After drawing 2-2 in the first leg in Palermo, the Rosanero made the trip to Switzerland knowing that they would need a win against FC Thun in order to guarantee a spot in the next round of the Europa League. The club was hoping to avoid another repeat of the Mladá Boleslav debacle from a few years earlier when Palermo crashed out very early in the UEFA Cup against the minnows from the Czech Republic. Yet, the memories from the past would resurface once again, signalling the earliest exit from the Europa League by any Italian club.
Pioli relied on the formation he employed in the first leg, with several slight variations. The three man defense returned once again along with a four man midfield; however, the Palermo boss opted for an attack featuring two strikers with only one trequartista behind them. The real surprises, though, were the additions and subtractions to the lineup: Nocerino was benched in favor of Acquah and Gonzalez was inserted into the attack while Zahavi went to the bench.
Despite a shaky start, Palermo had several chances to take the lead but failed to do so. The Swiss also tested the Rosanero resolve on numerous occasions but were repelled each time. As the first half came to an end, the scoreline was even at null-null.
In the second half, Palermo broke through with a lovely goal from newcomer Pablo Gonzalez. A perfectly angled daisy cutter off of a deflected Miccoli shot put the Sicilians ahead and momentarily through to the next round. Yet, Pioli’s side were let down once again by their defense on a counter attack just 2o minutes later. Poor defending and even worse marking allowed Thun to draw level. The scoreline would not change for the remainder of the match and Thun would advance by virtue of the away goals rule. Palermo was shockingly out of the Europa League at the first turn.
Ultimately, Palermo suffered at the hands of an opponent that was less talented but more prepared than their counterparts. Thun had begun their season already and sat atop the Swiss Super League while Palermo had just finished a month’s worth of preseason training. Excuses aside, the two-legged affair proved that the club still had plenty of work to do – especially in learning the new formation.
Perhaps even more shocking than the exit was club president Maurizio Zamparini’s response. The fiery patron actually called for patience for Pioli and his players in what can only be seen as a rare display of reason and calm. With the recent sales of Pastore and Sirigu fresh on the books for a lovely sum of 47 million Euro, Zamparini promised more signings to bolster the squad.
One of those purchases came from across the island. The arrival of center back Matias Silvestre from rivals Catania will ultimately help out the back line even further. The Argentine was one of Serie A’s best in the past season and was sought after by some of the bigger clubs in the league. Yet, Palermo was able to beat everyone else out for his signature. The deal was completed for 7.3 million Euro and was said to be aided by the previous loan deal that sent Davide Lanzafame to Catania.
With Silvestre on board, long time Rosanero center half Cesare Bovo looks set to leave the Sicilian capitol. The impending departure will likely be met with mixed feelings as the Palermo defender had a knack for putting together a string of brilliant performances but also committing horrendous errors. As a result, the Rosanero defense will have endured a complete makeover ahead of the Serie A season.
The number one priority for Palermo still remains the search for a quality goalkeeper. The loss of Sirigu meant that Francesco Benussi became the starter while the previously frozen out Rubinho was reintegrated into the squad. Even though Benussi represents a sure-handed option, the veteran does not provide the type of quality that Palermo are ultimately seeking after losing an Italian international. With the Rosanero on the lookout for a replacement, the most likely option seems to be Pioli’s old goalkeeper Stefano Sorrentino. The Chievo man was excellent last term and was chosen as the best Italian goalkeeper in Serie A, beating out the likes of Abbiati, Viviano, Buffon and Sirigu.
As Palermo embark on the last month of training before the season begins, Pioli knows that his leash will be even shorter now that the club’s sole focus is on domestic competition. With a fan base that is already disappointed with the results so far and even more so by the dealings in the transfer market, Pioli is hoping that he can change those minds once the season starts. Stefano Pioli has undertaken a new adventure on what is the biggest stage of his career to date, now he must prove he is ready for the challenge.