A second consecutive campaign with a mid-table finish may not excite the Genovese faithful, but after several transfer windows selling off their best players and with a change of Coach in November, sticking around for another season of Serie A football is not necessarily a dour achievement.
Il Grifone started the campaign with Gian Piero Gasperini in charge, but he lasted only 10 games, losing five. He was perhaps slightly unfortunate – four of them were single goal defeats against Milan, Inter, Roma and an in-form Palermo side. Nevertheless, President Enrico Preziosi was unmoved, and promptly replaced him with Davide Ballardini.
This signalled a change in formation – a much-needed move away from Gasperini’s 3-4-3. Ballardini was initially caught between 4-3-1-2 and 4-4-2, but eventually settled on using 4-4-2 for the majority of matches (he did at times return to the former, even without an obvious trequartista) when he realised the lack of quality of central midfielders available to him. This system suited the wide players that were left in the squad from Gasperini’s tenure, but the team were hurt by the limited options in attack.
It meant that finding the balance was very difficult for their new Coach. Failing to score in 13 of their 38 games – over a third of their total – highlighted the issues with the squad’s striking options, but also the general change in the mentality of the team. For all their struggles in front of goal they did improve defensively (although it was difficult not to after 2009/10) – 47 goals against is a welcome change from last season where they had the second worst defence in the league, despite finishing ninth.
A higher league placing may have been attainable had fitness problems not robbed Ballardini of his best players. Miguel Veloso, on paper one of the few players of quality in central midfield, managed only 20 league appearances due to various injuries. Rodrigo Palacio missed 12 games, Kaladze missed 13, and January signing Luca Antonelli did not make his debut until the end of February. Getting the first three onto the pitch for at least 30 games could have made a difference.
It contributed to their inability to string a good run of results together as well. Their longest winning run was two games; the longest unbeaten run was four. As such they did not really threaten to trouble the European contenders, but at the same time kept themselves sufficiently far away from the relegation zone to ensure that it did not become a threat.
It became apparent towards the end of February that Genoa’s season was heading for a mid-table finish, and signs suggested that the club were looking towards next season. They obtained a healthy fee for their half of Andrea Ranocchia from Inter in January and stories started to emerge about the potential ins and outs of the Genoa squad in the summer. Preziosi did not help by thinking aloud when it came to a new Coach – confirming that Ballardini was unlikely to remain for 2011/12.
Coach – Davide Ballardini: Performed an admirable job having been left with a squad not suited to his preferred system. Nevertheless, the team seemed comfortable in his 4-4-2, and he recognised the deficiency in attack by acquiring Antonio Floro Flores in January. Perhaps could have finished even higher if his best players did not miss so many games.
Player of the season – Rodrigo Palacio: In a team that at times struggled going forward, Palacio’s eight goals and seven assists are a fine effort. He flourished upon Ballardini’s arrival, as he started playing through the middle as a seconda punta as opposed to out wide. Those numbers will only improve with a better team around him.
Turning point – Palermo 1-0 Genoa: The game that led to Gasperini’s sacking and the introduction of Ballardini. Since then the team appeared to amble through their season, accepting a mid-table finish and playing like players who believed their Coach would not be there come the start of the 2011/12 campaign.
Average starting XI:
Mesto – Dainelli – Kaladze – Criscito
Rafinha – Kucka – Milanetto – Rossi
Palacio – Floro Flores