When Juventus claimed a 1-0 win at the Stadio Via del Mare in early January, Lecce looked certain relegation candidates. The Salentini had collected just nine points and sat nine from safety with 17 rounds played. Three points behind both Novara and Cesena, their subsequent win at Fiorentina turned the campaign around. As it stands, Lecce have 25 points, eight ahead of Novara and four from salvation.
Suffering just one defeat since Juve, Lecce’s players responded to the dire situation caused by pitiful home form (no win until January 29th) to clasp a genuine chance of avoiding relegation. Last week Coach Serse Cosmi said: “We have established the foundation to build something important and compete until the end. Here, today I feel we can do it.” Should they avoid the drop, it would emulate the feat achieved last season, where Lecce climbed out of the relegation zone post-Christmas. Unbeaten in the past five, only a deflection denied victory on Sunday over Genoa and three in a row.
The eccentric figure of Cosmi has played a major factor. A master motivator, his favoured 3-5-2 wing-based system has brought the best of out of the squad in comparison to Eusebio Di Francesco, who based his line-up around a four-man defence and on the whole played a narrower style.
Cosmi has a settled eleven, led by Massimiliano Benassi in goal and veteran Moris Carrozzieri just ahead. The five-man midfield allows for a mixture of pace, power and technique as veteran Guillermo Giacomazzi leads from the front, whilst Andrea Bertolacci grows with each appearance. Juan Cuadrado has been used in a variety of positions but looks most comfortable on the right where his pace and trickery taunts opposing defences. Up front, Luis Muriel (dubbed ‘Murialdo’ in some quarters) does the same and is building a dangerous partnership with veteran David Di Michele, with the duo netting seven between them in 2012.
Most famous for his stint at Perugia where the Umbrian’s flirted with Europe before his four year stint ended in relegation, Cosmi’s most comparable situation to the one he walked into at Lecce came at Livorno during 2009/10. The Amaranti began that campaign under the guidance of Vittorio Russo before Cosmi was appointed in October with the side bottom and winless from eight matches. Cosmi wanted his side “to let their work on the pitch do the talking” and his impact was immediate – three wins from five – as he guided Livorno to 20 points and 17th. He was popular amongst the fans, however a chaotic situation saw Cosmi resign, be reinstated and then later sacked.
The tactician claimed his work was being interfered with and upon his return “was given a guarantee to be able to complete work on [his] own,” however results did not improve. Encouraging draws with Milan and Juve in the immediate aftermath was followed by a run of nine further matches without victory, signalling the end. Days before being sacked he spoke of never saying never in football but acknowledged they needed a miracle. Livorno finished the season last on 29 points.
This weekend Lecce travels to leaders Milan, but are without three suspended players (including Di Michele) and Cosmi, who will also sit in the stands. They managed to throw away a three goal lead in the last meeting and without a win in their past seven trips to the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, a defeat could halt momentum. Following this encounter, Lecce faces notorious road-struggles Palermo at home and then bottom duo Novara and Cesena. It is an important month for Cosmi; one that could push his side closer to a third straight Serie A season, or a month to keep Salentini fans on tenterhooks. They have established a foundation, now Cosmi is seeking to best his past relegation demons.