In keeping Lecce in Serie A for another season, Luigi De Canio has performed a miracle. From the beginning of the campaign they were tipped for relegation and they looked for all the world like they were going to live up to their billing and drop into Serie B. However, somehow the side found in them enough of a fighting spirit to enter into a fierce relegation dogfight and win.
The first game of the season was a surprisingly accurate prophecy of what Lecce fans could expect in the coming months. The 4-0 defeat to Milan saw i Lupi swept away within the opening half an hour, finding themselves three goals down and then simply unable to hit back until Filippo Inzaghi well and truly sealed the deal in the final moments of the game with a fourth. While Lecce showed a great deal of willing in attack they were extremely poor in defence and had no answers when Milan came forward, something that would continue to be the case for much of the season.
In fact they only managed to keep a clean sheet twice from that point right up until the middle of February, conceding heavily against Juventus, Udinese and Palermo as well as Milan along the way. These heavy defeats took their toll, as did narrow defeats to Sampdoria, Cagliari and Catania when good work by the forwards was undermined by inept defending.
Unlike the teams that finished below them, however, Lecce found a turning point before it was too late. After losing to two late goals at Catania, the squad found within themselves a fighting spirit that had been missing before then and, somehow, remembered the art of defending. The result was a 2-0 win against Juventus that came completely out of the blue. The clean sheet was Lecce’s first since October and inspired the side to go on a run of strong performances. A draw against Brescia was followed by three undeserved defeats before they finally got their reward with a 2-0 win over highflying Udinese.
The scorer of both goals against Udinese was young Andrea Bertolacci, an Italy Under-21 midfielder on loan from Roma and a symbol of one of the reasons Lecce stayed up. What Coach De Canio did brilliantly over the course of the season was use his squad to the fullest. While he had no obvious star players, a large number of guys chipped in and got two or three goals along the way, goals that added up over the course of the campaign. Despite having the worst defensive record in the league, Lecce also boasted one of the best goal scoring records in the bottom half despite no player reaching double figures for the season.
The squad were finally made mathematically safe by a 2-0 victory over bitter rivals Bari, who had already suffered the shame of relegation, much to the delight of the Lecce fans. While their joy at survival will have been somewhat tempered by De Canio’s announcement that he would be leaving the club in June, they will surely understand that the move is for the best for both parties and will be looking forward to another season at the top level.
Coach – Luigi De Canio: While certainly to blame for not addressing his side’s defensive frailties earlier in the campaign, the Coach must be praised for engineering their survival while never departing from the style of football he wanted to play. The contribution of the entire squad speaks volumes about De Canio’s man management.
Player of the season – the squad players: While it might seem like a cop out, the likes of Andrea Bertolacci, Javier Chevantón, Edward Ofere, Ignacio Piatti and Daniele Corvia racked up 17 goals between them and were vital in keeping the club in Serie A, perhaps even more so than any single first team player.
Turning point – Lecce 2-0 Juventus February 20, 2011: Just when many were beginning to lose hope, Lecce pulled out of the bag the result that may have saved their season. Having struggled against big clubs for most of the campaign, this game paved the way for them to claim vital points against Napoli and Udinese and brought a new confidence to the side.
Average starting XI:
Tomović – Gustavo – Fabiano – Mesbah
Munari – Giacomazzi – Vives – Olivera
Jeda – Di Michele