With just 10 minutes left to go in their game against Udinese, Lecce were looking set to be relegated to Serie B after just one season back in the top flight. It didn’t matter that the team directly above them, Genoa, were getting a 5-0 beating at Sassuolo. The full three points was the minimum if Lecce were to stand any chance of avoiding relegation, and with 80 minutes on the clock, they were drawing 1-1.
Then, in the 81st minute, Lecce put themselves into the lead through Gianluca Lapadula. The Giallorossi faithful would have no doubt been in raptures had they been at the Dacia Arena. Fabio Liverani’s side would hold on to that lead to take the battle for 17th place to the final game of the season.
As it stands, the situation is this: SPAL and Brescia are down, while Lecce are 18th with 35 points and Genoa are 17th with 36 points. Because Genoa have a better head-to-head record, that means if they finish level, the Grifone will stay up.
It’s still in Genoa’s hands, as if Davide Nicola’s men win against Hellas Verona, then they are safe. If they draw or lose and Lecce get the victory against Parma, it’ll send the fallen giants into Serie B.
It will be remarkable if Lecce do manage to stay up, considering they have conceded a whopping 81 goals in 37 rounds. In a season that has been dominated by attack-minded teams and with even Scudetto winners Juventus leaking 40 goals, it would be only fitting for the Salentini to stay up.
Fabio Liverani deserves credit for sticking to his tactical guns, never trying to play it safe or excessively defensive, to scrape draws here and there or put up the barricades against the big clubs. It worked, because they got impressive draws against Juventus and Inter, beating Napoli and Lazio. They’re still fighting because Lecce are pro-active and closer in spirit to Sassuolo than SPAL, more Hellas Verona than Chievo. They would already have been in front had it not been for this passionate pursuit of victory, coming back from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 at Bologna, then losing in stoppages on the counter-attack against 10 men.
It would also be amazing to see two of the newly-promoted teams survive in Serie A, because Verona have spent most of the campaign comfortably mid-table, whereas only Brescia are guaranteed the drop – and it was the Rondinelle who won the Serie B title last term.
The only thing standing between Lecce and top flight confirmation is Genoa, a team who have been here before and seemingly learned no lessons. Just last season, they only stayed up because they had a better head-to-head record over relegated Empoli. It has been yet another turbulent year for Il Grifone, with three managerial changes and a failure to string together a decent run of form. Aurelio Andreazzoli was an intriguing choice for coach, quickly shelved for the bizarre decision to bring in Thiago Motta from the PSG youth academy, then finally acknowledging this was a relegation battle and hiring the specialist in miracles, ex-Crotone boss Davide Nicola, as well as completely transforming the squad in the January transfer market. If most teams have had two seasons in one due to the lockdown, Genoa have had about four.
When Genoa beat Lecce 2-1 in a chaotic match, with Marco Mancosu missing a penalty, it seemed as if the die had been cast. However, a glance at the fixture list showed the Marassi outfit had a much tougher run-in and that has proved to be the case.
Genoa and Lecce’s fates will be decided on the last day of the season. Lecce are at home to Parma and would fancy themselves to get a result against a team who have lost seven out of 12 games played since the restart. Meanwhile, Genoa will face Hellas Verona, a side who were promoted along with Brescia and Lecce, yet have spent the whole season comfortably mid-table.
There’s another twist in the tale, because Verona’s coach is former Genoa player and tactician Ivan Juric. The man who wept during a press conference in 2018 when he feared that he wouldn’t be able to steer his beloved club away from the drop zone. He spent the final four years of his playing career at Marassi and returns here knowing he could be responsible for sending Genoa into the ignominy of Serie B.