Inter appeared crestfallen. Defensive blunders aided Gonzalo Bergessio and Giovanni Marchese, placing Catania in a dominant position as the teams entered the dressing rooms at half-time. Plenty for Andrea Stramaccioni to ponder. He made two changes – Dejan Stankovic replacing Zdravko Kuzmanovic, plus the match-winning switch, the ineffective Tommaso Rocchi making way for Rodrigo Palacio.
What a substitution it proved to be. One assist and two Palacio goals later, Inter left Sicily with maximum points and a renewed sense of vigour. As the Coach alluded, few would have given them a snowball’s chance in hell 45 minutes in. “I don’t know how many people would’ve bet on us winning at half-time…”
It continued a fine debut Nerazzurri season for the ex-Genoa striker. Having spent three years at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris – he exploded last term with 19 goals in 32 games – Palacio made a €10.5m move to Inter. One met with scepticism as the Beneamata, hellbent on revitalising the team, signed a seasoned campaigner who had never featured for a top European club.
Not always a regular starter given the presence of Diego Milito and Antonio Cassano, Palacio settled in quickly to net seven domestic goals before his compatriot suffered a terrible, season ending injury. Five Europa League goals has the rat-tailed striker just behind Edinson Cavani in the leading scorers list. Palacio has even shown his capabilities as a goalkeeper!
He suits Stramaccioni’s counter-attacking style and is versatile enough to play anywhere across the forward line. This gives the boss numerous options, currently needed because of the limited numbers in attack. Palacio’s ability to find space, combine with teammates and finish chances is also well noted.
Given Il Principe’s injury blow came just after the January transfer window slammed shut, Inter were thrown into a frenzy. Ruud Van Nistelrooy was discussed. John Carew came and went. They were desperate. When news broke of Stramaccioni and Antonio Cassano’s heated argument which nearly morphed from verbal to physical, the Bari native was left out of the squad for Catania. Travelling to the Stadio Angelo Massimino is a daunting prospect at the best of times, but looked downright terrifying given Catania’s season to date and Inter’s injury concerns. The latest Cassanata was the last thing they needed.
Rocchi started but offered little, with Inter battered throughout the opening half. On came Palacio and so began the comeback. He burst past Alexis Rolin to cross for Ricky Alvarez. The much-maligned Argentine glanced his header home. Then Alvaro Pereira crossed and the rat-tail flapped in the clear sky as Palacio nodded truly past Mariano Andujar with 20 minutes remaining. As the game entered injury time Palacio struck the final hammer blow to Elefantini hearts by converting Esteban Cambiasso’s cutback from close range.
It was all in a day’s work for the 31-year-old. “I'll continue working as I always do,” Palacio stated. “The Catania win? It was really important. It was a tricky match but we did it. We once again played badly in the first half and well in the second. But what's important is that the team played well. Now we’ll try to continue in this vein.”
The brace took the Argentine international to nine Serie A goals, equal with Milito, the man many feel Inter are greatly missing. Cassano has returned to the squad for the Europa League clash with Tottenham, but one wonders what the Stramaccioni altercation has done to his temperament and standing within the squad.
Now that Milito is sat on the couch watching from afar, the Nerazzurri need an attacking leader and regular scorer. Cassano has shown he cannot be that leader. Perhaps after Sunday’s showing Palacio can take Milito’s mantle for the rest of the campaign.