As the season winds up, everyone would think that the word on the lips of the tifosi of Serie A would be the indomitable rise of Giuseppe Gasperini and his merry men to the foothills of European qualification. Having started the campaign as mid-to-lower table candidates, Genoa has remained consistent throughout the season and are still within touching distance of pipping Fiorentina to the coveted fourth Champions League place, with just three rounds of an exhausting season still to play.
However, not taking anything away from the Rossoblu, it is not the Grifone that have got the masses talking at the business end of the season but the plucky underdogs of Chievo. The Gentlemen of Verona, who were propping up the table in January, last weekend managed to postpone the ceremonies of the soon-to-be champions Inter and pull themselves further away from the drop zone with a spirited 2-2 draw at the Bentegodi.
True to the word of talismanic captain and hero of Sunday’s clash, Sergio Pellissier, the Flying Donkeys showed grit and determination to move a step closer to ensuring Serie A football for the 2009/10 season, while at the same time halting Jose Mourinho’s seemingly unstoppable march to the summit of Italian football and the Nerazzurri’s fourth successive Scudetto. However, this is not the time for complacency on the part of I Mussi volanti and they can expect a tough reception at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris. Genoa will be looking to impose themselves early on after having to wait for a 90th minute equaliser from centre half Domenico Criscito at Atalanta to cancel out Jaime Valdez’s opener and maintain any chance of Genoa entering the qualification stages of Europe’s premier club competition next season.
The last-gasp antics against Atalanta were not without frustrations for Gasperini, with Sokratis Papasthasthopoulos, goal-scorer Criscito and midfielder Giandomenico Mesto earning themselves bookings and a place in the stands for Sunday’s clash. However, the wise old-heads of Matteo Ferrari and Thiago Motta are welcomed back into the fold after serving their own spells at the discretion of the Serie A disciplinary panel.
Gasperini showed his attacking side in Bergamo on Sunday with his decision to introduce two forwards at half-time in a bid to overturn the single goal deficit. Captain Marco Rossi may have done enough to earn himself a starting berth on the right side of midfield with Omar Milanetto making way for the returning Motta, with Ferrari and D’Alessandro, replacing their suspended teamates alongside Salvatore Bocchetti in the back three.
26 Bocchetti – 13 Ferrari – 27 D’Alessandro
7 Rossi – 88 Motta – 28 Juric – 23 Modesto
14 Sculli – 22 Milito – 10 Palladino
Domenico Di Carlo is in the enviable position of being able to strengthen the side that held the Nerazzurri, with the return of both Giampiero Pinzi and Antonion Langella from suspensions that saw them omitted from Sunday’s heroics. In all likelihood Simone Bentivolgio, who was ineffectual at best operating behind the strikers against Inter, is likely to make way for Pinzi, while Langella may have to be content with a place on the bench.
One change is set to be enforced on Di Carlo though, with Udinese-loanee Santiago Morero ending his afternoon of rash challenges with a suspension-earning yellow card, which means that Davide Mandelli is set to come in alongside Mario Yepes at the heart of the Chievo defence. Di Carlo will be hopeful that the veteran Mandelli’s height will serve well in nullifying the aerial threat of Capocannonieri-candidate Diego Milito.
21 Frey – 5 Mandelli – 33 Yepes – 4 Mantovani
10 Luciano – 16 Rigoni – 7 Marcolini – 11 Nedved
31 Pellissier – 23 Bogadani
When the two clubs butted heads at the Bentegodi four days before Christmas, Genoa left it very late in the day to sink their struggling opponents. Ruben Olivera’s 89th minute winner broke Chievo hearts that day, after the Uruguayan midfielder broke through a pack of bodies to bury a shot into the corner and plunge the Flying Donkeys deeper into the mire. Fortunes have changed immensely for Chievo since that game and draws against both Roma and Inter mean that their survival is pretty much in their own hands. A win in Genoa would go a long way to making that a certainty with games against strugglers Torino and an abject Napoli side still on the cards between now and the end of May. A draw would suffice but a poor away record and Genoa’s imperious home form lean this one towards a Rossoblu win.
However, to dust off an old cliché – there are no easy games at this time of the season, and even though Genoa’s run-in features three relegation threatened teams, it would be unwise to think that the Rossoblu simply have to turn up and win. Genoa still need to see-off Chievo, followed by Torino and Lecce, while hoping that Milan or Sampdoria can upset Fiorentina at the Artemio Franchi to close the three point gap the Viola currently laud over Gasperini’s side.