Stefano Pioli’s red-hot Inter travel to Sicily this weekend, taking on Palermo at the Stadio Renzo Barbera.
On Sunday afternoon in Italy, Palermo play host to arguably the most dangerous club on the peninsula at the moment — Stefano Pioli’s Inter. The two sides couldn’t be heading in more opposite directions as Round 21 of the latest Serie A season approaches.
Palermo: Form LLDWL
After barely avoiding relegation last year, the Rosanero are a shoe-in for the drop. As it stands, Eugenio Corini’s Palermo sit 18th in the table on 10 points. In pre-season, and after a fair assessment of their squad, few thought the Sicilians could escape relegation for the second straight season. President Maurizio Zamparini failed to invest back into the club after selling stars Paulo Dybala and Franco Vazquez the previous two summers. It also doesn’t help when a new manager is sacked, then appointed, every few months.
On the pitch, Palermo wear the label as the second worst defensive side in terms of goals surrendered, leaking in 40. Oddly enough, only Cagliari has allowed more (44), yet they sit mid-table. Palermo do however hold the worst goal differential in the top-flight (-23). On the season, The Aquile have only two wins — against Atalanta and Genoa.
On Sunday at the Barbera, only an A+ performance would be enough to cool Inter who are in their best form of the season.
Inter: Form WWWWW
While critics of the Milanese club felt the sacking of de Boer was a bit premature, the decision to make the change and stop the bleeding has paid off tremendously. Since former Lazio boss Stefano Pioli replaced Frank de Boer on the Inter bench, it’s hard to argue against the Nerazzurri being the hottest club in the Serie A. The product on the pitch is much more exciting, and the style of football flows freely.
Through the trials and tribulations earlier in the season, captain Mauro Icardi continued to prove his excellence as a world-class striker. It was those around him who needed to step up. During Inter’s solid run, the Argentinian has been supported by a rejuvenated Ivan Perisic who is performing at an elite level, having tallied 3 goals in his last two matches.
The clubs’ second-leading scorer is in fine form, which spells disaster for a poor Palermo back three.
Projected Line-ups (according to La Gazzetta dello Sport)
Palermo XI (3-4-3): Posavec; Vitiello, Gonzalez, Goldaniga; Rispoli, Henrique, Jajalo, Pezzella; Embalo, Nestorovski, Quaison
Inter XI (4-2-3-1): Handanovic; D’Ambrosio, Murillo, Miranda, Ansaldi; Gagliardini, Kondogbia; Candreva, Joao Mario, Perisic; Icardi
Mario Gagliardini: Inter’s newest addition dazzled in his debut last weekend v Chievo, showcasing his tactical versatility to fit firmly inside multiple formations. Gagliardini played in the double-pivot with Geoffrey Kondogbia, shielding the back-four and breaking up play with two tackles. His passes were crisp and although still adapting to Pioli’s 4-2-3-1, it looked as if the young Italian had been playing with the club for months.
The 22-year old will get the nod once again next to Kondogbia this weekend, a nightmarish scenario for Palermo. Expect Icardi to be fed plenty of chances from the Azzurri international as he looks to justify his lofty transfer fee with another solid outing.
Ilija Nestorovski: Let’s face it. Palermo has enjoyed — with heavy emphasis — few bright spots in 2016-17; the Macedonian striker has been one of them. Nestorovski has scored 7 of 17 total goals the club has to their name, a statistic which validates the lack of quality up and down the pitch. Even further, the 26-year old has managed three assists, meaning he’s had a direct involvement in 58% of the goal output.
If Palermo have any hopes of playing spoiler in front of their home crowd, they’ll need their starting number nine to make the most of any, and every, chance that comes his way.
Prior to taking the seat as manager of the former treble winners, Inter’s chances as Europe seemed like a pipe dream. Since Pioli’s appointment, supporters can now be hopeful in a top three finish. As the table stands, the resurgent Nerazzurri sit 6th in the table on 36 points — one peg off rivals AC Milan. If we are on the conversation of Champions League football, a five point gap is all that stands between them and Napoli. Sunday’s fixture v Palermo can be considered, by many, a must-win given the quality of opponent if they so wish to stay on top of their league adversaries.
The beat goes on for Inter this weekend, keeping pace with the pack. 2-0 in favour of the black and blue.