After two straight losses in which the Rosanero gave up a combined six goals, questions began to swirl around Palermo’s strategy in Serie B. Those questions should be put to bed after a return to winning ways against Genoa – a team with no other aim but Serie A promotion this campaign. The win gave Palermo a much needed three points but more than that, it was how the players responded in the match that provides plenty of cause for optimism.
It’s still very early into the season. Friday’s match was only the fifth of the long season. And yet, this big match against Genoa was the first time that most of Eugenio Corini’s preferred starters played from the first minute. The first four games featured a mixture of players that were either on the way out, not first choice or deployed out of necessity.
In the 3-2 loss against Ascoli two weeks ago, Corini had to use Edoardo Lancini in central defense and Roberto Crivello at left back due to injuries and suspensions. While Lancini was a solid defender in Serie C, he is clearly a backup in Serie B; Crivello’s time at Palermo has been a roller coaster – from starter to frozen out to reintegrated reserve. He isn’t up to the level of play that Serie B requires but wasn’t able to be sold. Injuries to Marco Sala and the picciriddu Andrea Accardi forced Crivello into action out of pure necessity. The results were clear as Ascoli’s Cedric Gondo tore through the Palermo defense with pace, power and precision on his way to a hat trick in the victory. Interestingly, that Ascoli match was the first time we got to see four new signings in action: winger Francesco “Kekko” Di Mariano, midfielders Jacopo Segre and Leo Stulac and defender Davide Bettella. All of them made an impact in their short time, with Stulac and Segre linking up for a goal (Stulac cross and a Segre header to reopen the match).
Against Reggina last week, Corini was able to deploy his 4-3-3 along with most of his preferred starters. It remains to be seen who his preferred option is at left back. Versatile defender Ales Mateju was signed by Corini’s explicit request but the there are two other legitimate options at the position – the aforementioned Sala and Accardi. Nevertheless, it was a flat performance right out of the gate. After the home side scored in the seventh minute thanks to a Giovanni Fabbian header, the Rosanero struggled to get back into the match. Early into the second half, Jeremy Menez (yes, that one) doubled Reggina’s lead. It was already over at that point but Daniele Liotti squashed all hopes with his goal in the 73rd minute.
Back to back losses and the worries were mounting. But people were way too quick to forget that Corini was appointed coach literally a week before the start of the season. He had no time to really prepare for the season, no preseason training to instill his ideas and no players that he helped identify in the transfer window. So, until some of those things were addressed, this was always going to be an exercise in patience. We are now little more than a month from the time Corini took over. The transfer window is closed and Palermo saw a large turnover in the number of new players it brought in. Some of those players were specifically bought to fit Corini’s style of play (especially in the midfield). And while it’s still early, the signs in the Genoa match were encouraging.
First, Palermo is truly a formidable opponent for any and every adversary that visits the Renzo Barbera. It is simply an experience for visiting sides to enter into a stadium that can count on 20,000 or more rooting on the Rosanero. The bond between the fans and this team is unique. There are very few sides in Serie B that can boast the same. And while Palermo lost their unbeaten streak that spanned an entire year when they lost to Ascoli, they returned to winning ways at their first chance.
Second, the Rosanero responded very well after two tough losses. That response alone is encouraging enough. But what it also says is that this is a team willing to fight no matter who they are playing and no matter the situation they are facing. Much of what endeared last season’s team to the fan base was this sort of spirit: one that was combative and full of grit. They not might be the flashiest, but they will put their heads down and go to work.
Third, we started to see Corini’s tactics begin to take shape. Yes, he utilizes the 4-3-3. But, what we saw against Genoa was what we should expect to see under Corini for the rest of the season. Palermo will build up play from the back, starting with a goalkeeper who is comfortable distributing the ball with his feet. Yes, there was at least one harrowing moment when Mirko Pigliacelli gave the ball away under pressure by floating a ball right to a Rossoblu striker, but the defense closed down the shot and Palermo dodged a bullet. It was also the only blemish in a superb performance from the first choice goalkeeper who made numerous crucial saves to keep a clean sheet. Another Corini staple is constant pressure. You saw it as every area of the pitch forced Genoa’s players to make a decision straightaway. The strikers will press, the midfield will press and the defenders will keep close to their markers. And the final Corini staple is the quick counterattacking strategy. Again, the Rosanero could have had more than one goal with better finishing thanks to their clean and quick counters.
Finally, Palermo has Matteo Brunori. The new Palermo captain was decisive once more thanks to his wonderful left-footed goal at the near post in the 49th minute (that came about due to pressing which forced a turnover). Brunori’s 2022 is simply record-breaking. Not only is he one of Europe’s best strikers this year (trailing only the otherworldly Kylian Mbappe in goals scored), he has now broken a Palermo record for most goals scored in a calendar year previously held by none other than Luca Toni. In 2004, Toni scored 27 goals. In 2022, Brunori has 28…and he still has three more months to add to that tally! Brunori continues to be a difference maker even in the second division.
We are only just a month into this long, arduous Serie B campaign. We are also only just a month into Corini’s tenure at Palermo. The 1-0 win against Genoa proved that it’s foolish to be fearful about anything this early – especially given the new players and new coach still forming their bonds. Palermo does have the players for the level and they have a coach that has clear ideas and a steady hand to guide the ship. Now, continuity will be key, but patience is needed.