As Christmas approaches, fans have a chance to reflect on what has been an up and down season for Sampdoria so far. There have been some soaring high points, but these have all too often been tempered by the crashing lows that have haunted i Blucerchiati, not least the disastrous Europa League campaign.
Things got off to a bad start for the side when they were eliminated from the Champions League at the first hurdle by Werder Bremen. Having gone down 3-1 in the first leg, a Giampaolo Pazzini brace in the second leg pushed Samp to the brink of qualification. However, a late Bremen strike took the game to extra time where i Blucerchiati were finally defeated by a wonder strike from Claudio Pizzaro. After the ecstasy of their fourth-placed finish, the early exit proved a harsh return to reality for the side.
Samp were soon back on the right track, though, putting in a brilliant performance to beat Lazio 2-0 on the opening day of the Serie A season. A penalty from Antonio Cassano got the ball rolling before Stefano Guberti added a second and put the game to bed. All the signs suggested that the side had already managed to put the Champions League heartache behind them.
Sampdoria followed up the performance against Lazio by holding Juventus to a 3-3 draw in Turin and showing great spirit to come from behind to claim a point. In the absence of Pazzini, Nicola Pozzi’s two goals went some way towards putting worries regarding squad depth to bed. However, while the result against Juventus seemed positive at the time, it in fact signalled the start of five winless games for i Blucerchiati. The side struggled for creativity with Cassano apparently lacking sufficient support to be effective and Pazzini nowhere near his clinical best.
In the midst of the poor run of form, there were some bright spots for Coach Domenico Di Carlo. His decision to re-sign Stefano Guberti and Luciano Zauri from Roma and Lazio respectively paid off as Guberti looked lively from wide and Zauri was his usual, composed self at the back. In goal, Gianluca Curci made light work of the task of replacing Marco Storari with a series of excellent performances when his side were under the cosh.
In addition, youngsters Guido Marilungo and Vladimir Koman succeeded in carving out niches for themselves in the first-team set up, suggesting that while i Blucerchiati may have one of the smallest squads in the league, they remain perfectly capable of coping with injuries and suspensions.
Things appeared to be turning around when the side returned to winning ways, thanks to a late comeback against Fiorentina. A majestic free kick from Reto Ziegler drew the side level before Cassano won the game with a piece of magic, taking on two men before sliding the ball brilliantly into the bottom corner. Samp then took a hugely respectable and thoroughly deserved point from Inter at the San Siro in a game that seemed to confirm their return to form after a difficult patch.
Then, just as things were looking up for i Blucerchiati, all hell broke loose. Talisman Cassano reverted to type by insulting club President Riccardo Garrone and refusing to apologise, leading the President to suspend the forward. Both parties refused to back down and subsequently Garrone applied to have Cassano’s contract rescinded. Despite a number of appeals from il Talentino, the President has stuck to his guns thus far and it appears the Club’s star player is on his way out. Speculation over a move to league leaders Milan is growing every day.
While the Cassano saga rumbles on, the remaining players have pulled together admirably and have played themselves into decent form. The performances of Pazzini, Guido Marilungo and Guberti, among others, have helped elevate i Blucerchiati to eighth in Serie A, with a surprise defeat to Brescia at the weekend curtailing a strong run of form that included an impressive draw against Milan.
With half of the season still to go, Sampdoria’s fortunes could still go either way as what has already proved a wildly entertaining and unpredictable campaign continues into the new year. However, with the Club currently standing seven points off the Champions League places, another season in the Europa League looks set to be the realistic aim.