Newly promoted, and after a hectic pre-season, Greg Murray asks can Hellas Verona beat the drop?
Despite their promotion, Hellas Verona’s pre-season preparations have been largely overshadowed by the Antonio Cassano show coming to town.
Fan’s excitement over the reunited Cassano-Pazzini partnership soon turned to anger and disappointment when the former Madrid player retired twice within the space of a week, before cancelling his contract with the Gialloblu. However, with this saga finally over, it’s imperative that Coach Fabio Pecchia puts this wasted month behind him and finalises preparations for the new season.
As his pursuit of FantAntonio suggests, the tactician’s primary concern seems to be scoring goals. Although the Mastini boasted the second most prolific attack in Serie B, this gives no guarantees in the top tier, especially given Giampaolo Pazzini’s recent struggles at the highest level. In his last three seasons in Serie A, ‘Il Pazzo’ has only notched 12 goals, including just six in 30 appearances for Verona in 2015-16. That term, the Scaligeri went 23 games without a win, dooming them to relegation.
To make matters worse, last season Pecchia’s side relied heavily on Pazzini, who provided over a third of their total goal tally. The Gialloblu’s second highest goalscorer was Daniel Bessa on eight, with second choice striker Davide Luppi managing just six.
In order to avoid a repeat of Verona’s 2015-16 disaster, Pecchia has brought in Alessio Cerci from Atletico Madrid. Much like Cassano, the former Torino man is looking to redeem himself, having suffered a dramatic loss of form since leaving the Granata three seasons ago. Cerci will likely occupy the right flank if I Butei retain their 4-3-3 formation, although he enjoyed his most prolific season as a second striker, giving Pecchia the option of a tactical reshuffle.
It’s not just the forward positions that Pecchia has looked to strengthen over the summer. Goalkeeper Marco Silvestri has been brought in from Leeds United, providing vital competition for Nicolas, who started every single league match last season. The defence has also been heavily reinforced with centre-backs Thomas Heurtaux and Martin Caceres, alongside Nicolò Cherubin on a permanent transfer from Bologna.
In midfield, former loans Marco Fossati and Bruno Zuculini have made their moves permanent, whilst Marcel Büchel and Daniele Verde have arrived on loan themselves. Pecchia has done well to raise the quality of his squad to Serie A standard on a shoestring budget.
Although rarely an accurate predictor, the pre-season friendlies will have proved happy viewing for Verona fans, and evidence that the new arrivals have integrated well. Verona’s first match saw a Cerci double in a 15-0 win against a local side, in which Verde also scored his first goal for the club. The Roma talent followed this up with a stylish assist in his second appearance in a Gialloblu shirt, in a 4-0 victory over Triestina.
If these friendlies and the following 1-0 win against Sampdoria are anything to go by, Pecchia has found a solution to his goal-scoring problem. All that’s left to be seen is whether he can keep this up come the start of the season.
Having to rely heavily on loan moves to make up for a lack of funding, Hellas Verona’s number one priority will be consolidating their place in Serie A. With their large fan-base, a few early wins should provide the confidence and momentum needed to stave off relegation. It’s Fabio Pecchia’s first season in the top flight, so the experience of veterans like Giampaolo Pazzini and Alessio Cerci can be valuable.
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