Palermo continued their unbeaten streak on Tuesday night, taking their tally to five games. Unfortunately, it was yet another draw, the fourth in a row, after the Rosanero threw away a 2-0 lead. Gasperini has the team playing some very pretty football, but there is definitely some remorse for not coming away with the three points in a match that was dominated for large stretches by the home side.
From the beginning, both sides really pressed forward with end-to-end action providing for some great entertainment. After the opening minutes, Palermo really began to take control by constantly pressing the opponents and providing great movement and passing on the offensive end. There were a couple of opportunities where Palermo should have gone out in front, but whether it was a missed final pass or a shot off target, Miccoli and company were not able to convert.
As the first half came to a close, Palermo found the breakthrough from who else but Fabrizio Miccoli. Capitalizing on a lazy bit of defending, Miccoli put the ball right off of Abate’s outstretched arm to win a penalty. Some would claim it not to be a penalty but considering Abate’s arm was not close to his body and almost outstretched, whether intentional or not (it wasn’t), the penalty had to be given. It was a sigh of relief after Palermo felt hard done not to have been given a penalty a few minutes earlier when Morganella was clearly tripped up in the box. Miccoli converted by perfectly placing the ball into the side netting, despite Amelia’s correct guess, and with his 99th total goal in Serie A, Miccoli gave Palermo a 1-0 lead at the stroke of halftime.
In the second half, the intensity continued. Palermo did not relent and quickly scored the second goal thanks to a beautiful strike from Ciccio Brienza. It was truly a blast from the past as Brienza ran towards the Barbera faithful to celebrate, it seemed like he had never left. The Rosanero now had a 2-0 lead and a seemingly strong command of the rest of the match.
Ten minutes later, the situation turned as Gasperini chose to substitute Brienza for Luigi Giorgi. Brienza had arguably been the best player on the pitch and was creating problems for the Milan midfield and back line. Yet, Gasperini’s decision was made to defend a 2-0 lead at home rather than continue to push for more goals and become vulnerable to a quick counter-attack. The introduction of Giorgi also included a tactical switch as the Palermo defense went from a back three to a back four with only Miccoli staying up top to keep Milan’s defense honest. Gasperini then chose to pull off Garcia who was on a yellow for Cetto, ten minutes after bringing on Giorgi.
Milan seized the opportunity to push forward and enjoy time on the ball and Allegri even made some uncharacteristic substitutions early on in the second half that helped them considerably. Emanuelson and Bojan, both brought on within the first ten minutes of the second half, had a significant influence on the way Milan played. While being allowed to dictate play, Milan found a goal through a fortunate shot from Montolivo. With the Rossoneri down by one goal, the feeling was they could find another should Palermo continue to let them have all the time they wanted on the ball. Palermo did just that and 11 minutes later, Milan tied the game with a goal by El Shaarawy.
The most bothersome part of the draw is the talk among the Italian media that credits this comeback more to Milan than to the negligence of Palermo. Milan did nothing to really lead a comeback; rather, it was the change in the way Palermo played that allowed the Red Devils to even come near the Rosanero goal. Had Palermo kept playing as they did in the first half and ten minutes of the second half, there would have been no chance for a Milan goal, much less a two goal comeback. As is often the case though, the press is going to flock towards the big teams and given the plight of this Milan team this season, the headlines of a dramatic and well-fought comeback are to be expected.
Gasperini did some things right, but ultimately he takes the blame for flubbing a 2-0 lead into a draw. Donati should have never been given the start when he pulled up with an issue in pre-game warm-ups. It was a “losing bet” as Gasperini himself claimed. The Palermo boss should have allowed Brienza to continue given his form, at the very least till the 70th minute. Finally, protecting a lead at home, especially when you have the support of the fans to spur you on, shouldn’t be an option until there are clear signs that the team looks vulnerable. In the case of Tuesday night, the first time Palermo looked truly vulnerable was when Brienza came off. There is no doubt that Gasperini will learn from this mistake and the Rosanero can put this past them.
There were plenty of positives to garner from the draw. Palermo are still in relegation territory, but the way they have been playing gives indications that this team has the talent that would take it beyond any talk of relegation. It should only be a matter of time before these draws turn into wins and the relegation whispers can be quieted for good. Apart from Brienza, the entire team played a good match with special mentions to Morganella, Barreto and Munoz. All three put in quality performances and continue to justify the playing time they’ve earned.
Palermo now head on the road to Roma, where the hope is that they can continue their unbeaten form and perhaps even find a precious win. If they play as they did in the first half of the Milan game, three points is a real possibility.