Davide Nicola stirs Genoa to victory
Background image: Gabriel Rinaldi, CC BY-SA 4.0
Genoa might appoint the Devil if it meant Serie A survival this season. Ten defeats in their first 18 league matches sucked them into the relegation whirlpool. Consequently, Thiago Motta is down the drain and Davide Nicola takes over. One former club star with managerial aspirations for another.
Nicola made 166 league appearances for the club in the 1990s. Now 46, he's laid the groundwork for a distinguished managerial career, with the Rossublu his most prominent appointment to date.
Predecessor Thiago Motta only played 27 games for Il Grifone but his six goals eclipsed his successor by two. As a manager, the Brazilian belongs to the Claudio Ranieri school of tinkerers. While he resisted the urge to install his fabled 2-7-2 in which the keeper plays as a midfielder, the former PSG man still shuffled his lineup like the dealer at your favourite poker room.
His inconsistency reflected that in the boardroom. Motta only took the reins on 22 October, after Aurelio Andreazzoli's nightmare start. Thus, Nicola is the third boss in the campaign's first half.
The Griffins won two Serie A games from the 17 before Nicola arrived. His first match came on Sunday against Sassuolo. He sent his squad out in a 3-5-2, his preferred formation and the one Genoa employed under Andreazzoli. Although the former manager had lost the dressing room, the shape played to the team's strengths. After a single match, Nicola finds himself halfway to matching the club's win total before his arrival. While defeating Sassuolo 2-1 at home doesn’t prevent relegation, it's a valuable step in the right direction, re-energising a flagging side.
Nicola did make changes. Former Watford midfielder, Valon Behrami was snapped up on a free. He loaned in forward Mattia Destro from Bologna and secured goalkeeper Mattia Perin’s return to Genoa. The latter will cheer supporters even though it is also a loan and not permanent. Perin received few starts at Juventus, stuck behind former Arsenal shot-stopper, Wojciech Szczesny and club legend, Gianluigi Buffon. Eight years at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris makes him a prodigal son. The 27-year-old expressed relief to be home by preserving the victory over Sassuolo.
Goran Pandev may define the Nicola era at the Luigi Ferraris. The North Macedonian was exiled to bit-parts under both Andreazzoli and Motta. Validation for greater inclusion came with his headed goal four minutes from time, the side's first win since October.
Best remembered for his role in Inter's 2009/10 treble, the 36-year-old claims more than a century of Serie A goals. Calm and composed, he’s a perfect striker partner for Destro, a quick runner who loves to get the shot off early.
The 2020 Genoa playbook writes itself with Pandev receiving the ball in his preferred second-striker position whole Destro runs the channels. Will Nicola's blue-sky thinking come off enough to lift the club from danger.
Defensively speaking, Davide is still in the market. Even with Mattia Perin back between the sticks, the Rossoblu couldn't find their third clean sheet of the campaign. Their -17 goal difference is Serie A's worst.
The club legend arrives at a busy period for Genoa. The Round of 16 Coppa d'Italia fixture against Torino is this evening. They're off to the Stadio Marc'Antonio Bentegodi to play Hellas Verona on Sunday. That's three matches in eight days before the new manager gets a few days to work with the squad. David Nicola hit the ground against Sassuolo. The question is whether he can keep running?