Back-to-back promotions might be followed by relegation for the bottom two in Serie A but can Lecce repeat heroics of last season?
It was fun while it lasted but reality had to bite sometime for both Cesena and Novara.
For Cesena, they achieved back-to-back promotions to reach Serie A last season after an absence of 19 years. After finishing the 2010/11 season in 15th place and 7 points clear of the drop-zone, the Cavallucci Marini (Seahorses) might have hoped that the signing of the 32-year old Romanian striker Adrian Mutu in June on a 2-year deal would help them establish the club in the top-flight on a more permanent basis.
The well-travelled bad boy can say that he held up his end of the bargain with 7 goals in 18 league games, which amounts to almost half of Cesena's 16 goal total while his double-strike against Novara in January meant that Mutu passed the century mark of Serie A goals.
But with 42 goals going in at the other end, it has meant that only three victories have been recorded by the club and they currently lie 14 points behind 4th from bottom Cagliari. Mutu himself seems to have given up as well with his coach recently opting not to use him against his former side Fiorentina 10 days ago.
The Romanian would have been the centre of attention after stepping back into the Stadio Artemio Franchi for the first time since his summer move, but he was not even included in the squad.
“I decided not to call him up because he wasn't at my disposal all week and he didn't look in top form against Chievo or when playing for Romania,” explained Mario Beretta.
“Adrian is capable of resolving a match when he is in good shape. However, as things stand right now, we cannot afford to play anyone who isn’t at 100 per cent.”
It all looked so different for Cesena halfway through their encounter with high-flying Lazio in the Stadio Olimpico in January of this year. Having brought in Vincenzo Iaquinta on loan from Juventus until the end of the 2011-12 season, the Italian World Cup-winning footballer partnered Mutu and the new strike pairing looked made in heaven.
Mutu, from play, and Iaquinta, from the spot, had given Cesena a seemingly unassailable half-time lead, especially given that Abdoulay Konko had been sent-off for the hosts. But a stunning comeback by the Biancoceleste delivered a 3-2 win for the Roman side and that may have been the day when Cesena hopes of Serie A survival suffered a mortal blow.
If the Cesena flame merely flickered this season, then Novara's has at least dared to burn brightly at times and never more so than in their home and away victories against the might of Inter Milan. The first of those wins cost Gian Piero Gasperini his job while the second in the San Siro in February should have cost Claudio Ranieri his.
Novara had reached Serie B last season for the first time in 33 years and then remarkably secured top-flight status after an absence of 55 years by defeating Padova in the play-off final. Both consecutive promotions were achieved under the tenure of head coach Attilio Tesser, who was sadly replaced in January of this year by veteran coach Emiliano Mondonico in a desperate attempt to save the club from relegation.
But as could only happen in Italy, sacked coach Tesser then returned to the Novara bench last Sunday, after Mondonico was unable to turn around their fortunes, and Tesser watched as his side defeated high-flying Udinese 1-0.
However, Novara still remain 5 points behind 3rd from bottom Lecce, who they meet in 2 weeks time, and a further 6 points from safety and with games against AS Roma, Lazio, Napoli, Juventus and AC Milan still to come, it looks like Serie B beckons for the Biancoazzurri.
Third from bottom Lecce will need to repeat their heroics of last season, when they beat arch-rivals AS Bari 2-0 in May, to escape the drop with one game to spare while more illustrious sides such as Sampdoria suffered the ignominy of relegation.
Lecce have actually conceded more goals than bottom-placed Cesena with 44 goals against compared to Cesena's 42 - but the Lecce attack has been more effective, registering almost twice as many goals, 30 as against Cesena's 16. The veteran ex-West Ham striker David di Michele has been the main contributor with 8 goals while the 20-year old Colombian striker Luis Muriel has chipped in with 5.
Ibra loses the rag
They put up a reasonable showing in a 2-0 defeat against Milan in the San Siro last weekend in a game that was overshadowed by the exchange between Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Sky journalist Vera Spadini when during his post-match pitchside interview, he turned away from the camera and said: “What the **** are you looking at” at Spadini.
Lecce manager Serse Cosmi was suspended for the San Siro clash after a red card for dissent, so assistant-manager Mario Palazzi took his place on the bench where he watched his side fail to deliver on his pre-match promises: “We are going to San Siro without fear, as Lecce want points. The Rossoneri are very strong, but we do not fear them,” said Palazzi.
“Don’t forget, I have been working with Cosmi for 10 years and every time I replaced him, we never lost. Who knows, it might happen again..."
The relegation-threatened Salentini were without the suspended Gennaro Delvecchio, David Di Michele and Nenad Tomovic from their side for that game which severely weakened them but with the return of Cosmi to the bench and Di Michele to the attack, Lecce will hope to get vital points in their upcoming games, especially as two of the next three are against the two sides directly below them
Wins in both these games will help them make ground on Cagliari who have to face 3rd place Lazio in the Olimpico in 2 weeks. Having outscored Cagliari by four goals so far this season, the Salentini at least stand a puncher's chance of pulling off another great escape.
Cesena 0-0 Catania, Bologna 1-1 Juventus, Parma 2-2 Fiorentina, Chievo Verona 0-2 Inter, Napoli 6-3 Cagliari, Palermo 0-1 AS Roma, AC Milan 2-0 Lecce, Atalanta 1-1 Parma, Catania 1-0 Fiorentina, Cesena 0-2 Siena, Genoa 0-0 Juventus, Lazio 1-3 Bologna, Novara 1-0 Udinese
Saturday, March 17
Parma v AC Milan
Fiorentina v Juventus (Live 19.45 Setanta Ireland)
Sunday, March 18
Cagliari v Cesena
Bologna v Chievo Verona
Catania v Lazio
Inter v Atalanta
Lecce v Palermo
Siena v Novara
Udinese v Napoli
Monday, March 19
AS Roma v Genoa