficult by conceding early as Bovo failed to control Gilardino in the box as he ghosted past him and tucked the ball away. Six minutes later the referee conspired to help the home side as he awarded a harsh penalty for handball. Sirigu had been on the receiving end of a multitude of criticisms this season but this was his time to deliver. Adam Ljajic, the young Serb, stepped up to equalise but was to be denied by the Italian number one. With the International fixtures next weekend, Sirigu picked the perfect time to return to form with his Azzuri place at stake.
Not to settle on the glory of this save he was quickly called into action once more with two extraordinary stops to keep the Rosanero in front for good. Sunday’s performance was a reminder of his potential and why he has been compared to Gigi Buffon. The potential is there, it is just the consistency that is the roadblock to the world-class status he can achieve.
Palermo have now recorded three wins from their last four games and are changing the direction they are heading in. The parity of this league is really proving to be beneficial to a team who can defeat the Calcio giants on a more regular basis.
Head Coach Rossi is calling for the self-congratulating to be tempered slightly: “If I am honest, at times we are sometimes a little naïve. It is in the characteristics of my players to express themselves out there and it is my job to teach them to be a little more structured at times.”
There is definite progress in the structure in the six weeks of the season so far. There are still problems in defence, Bovo is starting to be a continual liability at the back for instance. Now however there is more cohesion in the ranks now that the players are getting used to the Christmas tree formation employed this season.
The Christmas tree formation doesn’t offer a lot of width but it does allow Rossi to employ his most technically impressive attacking players in Ilicic and Pastore together. While the lone striker role doesn’t suit Hernandez well, Pinilla has been able to use his physicality to gain himself regular appearances in the starting XI. Ilicic is proving to be an astute and lucky buy, if it hadn’t have been for Palermo being drawn against Maribor in the Europa League he would have been unlikely to cross the radar so prominently.
With both attacking midfielders such constant threats, it will be interesting to see what happens when Miccoli returns. Would he play upfront on his own where he is unlikely to be as successful but it does utilise both midfielders? Or will he slot back into the diamond formation, thus creating space for Hernandez to shine but losing Ilicic to the bench? Either way, there will be plenty of goals in the future of this team.
The good run that Palermo needed to correct their season is starting to materialise in front of us. While not a bastion of consistency yet, they are progressing very nicely with learning how to grind out victories. The hallmark of all great teams is being able to win when not at your best. They are not there yet but they are now starting to win when they are playing well, which has been a primary problem for them this season.
Once again, this International break has come at the wrong time for this club but morale will be high upon return and future success will now be eagerly anticipated and predicted by fans and pundits alike.