Italian Serie A News, Results, Analysis and Features on Football Soccer

Andrew Murray On February - 2 - 2012

Team of the Week: Lecce Supply the Shock of the Season

Lecce claimed only their fourth Serie A win of the season after a Guillermo Giacomazzi goal ended Inter Milan’s seven-game winning streak on Sunday. Lining-up in a 3-5-2 formation with new signings Manuele Blasi and Leonardo Miglionico thrown straight into the XI, Lecce produced one of the shocks of the season so far. Not even the returning Wesley Sneijder or on-form Diego Milito could halt the Salentini’s unlikely victory.

Inter should’ve been 1-0 up when Milito robbed Lecce ‘keeper Benassi of the ball in his own penalty area, but it was the home side who looked the most threatening in the early stages. Luis Muriel blazed through Walter Samuel and forced a save from Julio Cesar early-on, then flashed a pass across the six yard box moments later that nobody was on-hand to tap-in.

Slowly getting into the swing of things, the Nerazzurri forced a couple of excellent saves from Benassi and turned-up the heat. It was Lecce, however, who opened the scoring when Giacomazzi hammered home from Massimo Oddo’s cross. It could’ve been 2-0 moments later when Muriel popped-up again, forcing another Cesar save after David Di Michele’s deflected effort fell at his feet.

Lecce were restricted mostly to counter-attacks in the second-half. Ricky Alvarez came on for Sneijder and Inter had two goals ruled-out for offside, one for Cambiasso and one for Milito, but the Nerazzurri never really threatened from open play. Dead-ball after dead-ball was pumped into the Lecce box, but the Salentini held firm and would’ve snatched a second were it not for Cesar’s excellent save from Di Michele in the closing minutes.

The result sees Inter drop to fifth in Serie A after Lazio’s routine victory at Chievo. Lecce, meanwhile, are up to 18th in Serie A. Still three points from safety and 17th-placed Siena, the Salentini are a single point ahead of Cesena and lead bottom-dwellers Novara by four.

Eyebrows were raised when Serse Cosmi was chosen to replace Eusebio Di Francesco on December 4th, but Lecce’s decision appears to be paying dividends. Lecce were rock-bottom under Di Francesco and had taken just 8 points from their first 13 games. Cosmi has hardly revolutionised the club, but he’s already equalled his predecessor’s points total in just seven games.

It’s easy to understand the initial scepticism shown upon Cosmi’s appointment. The affable Perugian is one of calcio’s most colourful characters and a real cult hero, but there’s little on his resume to suggest him as a sensible Serie A appointment. He’s been relegated at Perugia and fired at Udinese, Brescia, Livorno and Palermo due to bad results (and Maurizio Zamparini’s madness). A modest track record, Cosmi’s Lecce are showing signs of progress.

Under Cosmi, the Salentini have risen from 20th to 18th. Not exactly a huge jump but they’re no longer adrift at the bottom and have increased their chances of survival exponentially. They’re undefeated in their last three games with wins against Inter and Fiorentina sandwiching a draw with Chievo, and have fixtures against fellow strugglers Siena, Cagliari and Bologna to look forward to shortly.

Lecce are hardly pulling-up trees, but these are the kind of incremental improvements you need to make to avoid relegation. The Salentini’s squad and resources meant they were always going to struggle this season but the Inter result shows that they’ve learned how to grind-out results against the league’s form teams.

Giacomazzi, Juan Cuadrado and Davide Brivio caught the eye on Sunday, but nobody excelled like Massimiliano Benassi. The ex-Perugia ‘keeper has displaced Julio Sergio as the club’s first-choice and repaid his manager with an outstanding showing on Sunday. Benassi recovered from an early mistake to pull-off save after save for Lecce, and the Salentini would surely have fallen if not for his heroics.

The backline also impressed. Oddo, Nenad Tomovic and Miglionico all had solid performances, limited Inter to just a handful of clear-cut chances and effectively nullifying the visitors’ play in the second-half. The three-man backline was instrumental in assuring Lecce’s first home victory of the season and the club’s leaky defence has solidified to record clean sheets in two of the Salentini’s last three games.

Further up the field, Lecce will look to new-boy Valeri Bojinov for goals. Di Michele has scored 5 in 12 and Moriel has impressed intermittently, but Bojinov is wilier player with a different set of attributes to unlock opposing defences. His career has been interrupted by a series of bad injuries, but the Sporting Lisbon loanee is still only 25 and should have plenty to offer. Back at the club where he made his name, Bojinov can kickstart his career and spearhead the Salentini’s survival push.

It’d be wrong not to mention the element of fortune in Sunday’s fixture. This wasn’t exactly a brilliant Lecce performance and yes, they were lucky at times. Inter dominated possession and shots on goal but couldn’t find a legitimate way past Benassi. Both shots that did get by the ‘keeper were rightly ruled offside.

This, however, is what smaller sides usually have to do to beat bigger teams. It’s unreasonable to expect a team like Lecce to go out and control Inter Milan, who’d looked unstoppable lately. Cosmi set-out to stifle Inter, sit back and attack on the break. That’s exactly what they did, and the gameplan paid dividends. Whether or not they can do this on a regular basis remains to be seen, but the Salentini could be in with a real chance of surviving if they can maintain their steady run.

Cesena and Novara have had disappointing a seasons too, but Lecce must look forward, not over their shoulder, if they’re going to stay-up. Atalanta, Cagliari, Catania, Bologna and Siena are all in worse form than the Salentini. Their slip-ups as much as anything else will help define the rest of Lecce’s season.

Andrew Murray

Scottish football writer with a thirst for knowledge and a passion for all things calcio. Visit for more from Andrew.

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