Welcome to the Champions League, Sampdoria. After being beaten 3-1 by Werder Bremen on Wednesday and with the return leg to come at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris next week, Coach Domenico Di Carlo has been left with a great deal to think about. However, while the score line may suggest otherwise, there are many positives for Di Carlo to take from a game in which his side did enough to suggest that they are still in with a shout.
One of the major positive features of Sampdoria’s game on Wednesday night was the excellent performance of Giampaolo Pazzini. The front man was a constant thorn in the side of the Bremen defence with his intelligent movement and exceptional work ethic. More importantly, though, Pazzini looked sharp in front of goal. Despite heading wide early on, he was not disheartened and continued to cause Bremen problems, putting the ball in the back of the net only to be correctly ruled offside before striking the post with a poked effort. His 90th minute goal was the least his performance deserved and was a timely reminder how clinical he can be. I Blucerchiati will require him to maintain his form in the second leg if they are to have any chance of going through.
Another, perhaps more surprising element of the game was a generally solid defensive performance. After the match, Pazzini mused: “I cannot understand how we could concede three goals.” Despite having gone a goal down to a Clemens Fritz thunderbolt, the defence appeared to have the Bremen forwards under control until Stefano Lucchini picked up two bookings within five minutes to leave Sampdoria down to ten men. Lucchini’s tug in the box was certainly an offence, but one that would have been waved away by most referees in Serie A. Torsten Frings scored the penalty and before Sampdoria could adjust, Claudio Pizarro had burst through onto Hugo Almeida’s clever flick to make it 3-0. Those three minutes aside, i Blucerchiati were impressive in defence.
One thing that Di Carlo must address before the second leg is his midfield. The central pairing of Angelo Palombo and Fernando Tissone were completely outplayed by their Bremen counterparts while Daniele Mannini and Franco Semioli were unable to make any headway from the flanks. The way in which the German side dominated the centre of the pitch must be of great concern to Di Carlo. Bremen kept possession brilliantly and held onto the ball for an impressive 69% of the game, a statistic that does not reflect well on the performances of Tissone and Palombo, two players renowned for their ball winning prowess.
The second half introduction of Andrea Poli helped to steady the ship with the substitute back in partnership with Palombo as the ten men of Sampdoria fought their way back into the game. His technical ability and calmness on the ball makes the youngster the ideal player to come in for Tissone in the second leg to better challenge the dominance of the Bremen midfield. Stefano Guberti’s cameo was certainly an encouraging sign as he added penetration and creativity down the wing. The new signing will hope he has done enough to force his was into the starting eleven for next week.
Di Carlo will also be concerned after an uncharacteristically anonymous display from his creator-in-chief Antonio Cassano. Sebastian Prodi marshalled the mercurial forward brilliantly and allowed him very little space in which to play. While his passing was generally neat, he was only able to show flashes of his brilliance up against a sturdy German defensive unit. A strong performance from Cassano is essential if Sampdoria are to trouble Bremen at the Luigi Ferraris.
So despite the defeat in Germany, Sampdoria are still in with a chance. The score line may seem one sided, but there are many positives for i Blucerchiati to take from their performance. In the words of Pazzini: “Losing 3-1 is better than losing 3-0,” and his late away goal could yet prove priceless. It is vital that the players learn from their mistakes in the first leg and do not allow themselves to be overrun in midfield. Pazzini made all the right noises when he said: “We will now try to correct our mistakes and I hope that we will try to make it up at Marassi.” Indeed, coupled with strong showings from their star players, the boisterous home support could be enough to send i Blucerchiati through to the promised land of the Champions League proper.