The only thing constant in Palermo is change. Any beginning is always going to have an ending – under Zamparini, this ending comes quicker than most. The Gattuso experiment was always doomed to fail; it was just a question of when the plug would be pulled. The week 6 loss to Bari was the final straw and with that, the Rosanero have put their trust in former Palermo player Beppe Iachini to right the ship.
One game in and it’s apparent that Iachini has brought more tactical acumen than his predecessor did. That is no slight to Gattuso, it’s just that Palermo was a piazza too big for him to begin in and he has a lot to learn from a technical perspective. Ambition is great, but expectations were greater. It’s not the last time we’ll see Gattuso on the sideline, and in reality given the way Zamparini has acted over the past few years, it may not even be the last time we see him on the Palermo touchline! Nonetheless, Iachini is the here and now and given his reputation as a “promotion specialist” (he’s earned promotion to Serie A three different times with three different teams), it’s a good appointment.
Palermo have had a rocky start to the Serie B season, something quite contradictory to how they started in 2003-04. Picking up on the series, we last examined weeks two and three, so now we’ll follow with what transpired in weeks four through seven. And off we go:
Salernitana – Palermo
Salernitana was supposed to be the first official fixture of the Serie B season, but after the uproar caused by the exclusion and eventual inclusion of several teams, the fixture was delayed. The Rosanero were coming off of two straight wins that had them sitting at joint-top of the table along with four other sides. Of course it was early on in the season, but enthusiasm was high nonetheless. Salernitana, meanwhile, had only managed one point from three tries – a goalless draw with Ascoli on week one.
Yet, Salernitana took it to Palermo the entire match. Playing in front of the home fans, the Granata looked like the unbeaten side rather than the Rosanero, who were playing abysmally. Thus, it was no surprise when Alessandro Tulli put the home side in front in the 49th minute. It would seem like an impossible feat to overcome when the visitors went down to ten men as Gaetano Vasari was sent off only a short time after he was subbed on in the second half. With Palermo pouring forward, though, the belief was they could get a goal back. Famed commentator Giuseppe D’Agostino believed it as much, saying multiple times during the radio broadcast, “We can do it, we’ve got to believe we can do it!” And as if he saw it in the stars, D’Agostino was proven right. In the game’s final minute, Andrea Gasbarroni would score a fantastic goal to give Palermo the draw at the death. A 1-1 tie was a bad result on paper, but given the nature of the match, it was a good result for the Sicilians who kept their unbeaten streak intact.
Torino – Palermo
Palermo faced a true test of where they stood when they went on the road to play Torino. The Granata were in second place and looked strong early on. Some familiar names to today’s Palermo fans filled the ranks: Stefano Sorrentino in goal and a young Federico Balzaretti (who made a late appearance in the match) were just a couple of future Rosanero players that complimented a solid squad with players such as Simone Tiribocchi and Marco Ferrante in its ranks.
The match was hotly contested and referee Matteo Trefoloni was not doing Palermo any favors. Ferrante “won” a penalty in the 24th minute, which he promptly converted. The Rosanero had penalty appeals of their own denied by the Siena ref and Torino doubled their lead before the break, thanks to Ferrante once again. After being down 2-0 at the half, Palermo responded well and Eugenio Corini was able to pull the Sicilians back within one, after converting a penalty in the 59th minute. The Rosanero played very well in the second half, however, there was no magical finish this time and Palermo succumbed to their first loss of the season. In a difficult camp like Torino’s, though, it was not the end of the world for Baldini’s side.
Palermo – Pescara
The best way for Palermo to rebound from a tough loss was to return to the friendly confines of La Favorita. Facing a modest side like Pescara only helped matters. Palermo utterly dominated in the first half and were only unlucky not to be up by more than one goal at halftime (a penalty converted by none other than Eugenio Corini). In the second half, Palermo continued to run rampant until an incredibly unfortunate own goal by Di Donato threatened everything. Pescara became more confident in achieving a result and thanks to some wonderful saves by Berti, Palermo were able to prevent the Delfini from going out in front.
Fortunately, Baldini made changes that had a profound impact on the match. Switching to a 4-4-2 with Simone Pepe coming on and playing alongside Luca Toni and having Mutarelli work on the left flank, things improved. Yet, it took a late winner to earn the three points. This time it was the young Simone Pepe who played the hero. His goal in the 85th minute caused the Barbera to explode. Palermo would hold on, notwithstanding being down to ten men once again as Captain Corini had been sent off.
Palermo – Piacenza
A midweek match for Palermo was on the table. The club was joint-third in Serie B and looking to keep the pace with leaders Atalanta who sat on 14 points. Piacenza came into town fresh off an incredibly disappointing draw with basement-dwellers Como. The Biancorossi, led by Coach Luigi Cani were eager to put the previous displeasure behind them.
Once again, Palermo played well. Yet, points aren’t simply awarded for playing well. The Rosanero were very wasteful in front of goal, with Luca Toni, in particular, missing several great chances right in front of goal. But after his numerous chances, Toni finally netted one (that would’ve been impossible to miss, to be honest). His goal in the 64th minute looked like a potential match-winner, but it would not be so. Big, burly Piacenza striker Luigi Beghetto would level the accounts in the 90th minute. Beghetto had terrorized the Rosanero defense all day long, especially Terlizzi. His hard work paid off by giving Piacenza a good draw just before the match came to a close.
Today’s Palermo, even with a coaching change after six weeks aren’t that far off from the promotion-winning side of 2003-04. After seven weeks, the 2003-04 side sat on 12 points, four off the top spot while today’s side sits on 10 points and five from the top. And while the 03-04 record looks better after the initial start (3W 3D 1L), the current team had a tougher start to the season and still has the same amount of wins over the same span (3W 1D 3L). The true test will be whether Iachini can succeed where Gattuso failed. Namely, finding a style of play and getting the most out of his players, while finding ways to create opportunites in spite of the opponents tactics of sitting back and going on the counter-attack.