Like water to parched lips, Palermo was able to get a much needed victory over Sampdoria. The win was enough to vault the Sicilians out of the relegation zone and into 14th place. It was a total win for the Rosanero and one that will be remembered for years to come as the day Dybala delivered.
Sampdoria and Palermo both entered the match with a lot on the line. For Palermo, the prospects of remaining in the relegation zone were looming large especially coming off a disastrous non-performance against Roma. Furthermore, with Miccoli out due to injury and Abel Hernandez already shelved for a long time, there were a lot of question marks surrounding the Palermo attack. Meanwhile, Sampdoria were desperately searching for points, or even a point for that matter, entering play on Sunday with six consecutive defeats weighing them down. Were it not for such an excellent start to the season, Sampdoria would easily have occupied last place.
And thus, with all the questions surrounding the two teams, only one side showed up. Palermo utterly dominated the match from start to finish. They controlled the style of play, had numerous occasions on goal and shut down any semblance of a Sampdoria attack. Even with the wasted chances and the 0-0 scoreline at the half, the Rosanero were continually knocking on the Doria door. The feeling was an eventual breakthrough would occur.
Before addressing the obvious, there was another bright spot in the Palermo lineup: Ciccio Brienza. The dynamic midfielder made up for the absence of Miccoli by being a constant thorn in the side of the Sampdoria midfield and defense. He was omnipresent on the pitch and at times seemed to tease and taunt the opponents with his mazy runs. Many will look at the two goals from Dybala and put him on the pedestal but the occasions would not have presented themselves with such frequency had it not been for Brienza providing the passes (and earning both assists). When Brienza was brought to Palermo once more, it was at the personal request of Sannino and Perinetti. With both men gone, Ciccio is still proving his value by making Gasperini use him as an integral part of the lineup. It’s as if Palermo has turned back the clock to its halcyon days of budding expectation and bubbling excitement. It’s a joy to have him back in Rosanero.
Truly, though, the story of the day was the young Paulo Dybala. The Argentine with the looks and physique of a 15 year old Justin Bieber showed what all the hype was about when Palermo opened up the purse strings to acquire a teenager who only had one year of professional experience in Argentina’s second division. Getting only his second start, Dybala used his youthfulness and speed to create space and chances for himself versus a Sampdoria defense that wasn’t able to keep him under control. The “picciriddu” could have easily had four to five goals to his name were it not for a pair of misses and two fantastic saves by Romero. Yet, there he was to answer the call with two terrific goals that belong right up there alongside Cavani’s dream debut goal. In fact, Dybala, four days shy of his 19th birthday, became the second youngest player in Palermo history to score in Serie A (the first was none other than Levan Mch’edlidze who scored the winner versus Juve at 18 years old, 6 months and 12 days) and also the youngest player to ever score a brace for Palermo. The performance was one that provides relief to an attack force that up till now has had to rely solely on Fabrizio Miccoli. The key to Dybala’s success going forward, though, will be to allow him to continue to play without any unnecessary pressure being squared on his shoulders.
Finally, a side note on a player who is easily the most divisive amongst the Rosanero fan base: Josip Iličić. With the Slovenian now in his third year at Palermo, he has already lived the spectrum of opinions and performances unlike any other who has played on the team. His first year was phenomenal, aided by the presence of Pastore, and he was able to play carefree, flowing football. Last year was abysmal and every other adjective for awful that you can find in a thesaurus. So far this season, Iličić has been a good team player. He has had moments where he’s made the wrong choice, whether that’s a poor shot or poor pass but overall he has shown marked improvement from the Iličić of one season ago. Last year, he gave up too easily and had a tendency to sulk. For the most part, this season, Iličić has been more active and engaged and while the goals haven’t come in, he’s been a productive member of the squad. Perhaps more than any other player, Iličić feels the pressure that comes with the lack of support he gets from the crowd. Confidence is an intangible that can ultimately make or break a player and it’s readily apparent that when a player has the backing of the crowd, the game tends to open up. Hopefully, Iličić stays on the path he’s been on and finds his knack for goal, but until then, he has been contributing to Palermo at a good clip.
Palermo can breathe a little easier now that they’ve managed to gain some ground on the relegation race but they have another good chance to keep the momentum going. Bologna away is on the cards next and the team is definitely beatable. With what was witnessed on Sunday, Palermo can use this performance as a stepping stone for more success.