This weekend brings a clash of two clubs for whom patience is not a word you would associate. A combined total of 23 new players have been added to the respective squads, with one managerial casualty already in the 2008/09 campaign. I am of course referring to Torino and Palermo, who meet at the Stadio Olimpico di Torino on Saturday.
Both clubs endured rather disappointing campaigns last year. While Torino spent the majority of the 2007/08 season fighting relegation, Palermo were suffering a season of mid-table mediocrity – a stark contrast to their 5th-place finish the year before. Judging by the activity at the two clubs over the summer, Torino President Urbano Cairo and Rosanero counterpart Maurizio Zamparini both thought that the solution to a season of woe was a complete squad overhaul.
Of the massive influx of new players mentioned earlier, Palermo were responsible for 13 of them. In fact, they have bought, sold or loaned out, an entire starting line-up of players. In goal, Federico Agliardi was loaned out to Rimini in order to iron out the errors that were too often seen last season. He was replaced with Marco Amelia, a ‘keeper who came with the same reputation for making silly mistakes after leading Livorno to relegation.
In defence, Cristian Zaccardo and Andrea Barzagli, woeful for the national team yet normally impressive for their club, were offloaded to Bundesliga side Wolfsburg for a combined sum of around £14m. Leandro Rinaudo and Beppe Biava were also jettisoned to Napoli and Genoa respectively. As replacements, young Dane Simon Kjaer, Hernán Dellafiore, Moris Carrozzieri and the once promising Cesare Bovo were acquired. Upon looking at that list, the question that springs to mind is “are the replacements actually better than those who were sold?” Having already conceded 14 goals in 10 games – the worst of any side in the top half – the answer appears to be “no”.
One could argue that this theme stops in midfield. While Fabio Caserta and Mariano Gonzalez were sold, the talented Antonio Nocerino arrived from Juventus as part of the deal that saw Amauri head the other way. The vastly experienced Fabio Liverani also made the trip to Sicily, from Fiorentina. This complements the trio of Giulio Migliaccio, Mark Bresciano and Fabio Simplicio who were already at the club.
It has been the form of the Brazilian Simplicio that has been behind much of Palermo’s attacking play this season. Introduced to the side in week two for the game against Roma after their 3-1 opening day defeat to Udinese (for which coach Stefano Colantuono paid with his job), he was majestic in assisting all three Rosanero goals in their win against the Giallorossi. He has not looked back since, starting every game under Davide Ballardini.
Just in front of him, in Ballardini’s favoured 4-3-1-2, are Fabrizio Miccoli and Edison Cavani, who have plundered 10 goals between so far this season. This trio are going to be the key to the Sicilian side’s ambition of reaching Europe once more, as is improving their away form. One win in five, and only five goals scored, is not the form of a team who are pushing for European places.
It is this away form which gives Saturday’s opponents Torino hope of recording only their third victory of the season. They too were busy in the summer, with no less than 10 players arriving to bolster Gianni De Biasi’s squad.
Central defender Francesco Pratali, a new recruit from Empoli, has settled nicely into the Granata defence, partnered by either Marco Di Loreto or Cesare Natali. While this sounds fine, the switching of partners has not aided consistency in the back line. De Biasi has not fielded the same centre-back partnership since weeks four and five. Ever since it has been a constant rotation of the aforementioned trio, which anyone will tell you does nothing to help performances.
Italian U-21 international Ignazio Abate and Austrian Jurgen Saumel – who started in his country’s first game at Euro 2008 against Croatia – were the pick of the new arrivals in midfield. Blerim Dzemaili may be a name familiar to Premier League fans, as he has arrived on loan from Bolton Wanderers. This season however, it has been current squad members Simone Barone and Eugenio Corini (when fit) who have led from the centre of the pitch, and how the Piedmontese club have needed them.
This season has seen a remarkable downturn in the form of captain Alessandro Rosina. As inspirational as he was last year, the new campaign has seen a shadow of that player. He has only started five of a possible 10 games so far. While injury has undoubtedly contributed to poor form, and indeed a lack of starts, some of the spark seems have gone missing from the young Italian. Only one goal in six appearances, from the penalty spot, is not the return expected from Torino’s best attacking player. It culminated in coach De Biasi removing his captain at half-time in the victory against Atalanta last Wednesday, and then dropping him altogether for the trip to Sampdoria at the weekend.
It has seen heads turn towards Abate for the creativity and flair going forward. Similarities can be drawn between the two players. Both are quick, tricky players who like to use their pace. The pair are also comfortable on the flanks, providing the team with width going forward if necessary. His coach seems slightly more cautious about throwing Abate in at the deep end, only starting him in four games despite Rosina’s lack of form.
The reliance on World Cup winner Barone for creativity from the middle has led to a shortage of supply to Nicola Amoruso and Rolando Bianchi, two new strikers who were bought in the summer. The duo are proven goalscorers, and in that respect the Granata are lucky to have two such strikers who are more than capable of hitting double figures this season. For Torino to avoid relegation this year providing their two front players the chances to score will be vital, especially as their defence seems to have become worse since last season.
So what of the game on Saturday? A team who struggle to win away from home, against a side towards the bottom end of the table who have the worst home defence in the league. The points are important to both teams realising their President’s ambitions this campaign, but with the two clubs having appointed and sacked four (Torino) and five (Palermo) different tacticians since the 2005/06 season, they’re probably more important to the respective coaches.