Stefano Pioli can return to Palermo this weekend with his head held high after a remarkable start at Bologna. Rob Paton explains.
This weekend sees Stefano Pioli return to Palermo for the first time since his unceremonious coaching spell with the Rosanero just two months ago.
Importantly, though, where focus has been pressed in the media on both Maurizio Zamparini and Pioli to discuss nothing more than the Coach's 61-day pre-season stint in Sicily, Pioli's efforts since returning to work ensure eyes are also looking at on-pitch matters.
Indeed, since taking the reigns at Bologna in early October, the 46-year-old former Sassuolo Coach has almost immediately recovered his reputation as one of the peninsula's up-and-coming tacticians.
With the Emilia-Romagna outfit registering just one point from five played and visibly struggling on the pitch for confidence and a finishing touch in attack, Pioli's arrival has seen a remarkable turnaround in confidence and form.
His debut on the Rossoblu bench in Week 7 saw the team net not only their first goals of the season from open play in a smash-and-grab performance at Novara, but their first League win for over seven months. More importantly, recent wins over Pioli's former team Chievo and then Atalanta have seen the Felsinei slip past both in the League standings to reassert an advantage in the early stages of the relegation battle.
The win last weekend over the Orobici was also the team's first home win in eight-and-a-half months, it saw Marco Di Vaio manage to break his 16-game goalless run and completed the club's first back-to-back wins in almost a year. In short, Pioli has restored competitiveness to the team.
Pioli is credited primarily with settling a dressing room that had begun to openly spar in public under Pierpaolo Bisoli. Defenders could be heard in Press conferences saying the only problem is in attack, attackers would respond by saying the team's defence was too vulnerable. Under Pioli, the sense is of a more united squad.
The Coach has also looked to maintain consistency in tactics, choosing to reintroduce the 4-3-1-2 shape that has served the squad in recent years. Importantly though, Pioli has chosen to centralise attacking moves through Gaston Ramirez by placing the Uruguayan in the sole trequartista role. Previously facing criticism for reported want-away behaviour in pre-season and inconsistent form under Bisoli, the 20-year-old has responded with two goals and two assists in the four games under Pioli.
For his early impression, the local Press talk of Pioli immediately distinguishing himself from Franco Colomba, Alberto Malesani and Bisoli before him. In fact, statistically, whilst only five games into his spell, a win in Week 11 would separate Pioli from every previous Bologna Coach in Serie A stretching back two decades. From the team's first campaign back in the top flight in 1996-97 since bankruptcy and re-formation in 1993, no Rossoblu Coach has managed three away wins in a row in Serie A.
It is with irony then that his chance to make a small bit of history at his new club and further restore his reputation comes against Palermo. More importantly than the result this weekend though, Pioli's return to Palermo is as that of a Coach with a reputation restored. For the way he left Sicily, that is perhaps the best way to come back.