Rodrigo Palacio shines in draw
When Fiorentina and Bologna faced each other on May 2nd in the Serie A, no one would have envisaged a 39-year-old Rodrigo Palacio netting a hat-trick. All eyes were rather on the 21-year-old Fiorentina man, Dusan Vlahovic.
The Serbian scored a brace, including one from the penalty spot, but it was Palacio’s hat-trick that had everyone talking. A mixture of instinct, positioning, chemistry, and knowledge of the game, Palacio rolled back the years to score a memorable hat-trick, which made him the oldest Serie A player to net a treble.
A number of players had a great game, but our focus remains on the endless Argentine. He started as a central striker in a 3-4-2-1 formation with Emanuel Vignato and Musa Barrow either side of him as wide forwards.
Considering the Argentine is 39 years old, he is not going to be at his physical prime and thus, the role of a No.9 is best suited for him. And during the game, we find that he (#24) stayed true to his role, being the furthest Bologna player, as shown in Image A of the average player positions of the starting XI after the match.
As evident in the above image, that was in contrast to Vlahovic (#9), whose average positions showed that he was dropping deeper at times to supplement Franck Ribery.
Palacio showed great intelligence and lethal finishing for all three goals. The most interesting part of all of them was that they were assisted by the same player, but we will get to that later.
Timing the run
The first goal showed why he is still so great. Palacio was being played offside by the Fiorentina defence but he tracked the line and got himself on-side. Just as he did that, the Argentine (yellow circle) was found with a sumptuous pass from Vignato (red circle). This is visible in Image B.
Palacio hit the shot first time into the bottom left corner that beat the charging goalkeeper, Bartlomiej Dragowski. 1-1 in the 31st minute as the Dusan Vlahovic penalty from 9 minutes before was cancelled out.
What you learn as a striker in nearly 2 decades of professional football is how to fool the defender and lose the marker. This was done brilliantly by Palacio for the second goal, which was again, an equalizer after a 64th-minute goal from Giacomo Bonaventura.
Image C shows how captain German Pezzella thought he had Palacio marked, but the former Inter Milan striker (yellow circle) made a darting run to meet a beautiful cross by Vignato (red circle). The wonderful glancing header found the bottom left corner again as the goalkeeper stood motionless. What a header for a 5’9″ striker!
Composure in abundance
For the third goal, Palacio (yellow circle) lost La Viola defenders again as he was found by another piercing ball from Vignato (red circle). He made a run into empty space and from there, it was never in doubt. This goal was the third equalizer they had scored on the day after Vlahovic thought he had won the game via a 73rd-minute goal at the back post.
This sequence of events for the third goal is visible in Image D and Image E. The latter shows how cool he was once he had time. Dragowski had rushed out to close the angle but Palacio took his time and dinked the ball into the far right post. The 84th-minute goal was the last of the game as the points got shared and Palacio took home the match ball.
Link-up with Vignato
Perhaps another star of the show was Emanuel Vignato. The 20-year-old joined Bologna from Chievo Verona in the summer and provided all three passes that led to Palacio’s goals. The first, shown in Image B, was a beautiful through-pass played into the box from the centre of the pitch’s width. Palacio didn’t even have to take a touch as he shot it first time.
The second goal, as seen in Image C was an amazing, curling cross the right-wing that needed a darting run from Palacio to meet it. The ball was played into the most dangerous zone inside the box and was one of the best passes made in the game by any player.
The third, as evident in Image D and Image E, found Palacio’s run perfectly to give him time and space to slot it in. What is notable in all these three goals is that the run would have been useless without the pass, and the pass would have gone astray if the run was not made.
It showed near-perfect chemistry between the two and Vignato deserved as much credit as Palacio did for all three goals. Too bad there isn’t a match ball for getting a hat-trick of assists in a game, but this was still the best game this youngster has played so far in his life.
Palacio had a perfect game statistically considering he scored from all the three attempts he had on goal. Image F has the numbers from the game which saw Palacio attempt 8 crosses and complete one key pass in addition to his three goals.
But Palacio wasn’t all stationary throughout the game. He was mixing it up and drifting wide at times to collect the ball. Image G shows the touches he had during the game, including his three shots, all inside the box. As you can see, he was taking up a role on the wings in order to get in possession of the ball instead of dropping centrally.
Image H displays the location of those 8 crosses, which was also the most crosses attempted by a player during the game. So Palacio’s role wasn’t just that of an ageing striker that plays down the middle, but he was operating throughout the frontline. But when he needed to be central, he was, and when he had the chances, he took them with unerring accuracy.
We will not pretend that Palacio is having a perfect season considering these were his 2nd, 3rd, and 4th league goals this season. But this game was an ode to his legacy and a throwback to his glory days at Inter and Genoa that saw him travel with the Argentina squad to the 2014 FIFA World Cup, where they made the final.
But it showed that age is no bar when it comes to scoring goals. What you lack in speed and agility at that age, you can make up by smartness, experience, and instincts that you have acquired over the years. Hopefully, Palacio continues scoring and entertaining fans well beyond his 40s.
All three of Palacio’s goals can be viewed here.