On Wednesday, Sampdoria bounced back from their defeat against Napoli with a hard fought draw against Sardinian side Cagliari. Coach Domenico Di Carlo will be pleased to have come away from Sardinia with a point and a clean sheet as his side continue their positive start to the season. Having surrendered leads in their last two fixtures, Di Carlo will be especially pleased by his side’s defensive solidarity that was evident from start to finish against a lively Cagliari attack.
It was revealed in the days leading up to the game that Antonio Cassano would not make the trip to Sardinia. Given the reputation of il Talentino, rumours suggesting a rift between coach and player immediately began to fly but were quickly quashed by Di Carlo. The Coach claimed: “It has been on the cards for 15 days that he [Cassano] would be rested for this match,” adding: “Antonio will spend his time on a personalised training schedule so he can be at his best for the other matches.” That Di Carlo elected to leave Cassano out of the tip to Cagliari rather than for a Europa League fixture suggests that he is placing some importance on a good run in the competition, perhaps even considering it to be a cup that i Blucerchiati could win.
In the absence of Fantantonio, Di Carlo got his first chance to try out the Giampaolo Pazzini – Nicola Pozzi striker partnership. While both forwards have a good eye for goal, the mercurial creative talents of il Talentino were certainly missed. However, any side would miss a player of the calibre of Cassano and on another night both Pazzini and Pozzi could have got on the score sheet. Although neither really had any clear chances in the game, the two do seem to have something of an understanding, and are able to play effectively together and cause problems for opponents.
One aspect of the performance which will have delighted Di Carlo was the way his side defended. After lapses in concentration cost them points in their last two fixtures, the pressure was on the Sampdoria defence to show that they could successfully keep out the opposition attack. Daniele Gastaldello continued his imperious form and was ably assisted by Stefano Lucchini, Reto Ziegler and Luciano Zauri. The back four played superbly well as a unit, and remained strong against a quick, dangerous Cagliari attack that put five past Roma in their last home game.
It seems then, that i Blucerchiati are successfully coping with the pressures of having one of the smallest squads in the league. Despite sustaining injuries to a number of key players, the level of performance remains high. Di Carlo will look to continue resting his key players systematically in order to avoid burnout, as i Blucerchiati fight for success both at home and in Europe.
However, while Nicola Pozzi waiting in the wings makes resting Pazzini and Cassano possible, and the returns of Andrea Poli and Fernando Tissone will allow for far greater rotation in the midfield, there are no obvious replacements for any of the first choice back four. Fabrizio Cacciatore, Pietro Accardi and Massimo Volta are the players in line to step in to defence should Di Carlo chose to rest one of his starters, but none of them really possess the quality to play for a side in the upper echelons of Serie A.
On the other hand, it would appear that the perfect opportunities to bring the likes of Volta and Cacciatore into the side are just around the corner. On Sunday i Blucerchiati face struggling Udinese, a side yet to win a point this season, before playing host to Debrecen on Thursday, a side that were on the wrong end of a 5-0 hammering from Metalist Kharkiv in the previous round of fixtures. Di Carlo is likely to rest more than one of his first team for the clash with Debrecen, but will be well aware of the opportunity it presents. With PSV facing a tough test away to Metalist, a win against Debrecen would put Sampdoria in a strong position from which to go on and win the group.
Whatever the results, expect to see more squad rotation over the coming weeks as Di Carlo looks to keep his squad fresh through what has been described by the club as a ‘dense’ fixture schedule up until the Christmas break. Should his team continue to perform in the same vein as they currently are, Di Carlo will be praised for getting results with the smallest squad in Serie A. Should they lose form, he will be criticised for not adding to his squad sufficiently when he had the chance. Either way, the next month or so could be vital in determining whether or not i Blucerchiati can continue their unlikely success story.