8th; W15 D11 L12
It could've been a depressing season for Catania. Almost immediately after last season ended, Fiorentina swooped in and snatched up Vincenzo Montella, the man who had them playing lovely (if spastically defensive) football and leading them to an 11th placed finish. But the elefanti tempted Rolando Maran away from Varese after he'd guided them to a playoff berth -- and under Maran, Catania managed to secure eighth place, a feat they've accomplished only twice previously, and not in the past forty years.
The rossazzurri accomplished such a feat without making dramatic changes to their squad. Despite a lack of new bodies at the back, Maran made sure his side greatly reduced their defensive errors, conceding just 46 goals this season and keeping a clean sheet 13 times. The new coach kept Montalla's fluid attack but improved it, adding Lucas Castro to play behind Gonzalo Bergessio, and very nearly doubling Bergessio's goal tally from last season.
Most significant match
Catania 2-3 Inter Milan (3 March 2013)
Prior to Round 27, Catania could boast of being tied for sixth with Fiorentina, just two points behind Inter and three behind AC Milan, in fourth. A win would've put them in the European positions and given them confidence for the next round, against Juventus in Turin. And it seemed as though the rossazzurri were going to pull off all three points: Bergessio and Giovanni Marchese gave Catania a 2-0 advantage before twenty minutes were up. But Ricky Alvarez scored after the break and Rodrigo Palacio came off the bench to bag two more. The loss signaled the beginning of the end of the European dream for Maran's men, as for the rest of the season, Catania were only able to notch wins over Udinese and soon-to-be relegated sides Pescara and Siena.
Brought in from Argentine side Racing Club, it was uncertain how Castro would do, even if he was joining Italy's version of Little Argentina. Maran used Castro primarily as a substitute in the first half of the season, but after the winter break, he converted the winger to a more central position. Castro moved to the central position in what became Maran's favored formation, a 4-2-3-1. Playing behind Bergessio and alongside Alejandro Gómez and Pablo Barrientos, Castro was able to shine, becoming an integral part of the attack and even scoring four of his own.
The Sicilian Derbies
Despite Palermo's utter ineptitude this season, Catania failed to snatch more than a point from the Sicilian derbies. The first came in November, with the rosanero floundering, having won just twice since the start of the season. Certainly no one expected that Palermo would score three, with Catania reduced to just a consolation goal from Francesco Lodi. Then in April, the elefanti were denied three crucial points when Josip Ilicic scored the equalizer in the final play of the match. It really doesn't matter if you finish eighth while your rivals are relegated -- if you can't win the derbies, the glow of the season is tarnished.
What needs changing?
Not a whole lot -- provided Catania are content with remaining just outside the European positions. If the core of the squad remains intact and Maran stays at the helm (and there's really nothing to suggest he won't stay on), Catania will stay in the top half of the table. But if the rossazzurri really want one of the five European slots allocated to Serie A, they'll need to upgrade. Center back Nicolás Spolli is getting up there in years, and worse, has become a bit of a liability. Sergio Almirón, too. But mostly, the Catania bench needs reinforcing -- one injury to a regular starter and the team's system falls apart.
Who's off in the summer?
It's likely Alejandro Gómez won't return to Catania. The latest rumors have Atlético Madrid in the hunt for the forward, with Diego Simone having already coached him at both Catania and San Lorenzo.
It also seems Fiorentina have their eye on Francesco Lodi, whose fantastic free kicks might make up for the fact that David Pizarro wants a move away from the Viola. But Catania are well aware of the worth of Lodi and probably would like to convince him to stick around for at least another season.
If Catania could keep one individual...
Last summer, Antonio Pulvirenti pretty much sold up on his airline, WindJet, in order to fund a new contract for Barrientos. Whether that was a genuine attempt to keep the Argentine or simply to ensure he didn't leave on a free in 2013 is unclear, but Pitu certainly adds value to the elefanti. The numbers don't reflect his true worth, as Barrientos has just five goals and five assists from 30 starts. But having Barrientos in the attack is what makes Gómez able to shine, as he's the player who's able to create something out of absolutely nothing.
Plus, the man looks like he'd up and bite you at any moment, with the added bonus that he's never actually done such a thing. In a football match, anyway.