Our Serie A previews continue with Palermo, written by a true rosanero expert, Lorenzo Vicini. Lorenzo is the force behind Palermo Offside, and can also be found dispensing his knowledge of the Sicilian side at Serie A Weekly and Mediagol. The latest news and amusing rants can be found on his Twitter account.
Palermo already can scratch one of their objectives off the list for the 2011-2012 season. After sensationally crashing out of the Europa League against small Swiss side FC Thun, the Rosanero have immediately started off on the wrong foot in a new era. With the European campaign done and dusted, Palermo will shift its attention to their other two goals: securing a spot as high up the table as possible and winning the Coppa Italia.
Palermo in 2010-2011
Expectations were high after narrowly missing out on Champions League football in 2009. With an early exit from the Europa League after failing to advance out of the group stages, Palermo focused primarily on the league and the Coppa Italia. Unfortunately, a disastrous run of results starting in February saw the Rosanero fall out of contention for Champions League spots and led to Delio Rossi being sacked. One month later, Rossi was brought back on board as the club set its sights on the Coppa Italia. Palermo made it to the final after knocking off Milan in the semis, but ultimately lost out on silverware to Inter 3-1 in front of 40,000 Rosanero fans who made the trip to Rome. Palermo finished in 8th place, but qualified for the Europa League via the Coppa.
Club president Zamparini did himself no favors in the face of those supporters who claim he runs the team like one of his supermarkets. After all, the club sold its most prized possession in Javier Pastore to French side Paris St. Germain for a record €43 million. While the loss of El Flaco was expected, the deal that paved the way for the Argentine's move was unexpected by everyone. Palermo sold current Italian international goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu to the French team only a week before. With two of the biggest names headlining the departures list, Palermo has been very active with player sales. Other familiar faces leaving the club are Cesare Bovo (Fiorentina), Dorin Goian (Rangers), Moris Carrozzieri (Atalanta), Jasmin Kurtić (Varese), Pajtim Kasami (Fulham) and Matteo Darmian (Torino). With a few weeks still left, one or two players still may be on the way out.
Surprisingly, despite disappointment about the lack of "big names" joining, Palermo has been very active on the transfer market. While many of the arrivals have been brought in to bolster the Primavera, Sogliano made the defense a priority. Andrea Mantovani, a Pioli pupil from his days at Chievo, and Matias Silvestre, who captained rivals Catania, are the biggest reinforcements to a defense that operated like a sieve last season. The defensive purchases didn't stop there, however, as the Rosanero added Mauro Cetto (Toulouse), Eros Pisano (Varese), Luca Di Matteo (Vicenza) and winter signings Carlos Labrin and Milan Milanović - even if the latter two may still be loaned out. The lamentation of a big name is evident but Palermo can count on two potential purchases that have shown promise during the preseason: Eran Zahavi, an attacking midfielder from Hapoel in Israel and promising striker Pablo Gonzalez who helped lead Novara to Serie A promotion. The club still is frantically searching for a Sirigu replacement, although all signs point towards Pioli's goalkeeper from Chievo, Stefano Sorrentino.
What to Expect from 2011-2012
Uncertainty surrounds the club with a whole host of new faces at the top. Zamparini had to start from scratch after the departures of the club's previous leaders. From new sporting director Sean Sogliano to new coach Stefano Pioli, the question is whether or not Palermo can ride the success paved by their predecessors, Walter Sabatini and Delio Rossi.
Stefano Pioli was brought on specifically for his defensive prowess and it is in that area where the club must improve if it wants to aim for lofty objectives. With a brand new back line and the likelihood of a new system and style of play, it will most likely take time for the club to adjust as the early exit from the Europa League can already attest to. Patience is the operative word, but with a firebrand for a president, Pioli knows he must deliver results immediately if he wants to stay on the Palermo bench. To make things even more difficult, the ex-Chievo boss must deal with the standard set by beloved ex-mister, Delio Rossi.
Easing the loss of Javier Pastore was having a ready replacement already in the wings. The Rosanero will be counting on Josip Iličić to take up the mantle left behind by the Argentine. Last season, the pair formed a magical duo of thrills and skills in Delio Rossi's system. Now, Pioli is hoping the Slovenian can carry the burden whether it's alone in a sole trequartista system or alongside another attacking midfielder. It will be a true test for the kid entering his second Serie A season but Palermo will need him to succeed.
Matias Silvestre must prove that he was worth the price tag that Palermo spent in order to shore up the back line. Whether it's alongside Cetto or Mantovani, the Argentine must exhibit all the positive qualities of the defensive leader he was during his time at Catania.
Up front, Abel Hernandez will want to make sure last season's disappointment due to injuries is behind him. The young Uruguayan boasts excellent pace and is deadly in front of goal. He'll be vying for playing time along two others who are hungry for goals. Mauricio Pinilla has all the characteristics to be a big-time striker, the only thing holding him back is his fragile physical state. Meanwhile, team captain Fabrizio Miccoli wants to reestablish himself as Palermo's best scoring option after coming off a year that saw him on the sideline with only spot appearances throughout.
Potential Breakout Star
Much attention will be focused on the Slovenian sensation, Josip Iličić, but it is newcomer Eran Zahavi who could turn out to be the biggest surprise. Secured for a paltry €1.7 million, the Israeli can claim one of the best goals of the past Champions League campaign to his name with his bicycle kick goal against Lyon: