In analysing Bologna’s home defeat to Cesena last weekend, the closing statement on Rai’s long-running highlights show Novantesimo Minuto hinted at the ‘unpopular choices’ facing Stefano Pioli.
Specifically, in light of entering his first crisis as Bologna Coach – the club’s second of the season – debate is surprisingly centred on Marco Di Vaio’s place in the team. It is reasoned that such is the current form of the team’s top scorer from each of the past three Serie A campaigns, he is at risk of losing his place in the first XI to necessitate Pioli’s search for goals.
Di Vaio’s decline is remarkable, both in terms of its longevity and its sharp contrast to his previous work in Emilia-Romagna. From 2008-09 to 2010-11, Di Vaio accounted for 46 per cent of Bologna’s League goals – nobody was within 20 goals of his 2008-09 League total or within 15 goals of his 2010-11 tally. His goals have directly earned the team 47 of their 121 League points from the last three years, more than accounting for the difference between relegation and the team’s positions of 17th, 17th and 16th.
However, in a run stretching back to the end of last season, Di Vaio has returned just one goal from 18 appearances and that was a penalty. With just one assist to his name over the same period, and as statistics speak of a team to have failed to score from open in play in seven of their 11 League games this term, critics are rounding on the significance of Di Vaio’s current inability to otherwise influence play.
Hypotheses for the decline centre on training and tactics. Pierpaolo Bisoli’s heavier sessions were reportedly harder on the older members of the squad. Also Robert Acquafresca’s arrival is being argued as the first instance that Di Vaio finds himself playing more as a seconda punta than a prima punta. Indeed, statistical data mapping the player’s average position on the pitch in each of his seasons at the club highlights, that in 2011-12, he is occupying the penalty area to a far lesser extent. Conceivably as a result of this, he is also averaging fewer shots per game than ever before.
Perhaps most unfortunate from the captain’s perspective is that the decline in form corresponds with the emergence of his role in claiming disabled parking permits for himself and his teammates last season. That scandal broke in mid-April and resulted in Di Vaio handing back the Nettuno d’Oro awarded to him just three days prior for ‘model citizenship’. Whilst not directly linked, the fact the first hit on his public image immediately preceded this run might explain why debate is more open on his previously untouchable status in the first XI.
Reports have for a few weeks been theorising that Pioli is interested in shifting from a 4-3-1-2 formation to a 4-3-2-1. However, where Alessandro Diamanti’s introduction alongside Gaston Ramirez was previously seen to be at the expense of Acquafresca, suggestions are that Di Vaio’s form is changing consideration.
Importantly at this stage of proceedings though, Di Vaio can count on both his Coach and club’s faith. Where Pioli has dismissed talk of dropping him as merely ‘bar talk’, reports are indicating that the club are actually considering changing the supporting cast in attack, with the likes of Amauri taking consideration.
In sourcing players with the same style as previous colleagues Adailton and Riccardo Meggiorini that Di Vaio has had most success playing alongside at the Renato Dall’Ara, it suggests that whilst doubts are rising over the striker’s worth, the club that he has shown great loyalty and service to is keen to now return the favour.