After another extended break, we’re back. When we last met, the message was continuity, continuity, continuity. It had seemed as if Palermo had finally turned a corner in their Serie B campaign after a string of positive results against Pisa, Cittadella, Modena and then Parma. The results pushed the club out of the relegation zone and back into the middle of the pack. But then, they reverted back to their maddening old form.
Facing two relegation embattled sides, Palermo lost not one, but both (!) matches to plunge them right back into a crisis. First up was a Cosenza side that was in an epic free-fall, losers of five straight matches. Apparently, the perfect cure was playing the Rosanero. It was the Rosanero scoring first, right before halftime thanks to that man Matteo Brunori (because, who else would it be?) via a superb little flick from a ball over his shoulder. Unfortunately, Cosenza would find the equalizer right before the halftime whistle as Aldo Florenzi had a deft volley that slowly beat Mirko Pigliacelli at the far post. In the second half, Michele Rigione would put the home side in front after a volley was deflected into his path where he stood all alone in front of goal. Three minutes later, Brunori would bring Palermo level from a corner that he headed past ex-Rosanero keeper Leonardo Marson. That would only last four minutes as Cosenza would get the match-winner in the 63rd minute via an unmarked header from Joaquin Larrivey at the back post. Palermo had several good opportunities to draw level once more, but they would not have it. The best of those was a saved penalty from Brunori in the 90th minute.
Against Venezia at home, another shock defeat. In the first half, Palermo did not offer much offensively. And it was only thanks to some very fine saves by Pigliacelli that both sides went into halftime goalless. Early in the second half, Brunori was sent through on goal but tried to dribble around goalkeeper Jesse Joronen before falling to the ground. The referee pointed to the penalty spot but that call was overturned after VAR intervened. In the 65th minute, the visitors would take the lead after a deflection fell into the path of an unmarked Joel Pohjanpalo (see this unlucky pattern?) who barely beat Pigliacelli at his near post. The Rosanero would once again have an opportunity to tie it up as a handball in the 69th minute gave Brunori another chance from the penalty spot. He stepped up and went low and right but had his shot saved by Joronen in similar fashion to the week before (where Brunori also aimed low and to the right). Francesco Di Mariano could have and probably should have scored minutes later after he slid in to connect on a beautiful cross but his shot was straight at Joronen. Later yet, it looked as though Palermo did get the equalizer when Davide Bettella smashed home a ball that fell to him in the box but VAR overturned that goal for a very tight offside decision in the buildup. The final whistle would blow and the home team would be whistled off the pitch. Palermo now sat in 16th place.
A third straight defeat would have been disastrous. Up was another embattled side in 15th placed Benevento led by the legend Fabio Cannavaro. Thankfully, Brunori ensured that the losing streak would end at two. It was his goal in the 54th minute that proved the difference. A key tackle from Claudio Gomes near midfield put Palermo on the counter. Gomes quickly gave the ball to Brunori who led a three-on-two break and rather than laying it off, the striker buried it past goalkeeper Alberto Paleari at the far post. It was a crucial goal for the team but also Brunori himself after feeling the pressure from two consecutive missed penalties that dropped vital points for the club. In the 69th minute, Brunori nearly had a wondergoal. Seeing Paleari off his line, Brunori audaciously chipped the Benevento keeper from 40 meters out but it smacked off the post! In the dying embers of the match, Edoardo Soleri had his easiest chance of the season to get his first goal in Serie B but somehow allowed Paleari to get a hand to his shot and push it out for a corner in a 1v1 situation. Thankfully, it didn’t matter and the Rosanero would earn all three points.
The momentum would be slowed when Palermo faced a stalwart Como squad. In the opening ten minutes, Palermo should have gone in front at least three times. A Jacopo Segre header clanked off the far post and Brunori had two follow up shots get blocked and parried. Those would be the best chances of the match and Pigliacelli was only forced into real action once and rose to the occasion to preserve a goalless draw. Up next was Daniele De Rossi‘s SPAL where both sides would come away with a 1-1 draw. The home side would take the lead in the 10th minute after an acrobatic volley from Biagio Meccariello from a corner beat Pigliacelli. Never worry, though, because Brunori would come to the rescue. In the 32nd minute, Brunori would receive an infiltrating pass from Di Mariano in between two SPAL defenders and beat the keeper at the far post. Pigliacelli heroics also saved the point for Palermo on more than one occasion. Despite some early season hiccups, the Rosanero keeper has been instrumental to the team’s success.
After two draws, Palermo would get their third consecutive positive result – and a big one at that. Playing a club with promotion expectations in Cagliari coached by another familiar face in ex-Palermo man Fabio Liverani, the Rosanero put in one of their best performances on the season (and on the same day and nearly the same time as a World Cup final at that…). Brunori got another monkey off his back when Palermo were awarded a penalty in the 37th minute after Leo Stulac was tripped in the box by Nahitan Nandez. This time, Brunori chose to shoot left while the Cagliari keeper dove to his right. Shortly after the break, the Rosanero would double their lead when Segre would head home a corner swung in by Stulac (the second time the pair have connected on a corner!). Di Mariano should have made it three but once again, his sliding effort from a cross went straight at the keeper. He’s been a tenacious and tireless player for Palermo – if he finds a way to bury more of his chances, watch out! Cagliari would pull one back deep into stoppage time thanks to Leonardo Pavoletti but it wouldn’t matter. All three points would go to the Rosanero and they’d move out of danger and into 11th place.
So, what do we know about the season so far? Matteo Brunori is the pacesetter for the club. Not only is he joint top scorer in Serie B right now with 9 goals, he’s also responsible for 17 of Palermo’s 23 points on the season. To get that figure, just look at how often Brunori has been the difference maker for a positive Rosanero result whether it’s from a goal he scored or from an assist (he has three assists). The only matches where Brunori did not have a hand in the result amounted to six total points: a 1-1 draw against Bari where Nicola Valente scored, goalless draws against Cittadella and Como and Ivan Marconi‘s winner in a 1-0 win over Parma.
Brunori has literally scored half of the club’s 18 goals so far. Let me state that again: Matteo Brunori is responsible for 50% of the goals Palermo have scored in the 2022-23 Serie B season. The second best mark in the league is 38% from Cittadella’s Mirko Antenucci – but that’s just five goals of the club’s paltry 13 on the season (they have the worst offense in the league). Clearly, Brunori has been a godsend for the Rosanero and the decision to buy him outright from Juventus coupled with the amount they spent for him was priceless. However, it is unrealistic to expect this torrid pace to continue. If Palermo want to aim for the playoff positions, they will need to have others share in the burden of scoring goals. Finally, Brunori was rewarded with call up to the Italian national team just this week because of his exploits this year. His 34 goals in 2022 are the most of any Italian anywhere and he got the opportunity to showcase his sense for goal in front of Roberto Mancini in a series of in-house training sessions at Coverciano. While he looks to impress with Gli Azzurri, with Palermo it’s Brunori or bust!