Four points from four matches does not make for breathtaking reading. For a Coach stepping into the Stadio Renzo Barbera hotbed – where Maurizio Zamparini changes tacticians like he does shirts – it is not an ideal haul. Yet while Gian Piero Gasperini started his reign in Sicily with consecutive single-goal defeats, over the past fortnight the fruits of his labour are slowly being realised.
Upon his return to the Stadio Luigi Ferraris last Saturday – the man who acquired the nickname ‘Gasperon’ for his Sir Alex Ferguson-like desire to control every aspect of the Rossoblu team – was given a warm welcome. It is a lesson for the Palermo chief – with time Gasperini can take the team forward. He proved as much with the Grifoni, lifting them from Serie B to Europe.
Gasperini’s first order of business was to switch to his favoured three-man defence with hardworking wing-backs. In Genoa, Gasp’s men showed inklings of what to expect. Palermo looked a dangerous proposition. They did not play to recent away form, which included three losses and no goals. In a 3-4-2-1 formation, Luigi Giorgi opened the scoring following good work from Santiago Garcia. The Argentine and fellow wing-back Michel Morganella have been regular fixtures under Gasperini and were constant attacking outlets, plus reliable defensively.
If there was a malaise surrounding Fabrizio Miccoli after a difficult summer, he showed his best against Chievo in Week 6 when leading the attack. His hat-trick was sumptuous. It came complete with a curled free-kick, solo effort and that 50 metre volley. Following a slow start, it is the Miccoli which Gasperini wants and needs.
Josip Ilicic was another to struggle under Giuseppe Sannino. He was not suited to the ex-Siena tactician’s 4-4-2. For Gasperini he operates just behind the main striker. The Coach believes the Slovenian is crucial. “Ilicic has great quality and can be decisive, he just needs more confidence. I only substituted him because I wanted to change system in the closing stages.”
Another Gasperini switch was to have Massimo Donati operate in the centre of the three-man backline. It is primarily a move to capitalise on Donati’s ability with the ball. Only Edgar Barreto and Arevalo Rios completed more passes in Genoa. Yet with such a switch comes adjustment. Donati was at fault for the equaliser, not tracking or challenging Marco Borriello. Nonetheless, Gasperini is backing the player to succeed. “I am convinced even a pure defender would’ve made the same mistakes. Donati is crucial for us. Playing from the back allows us to build moves with a different quality.”
While noting their improvement going forward, the Coach wants to see Palermo move the ball quicker. “We did very well in the opening half-hour, but instead of adding to the pressure we opted to keep possession. That allowed Genoa back into the game and the second half was balanced.”
Given the summer transfer campaign was tailored towards Sannino, Gasperini will use the upcoming January window to make changes. CEO Pietro Lo Monaco is already looking ahead to the new year. “All I can say is that Palermo will become more competitive.” For now the former Inter boss must work with the squad at his disposal.
Gasperini – like those before him – must be aware of the ominous shadow of Zamparini lurking over his shoulder. Sannino felt his wrath even after the President declared they were in it for the long haul. Gasp is no stranger to instability and trigger-happy leaders after his years at Genoa. “Enrico Preziosi was a President who changed a lot too, but I convinced him.” Already covering his tracks, Gasperini has a compensation clause in his contract should he face the – seemingly – inevitable. His first aim will be to make sure he at least enjoys this year’s Panettone. Then, Gasperini hopes to further leave his mark on Palermo.