It was a scene many Palermo fans still have burned into their memory. In late April, a raucous crowd of 13,000 held up signs with the letter ‘B’ on them at Catania’s Stadio Massimino – a harsh welcome to the coming reality of life in Serie B the following season.
The match would end in a fiercely contested 1-1 draw with Josip Ilicic netting the equaliser in the fifth minute of stoppage time to cancel out Pablo Barrientos’ 69th minute strike. A few weeks later, Palermo would be relegated while Catania would continue to enjoy life in Italy’s top flight. Now nearly a year since that last meeting, both clubs are heading in opposite directions and Serie A could very well be without a Sicilian derby once more.
This year, Catania seem to be paying for the presumptuousness of last season’s eight place finish. Club President Antonino Pulvirenti clearly did not learn from Palermo patron Maurizio Zamparini’s mistakes the year before as the Elefanti sit in last place in Serie A, seven points away from safety. With only four wins this term, Catania has struggled in every facet, sporting the League’s worst attack with 24 goals, the third worst defence, conceding 57 goals, and going winless away from home. Furthermore, in a page out of the ‘Zamparini Book of Errors’, Pulvirenti has made three coaching changes. After Roland Maran was sacked in October, Luigi De Canio lasted till mid-January before Maran was brought back. After Maran’s second stint with the club ended last weekend, Maurizio Pellegrino was brought on as a caretaker for the remaining six matches. Serie B is looming large.
On the other side of the island, Palermo have enjoyed life in Serie B after an initial bumpy patch under Gennaro Gattuso. Zamparini admitted his mistake in appointing the young tactician, replacing him with promotion specialist Beppe Iachini after just six matches. Iachini has so far lived up to his reputation as Palermo sit in first place, leading second by a 13 point margin. The club sits on 66 points after 32 rounds, a total that has only been surpassed by Juventus - 75 - and Sassuolo - 72 - during the same stage.
Zamparini righted many of the wrongs he committed the previous season by building a strong side capable of promotion outright. He kept leaders like Edgar Barreto, Ezequiel Munoz, Stefano Sorrentino while adding solid role players like Francesco Bolzoni and Alen Stevanovic coupled with burgeoning youths in Andrea Belotti and Achraf Lazaar. The result has been a Palermo side that has dominated the competition, underscored by a staggering record of just two losses in the 27 games Iachini has coached. With seven matches to go, Palermo will face another Sicilian side hoping to make history and keeping a derby alive in Serie A next year.
Just over an hour west of Palermo lies Trapani, a small coastal town known more for its fishing than for its football. And yet, Trapani – in their debut season in Serie B – are making waves for their incredible run towards an unthinkable promotion. Led by the masterful tactician Roberto ‘Rocco’ Boscaglia, the Granata have made the jump from Serie D to Serie B in just four seasons.
The up-and-coming Coach now has this modest club on the verge of the play-offs with the hope of joining Palermo in Serie A, sitting in sixth place on 49 points, just four away from second place Empoli. This remarkably well-run club is getting the most out of its unheralded players like goalkeeper Emanuele Nordi, midfielder Simone Rizzato and Serie B’s leading scorer Matteo Mancosu with 20 goals. Boscaglia is hoping Mancosu can net a winner in the weekend’s derby with Palermo and propel the Granata towards the promised land.
For Sicilian football, the hope is that perhaps a Sicilian derby will once more be played in Serie A next season.
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