Safety First

Somewhere lost in between the euphoria of last season’s record breaking campaign and the anticipation of playing in Serie A this term is a question on everyone’s minds.

Does Palermo have a roster worthy of Serie A and survival?

With just under a month left until the transfer window closes, there will still be several more moves that transpire before we have a final picture of what that roster will look like. Yet, as it stands right now, the majority of Palermo’s activity coming in has already occurred. A lot of the moves happening during the rest of August will most likely be in the “departures” category rather than the “arrivals” one.

So, once again, does Palermo have the necessary personnel to ensure this is not a short stay in Italy’s top flight?

As with any recently promoted side, there is always that cause for concern. The difference between Serie B and Serie A is as vast as Zamparini’s coaching rolodex. And despite what the Palermo patron wants to aim for (see: Europa League), the reality is that nine times out of ten, a promoted side simply doesn’t achieve such a lofty final spot in the table. Yes, that Palermo side of 2004-05 was an aberration, not the norm.

Nevertheless, a good way to examine Palermo’s chances are two-fold. First, the Rosanero can compare themselves to the other clubs in Serie A that are likely to be in the relegation fight. Are there clubs worse than Palermo? How many are there? Secondly, how does Palermo’s current roster compare to the one from two seasons ago that got relegated? Is there reason for optimism or should pessimism underline the outlook?

To answer the first question is tricky as the transfer window is still open and thus, so is the opportunity to improve. In any case, as it stands right now, there are indeed several clubs that are in worse situations than Palermo heading into 2014-15. The easiest two to identify are the other newly-promoted clubs that joined Palermo – Empoli and Cesena. That the Rosanero were far and away the best club in Serie B last season speaks to the excellent team that was assembled but also to the comparative level of competition they faced. That nobody was able to run away with second place is further proof. Empoli sputtered their way to promotion and Cesena got hot at the right time despite a rather hum-ho campaign. Examining their current rosters, there is plenty of reason for alarm. Empoli’s lineup is modest at best, but the worrying aspect is there striking duo of Francesco Tavano and Massimo Maccarone. They’re older than a pair of tortoises on Galapagos. If they don’t score, who will? Levan Mch’edlidze?! Cesena, on the other hand, have been quite active on the transfer market but it was out of necessity. And despite all their moves, the team still looks like it belongs in Serie B. Their most exciting signing was getting young and promising goalkeeper Nicola Leali on loan from Juventus. The good news is he should see plenty of action between the sticks this term.

As for other potential clubs arguably worse than Palermo’s, there is Chievo. The club has been performing yearly miracles to stay in the top flight but perhaps this may finally be the year they succumb to B. Eugenio Corini’s men are going to need some more magic to stay up. The Flying Donkeys sold their captain to the Rosanero in Luca Rigoni and offloaded one of their top performers from last term in Cyril Thereau. A leaky defense was “fixed” by bringing in Alessandro Gamberini and a midfield that still has Roberto Guana (!) in it will now have Valter Birsa and Mariano Izco as well. Alberto Paloschi is the focal point of the attack but in case things go south, Chievo have a backup plan in new signing and spurned lover Maxi Lopez. Simply put, this is not a good side.

There are other clubs that will be in the relegation race. Cagliari’s bright spot is the fact they have Zdenek Zeman as coach, but he won’t have even a toenail’s worth of the kind of talent he had at Roma or Pescara. Sassuolo narrowly avoided the drop and have been splashing the cash at big names so far this offseason (i.e. Luca Cigarini), but have yet to land one. One never knows how Genoa will be given the insane amount of player changes they go through and Verona have gotten rid of their trio of stars without adequately replacing them to date. The point is, there are other clubs in tenuous situations.

Palermo have question marks. The defense is led by Ezequiel Munoz who could embark on a watershed year in Serie A. Beyond him, it’s not for certain who should stand beside him. Sinisa Andelkovic performed well in Serie B and was the second best defender behind Chiqui, but will he slip up in Serie A? Claudio Terzi’s future at the club isn’t certain. Roberto Vitiello and Milan Milanovic are there, but are they worthy of starting spots? And what about Zouhair Feddal, Palermo’s latest signing? He’s a physically imposing figure but beyond that, he’s only ever featured in Serie B since arriving in Italy – and that was last season with Siena. The club still must add another central defender. It’s imperative.

In the midfield, there are some solid players. The trio of Edgar Barreto, Luca Rigoni and Francesco Bolzoni is quality. Enzo Maresca is experienced. Granddi N’Goyi has the physical presence to be a destroyer of men, but if only he had a little bit more technical skill. That being said, it’s no guarantee he’s around when the window closes. New signings Ivajlo Čočev (also spelled Chochev) and Robin Quaison are unknowns. Čočev could be the next Adam Simon for all we know. At least, with Quaison, there is a lot of visible talent and potential.

The attack is the most crucial aspect to the Rosanero’s success this season. It’s the biggest wildcard. The club still hasn’t replaced Kyle Lafferty, but even if he had stayed, the same questions would’ve remained. Are these strikers good enough to score consistently in the top flight? Abel Hernandez is still only 24 years old, but is currently the attacker with the most Serie A experience on this squad. His potential and breakout has been discussed longer than a panel of nerds discussing who the greatest superhero is at Comic-Con. He’s also made of the same type of glass that encases fire extinguishers. Paulo Dybala is raw and also full of talent and potential. He played 27 games in Serie A while managing 3 goals. In Serie B, his tally was 5 in 28 games. Will the soon-to-be 21 year old get going this season? Franco Vazquez was the greatest reclamation project since Douglas MacArthur returned to the Philippines. He was incredible upon his return and will be vital for Iachini this summer. Finally, there’s the wunderkind Andrea Belotti. The young Italian striker was the biggest revelation of the season and has been the best performer in the attack for Palermo this preseason. No matter how awkwardly he seems to play, Belotti scores goals and at crucial moments too. If he can replicate that success in the top flight, Palermo will achieve safety. Nevertheless, another striker would give the Rosanero at least another alternative if plans A, B and C go poorly. The dichotomy is this: the attack could be Palermo’s biggest downfall or it could be its best accomplishment.

This post has gone on long enough. In Part 2, an examination of Palermo’s current roster to that of the cursed relegation year will take place.

Forza Palermo!!!!!!!!