Season review: Cesena – Mission accomplished

Already up against it upon promotion to Serie A, Cesena’s remarkable achievement of retaining their spot in Italy’s top division was even more impressive considering that it was completed playing open, expansive football that was very entertaining to watch.
They started the season well securing a draw away at Roma and topped that by beating Milan 2-0 in their next game. Their adventurous 4-3-3 system caught Milan off-guard that night, but not many other teams were fooled like that since then. They may have continued their early-season form by beating Lecce 1-0, but it started a winless run of seven games (during which they only picked up one point) that did not end until November.
The problem that faced Coach Massimo Ficcadenti was that although his style and formation were attacking, he did not necessarily have the requisite quality of player to pull it off with consistency. It did not stop his team from trying, but when it came to the end product it was lacking far too often despite their entertaining endeavours up to that point. This is reflected in their final goals for tally – 38 goals means they averaged only one per game.
The quality issue was most apparent in midfield. Marco Parolo, their stand-out player of the season, was an exception to this with his drive from the middle and his goals, but he was not overly creative, and nor were any of his colleague in this area. It meant that their front three of Emanuele Giaccherini, Luis Jiménez and Erjon Bogdani, who together scored 24 of the club’s 38 goals, had to do most of the work themselves.
The objective was thus very simple for the opposition – stop their front three, and Cesena become a very limited outfit. What the midfield lacked in creativity, they more than made up for with work rate – the fact that Cesena were rarely thrashed is testament to this – but ultimately you do not win games without scoring goals, as Sampdoria discovered.
Their form became such a concern that in February the ultrà demanded the sacking of Ficcadenti. Admirably, President Igor Campedelli refused to bow down to their pressure and stuck with Ficcadenti. For this act alone, Cesena’s survival is arguably a positive result and an example to others who may face similar situations.
Indeed, since Campedelli’s public backing, the team lost only three of their remaining 13 games (one of which was the end of season dead rubber at Genoa), which helped propel them out of the relegation zone. Players hit form at the right time, particularly going forward, and they started to score goals – over half of their goals were scored during this period.
In fact, Cesena’s survival is a lesson in peaking at the right time. Although they spent nearly 50% of the season in the relegation zone, they escaped. Compare that to Samp, who spent only three weeks in the bottom three but ended up dropping to Serie B.
Coach – Massimo Ficcadenti: His 4-3-3 ensured the side had genuine width and gave opposition Coaches something different to contend with. Coped very well with the fans’ demonstrations against him and his players responded accordingly – the sign of a man who is liked by his squad.
Player of the season – Marco Parolo: An outstanding season for the goalscoring central midfielder was rewarded with his first cap for Italy. A box-to-box player, he demonstrated his ability to effect the game at both ends of the pitch. Such has been his success that he is likely to move on in the summer.
Turning point – Campedelli’s public backing of Ficcadenti: With the club in 19th place after 25 games, three points away from safety, and with the ultrà demanding the Coach’s sacking, many Presidents would have given in. Campedelli did not, and was duly rewarded.
Average starting XI:

Antonioli

Ceccarelli – von Bergen – Pellegrino – Lauro

Caserta – Colucci – Parolo

Jiménez – Bogdani – Giaccherini
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