Palermo pay the penalty for profligacy but positives are plentiful.
Palermo 1 – Cesena 1
At the start of this season it would have been fair to say that the ultimate success for most Palermo fans would be to remain in Serie A. However, with a third of the season now gone, performances so far suggest a mid-table finish – let alone survival – are realistic ambitions. If the current table is anything to go by, there won’t be too many points that separate the relegation spots from those in mid-table safety, so it would be easy to feel disappointed by this week’s dropped points. But let’s focus on the positives.
The team has shown character to steady the ship following awful consecutive performances against Lazio and Empoli. Hopes were high for the visit of Udinese at the Barbera after last week’s impressive dismantling of AC Milan at the San Siro. Much of the upturn in form has coincided with the return of Edgar Barreto, Ezequiel Munoz, Pipo Gonzalez and Enzo Maresca to the team – adding quality in key areas that is sorely missed when those players are not available for selection.
All four started Sunday as Beppe Iachini opted for his favoured 3-5-1-1 formation. Maresca was fit to join Barreto and Francesco Bolzoni in the central midfield axis with Achraf Lazaar and Eros Pisano given the freedom of the flanks in the wing back positions. Sinisa Andelkovic, Gonzalez and Munoz occupied the three centre back spots. Up front, Paulo Dybala was once again the lone striker with Franco Vazquez operating in the hole behind him.
After a cagey opening, the game burst into life after five minutes courtesy of sloppy Palermo defending. Danilo was given the freedom of the penalty area and rose unmarked from five yards to meet a cross from the right. Stefano Sorrentino could only weakly parry Danilo’s header into the path of Cyril Thereau who was quickest to react to the loose ball to nod home completely unmarked from close range.
The shock kick-started Palermo into life.
Maresca was first up, clipping a free kick just over the bar from the edge of the area. Barreto then went agonisingly close on two occasions; one a long range effort which whistled wide of the upright and the second a looping header from Pisano’s cross which dropped fractionally wide with Karnezis Orestis rooted to the spot.
It seemed fitting that Barreto was instrumental in Palermo’s equaliser when it came just three minutes before interval. Cutting in from the left, Il Capitano played a neat one-two with Dybala before being scythed down in the box by Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu. Already on a yellow card, the Ghanaian had moments earlier escaped a second a caution for diving and remarkably was not shown a card for this lunge either. From the resulting spot-kick, Dybala coolly slotted home to bring Palermo level at half time.
The second half started slowly, but on 54 minutes, Palermo were gifted a second penalty when Allan clumsily hauled down Dybala inside the box just as the Argentine burst past him from the right onto his favoured left foot. Having drawn the foul, Dybala handed the spot-kick duty over to Vazquez. His casual effort lacked the required power or precision and enabled Karnezis to make a smart save to his right.
In spite of that miss, Palermo continued to press for a second goal. Vazquez forced Karnezis into a nifty save with a crisp snap-shot, while Dybala curled an effort just over from the edge of the area.
In the closing minutes, Dybala came even closer with a neat header from Lazaar’s free-kick which cannoned off the right hand post. It was the closest Palermo would come to a winner as the match finished 1-1.
Make no bones, this is a game that Palermo should have won, but if the Rosanero keep playing like this, they will be absolutely fine this season.