When drawing up a list of world football’s most hotly contested derby encounters, the same games inevitably crop up time and again. Boca Juniors v River Plate, Partizan v Red Star, Fenerbahçe v Galatasaray and Celtic v Rangers are always among the usual suspects while a list of exclusively Italian ones would undoubtedly offer up the cross City rivalries of Rome, Genoa and Milan as well as an endless raft of squabbling Tuscans. Often forgotten when compiling such top ten compilations is the ‘Derby di Sicilia’ between Palermo and Catania, a meeting of two clubs which is as intense, fervent and passionate as anything offered up by those other local clashes.
It has rarely been contested at the highest level; indeed this weekend will see what is only the 82nd meeting overall and just the sixteenth in Serie A. Historically, Palermo hold the edge with 24 wins to their neighbours 20 (with 67 draws) while in the top flight it is the Elefanti in the ascendency with six wins to four and five draws. Even then the Rosanero can claim to currently have the edge, winning three, drawing one and losing just once since Catania were last promoted from Serie B back in 2006.
The game has rarely disappointed since then with 5-3, 4-0 and 3-1 score-lines among the five most recent results although their meetings have, on occasion, seen that fierce rivalry become all-consuming and the violence off the field has gotten out of control. A 2007 match saw riots which resulted in the death of 38 year old Policeman Filippo Raciti while a fixture back in the 1981-82 season saw a Palermo fan hit Catania’s Renato Miele on the head with a bottle and the match was awarded to them as a result.
Catania are enjoying a remarkable season under new Coach Vincenzo Montella, the former Roma idol overseeing a dramatic improvement from previous campaigns and recalling the much quoted ‘Clamoroso al Cibali’ from commentators as the Etnei string together a series of results every inch as surprising as the 1961 ‘Sensation at the Cibali’. That season saw them demolish Helenio Herrera’s Inter 5-0 and prevent them lifting the title, while in October this season they beat the same opponent – albeit by a much more modest score of 2-1 – and have followed that with wins over Napoli and Lazio while also holding Milan and Juventus to impressive draws.
Leading scorer Francesco Lodi has added six assists to his eight goals and – as was discussed here recently – is a hugely influential player. Alongside team-mates Nicolás Spolli and Nicola Legrottaglie the number ten helped them defeat Palermo 2-0 back in December with a goal, with their victory secured thanks to a penalty from the now departed Maxi Lopez.
In the Sicilian capital President Maurizio Zamparini has lived up to his fearsome reputation with Bortolo Mutti already the third coach of the season after the sackings of Stefano Pioli and Devis Mangia following the exit of Delio Rossi at the start of the summer. He has also lost Sporting Director’s Walter Sabatini and Sean Sogliano as well as the most recent falling out with former Italian international Christian Panucci just a month after he accepted a role as Team Manager.
On the pitch they have been led once again by the talismanic Fabrizio Miccoli who, with 12 goals and an identical number of assists, is central to everything the Rosanero do in attack. He has been hugely helped by the arrival of Matias Silvestre in July. Leaving Catania for their hated rivals could have proven beyond the Argentinian but he has risen to the challenge to average 9.1 clearances, 1.6 tackles and 2.1 interceptions per game. He has also chipped in with four goals and won an impressive 62% of his aerial duels.
Montella has given his side the ability to switch comfortably between a 3-5-2 formation and a more direct 4-3-3 with ease while Mutti has opted to abandon the 4-3-1-2 formation he found in place in favour of a 3-4-1-2 which looks to capitalise on the abilities of his attacking players while masking some weaknesses in defence. The game this weekend is to be played at their Renzo Barbera home and the Rosanero will be desperate to win given that they sit in fifteenth place, just six points above the relegation zone. The visitors will be equally keen to add to their tally which sees them eighth and an outside bet for a Europa League place, a remarkable achievement for such a small club.
Catania have the edge in many categories including possession (47.5% compared to 45.7%), pass completion (78.7% against 77.1% for Palermo) and interceptions (19.2 v 18.4 per game). They average a remarkably close number of shots on target per game, Palermo edging it 4.7 to 4.6 per game and and in turn outscoring the Rossazzurri by 47 goals to 44. That defensive fragility mentioned earlier, however, means that they have conceded more times than any side other than Genoa and Novara (53) while Montella’s Catania have allowed just 46.
The two teams are Serie A’s best in terms of goals from set-pieces with Catania boasting a league leading seventeen goals, just two more than the Rosanero, and have also scored eight penalties, a tally double that of their derby rivals and a only bettered by Milan (9). With Napoli travelling to Roma and another key battle in the race for third as Udinese face off against Lazio, a typically hard fought encounter lies in store on Saturday afternoon in a match which provides the perfect antipasti to a mouthwatering weekend of Serie A action. The Sicilian derby is drama at its best, do not miss it!