Law of the Ex

In Italy, there is an expectation that a team must not only win, but do so entertainingly. On Wednesday night, Palermo managed to win, but it was anything but entertaining – save for the winning goal and celebration that followed. All that matters, though, was that Beppe Iachini’s Palermo walked away from a relegation rival with the full three points and further distanced themselves from the relegation zone. Playing at home, in front of a supportive crowd, the Rosanero had no choice but to seek out a victory. Often times, in matches like this where the two clubs have their hopes set on avoiding relegation, it becomes more of a 90 minute battle of attrition. Neither side wants to make a mistake, nor press forward too much. It’s essentially trench warfare and both clubs are afraid of losing. Chievo packed it in and hoped to break through on a counter, while Palermo tentatively pushed forward, but lacked any sort of urgency or conviction.

Iachini opted for the 3-4-1-2, with the beloved trident of Franco Vazquez pulling the strings behind Paulo Dybala and Andrea Belotti. Strangely enough, in the few times that this trio has been deployed, the squad has not played as fantastic and fluid as it does when the 3-5-2 is used. Perhaps the trio is still trying to understand how to play with one another on the pitch at once or maybe the communication isn’t all there. Whatever the case may be, Wednesday night’s trident encountered problems in execution and maneuvering.

And then there was the wing play from Achraf Lazaar and Michel Morganella. The former spent too much time trying to mimic Cristiano Ronaldo (with his #7 shirt and well-groomed visage) by trying to dance past his opponents repeatedly. A disastrous start from Lazaar was lessened as the match went on. He even did a tremendous job to race back and poke the ball away from Riccardo Meggiorini who was alone on goal and ready to shoot in the Palermo box. Morganella, while limited technically, often makes up for his shortcomings by playing very aggressively. His performance wasn’t at all bad and he almost even had a goal. His aggressiveness is a positive attribute when he keeps his attitude in check. For what it’s worth, Lazaar’s substitute, the Brasilian Emerson, seems like the real deal. Should he adapt quickly enough, it wouldn’t be surprising to find him win a starting spot in the near future. All in all, the wings have been the wildcard for Palermo this season. Each week, it’s a mystery over who will start and how they’ll perform. Against Chievo, they were good enough.

But the biggest discussion needs to center around the midfield. Edgar Barreto arguably had one of his poorest matches in a Rosanero shirt. Luca Rigoni has been the object of criticism practically since his arrival. He was destined for even more hardship 80 minutes into the match. To be frank, he simply hasn’t lived up to his expectation and prior to that 81st minute, he was heading towards a hounding from fan and journalist alike. Naturally, it was Signore Rigoni who would be the hero. Not just because he was playing poorly, but because he was the ex-Chievo man playing against his former side which he had captained for the first time since moving to Sicily. It’s the Law of the Ex. If a goal is to beat you, it’ll come from an ex-player against your side (see: Amauri vs. Palermo or Toni vs. Palermo, et al.) Rigoni’s sliding effort from outside of the area floated into the top corner, beating Francesco Bardi and setting off a wave of emotion that floated down from the stands to the pitch (much like the flares at the beginning of the match) where Rigoni and all his teammates celebrated with a jubilant Beppe Iachini. It was a goal that meant a lot to the entire team, but even more so for Rigoni, who stated as much in his post-match interview. He knew of his critics and is well aware of his underwhelming performances. Perhaps this will be a boost to him not just psychologically but also translate to more confidence on the pitch.

The Palermo midfield is still lacking something. Nobody has stepped forward to grab hold of the role of distributor. Enzo Maresca has the skillset, but hasn’t featured much due to injuries and appendicitis. Perhaps Ivaylo Chochev or Robin Quaison could be that person? It’s open and ready for someone to run with it. The club absolutely needs it to happen, because so far, Rigoni and Barreto are clearly not suitable for the role.

Another ex who deserves a shout out is Saint Stefano Sorrentino. Chievo were hardly dangerous for large stretches of the match. But that didn’t mean there were some harrowing moments. Sorrentino raced off his line to deny Ezequiel Schelotto from scoring, he denied Maxi Lopez and Meggiorini from point-blank range and even had a wonderful save after Palermo’s goal to prevent a gut-punching equalizer near the death. Sorrentino has been masterful this season. He is a leader of this side and acts like it on and off the pitch. There will be a time when Samir Ujkani takes over for the ex-Chievo man, but not yet. Not yet.

It was an ugly win where style was sacrificed for tactical impasse. Iachini’s Palermo have played much better and more entertaining in previous matches, but didn’t get the result they wanted. Think of the matches against Sampdoria, Inter and Napoli, where free-flowing, beautiful football led to a sole point rather than the maximum. Is it better to play pleasingly, yet come up short? Or should a Machiavellian approach reign supreme? If Palermo are to stay in Serie A, it doesn’t matter how they play as long as the points arrive at the end of the 90 minutes. Sometimes you must suffer in order to see success. The match against Chievo is proof of that fact.

Forza Palermo!