Sampdoria got their Europa League season off to an excellent start with an away draw against PSV Eindhoven. After the disappointment of missing out on the Champions League, battling for a draw in Holland was the perfect tonic. Domenico Di Carlo, though, will be fully aware of the importance of balancing a successful European campaign with the domestic commitments that are already stretching his Sampdoria squad.
Di Carlo must prioritise either progression in the Europa League or a strong Serie A campaign in order to avoid burnout in his star players. Antonio Cassano played 90 minutes against Juventus at the weekend as well as against PSV on Thursday and will expect to start when i Blucerchiati host Napoli on Sunday; the same applies to Angelo Palombo. While obviously Cassano and Palombo are two of the stars of the team, they cannot be expected to play a game every three days for an entire season. Di Carlo will be desperate to avoid the fate that befell Fiorentina last season when they effectively sacrificed any kind of league challenge in favour of progression in the Champions League. The lack of attention paid to Serie A resulted in an 11th placed finish for a side that should have again been pushing for the fourth Champions League spot.
While it may not appear ideal that key players such as Giampaolo Pazzini, Andrea Poli and Stefano Guberti have picked up injuries so early in the season, their enforced absences could be a blessing in disguise. When they are unable to play through injury, they are forced to rest and so will return to the team fresh and hungry to play. These injuries have also forced Di Carlo to make clear his priorities from the off. In selecting Guido Marilungo, Fabrizio Cacciatore and Vladimir Koman from the start against PSV, the tactician has made it clear that the game against Napoli takes priority. Clearly he has recognised that his side would be crippled should they lose Daniele Dessena or Nicola Pozzi before Sunday and so both were on the bench in Eindhoven.
That Di Carlo favours a good season in Serie A, however, does not render Sampdoria’s Europa League campaign futile. In the absence of Poli and Pazzini, squad players such as Dessena and Pozzi have stepped up and proved themselves ready and able to perform in the first team should they be called upon. It may very well occur to Di Carlo that the European fixtures provide him with the perfect opportunity to test the strength of his squad by giving youngsters and fringe players their chance to shine.
The coach seems to have taken this approach already, starting with Marilungo, Koman and Cacciatore in the side and bringing Marco Paladino off the bench. In fact, his use of youngsters in the starting line up paid off with strong performances from all three and even a goal coming from Cacciatore. The performance of the side as a whole will have been of great encouragement to Di Carlo. After going one up inside half an hour, his side shut up shop at the back, demonstrating the sort defensive organisation for which Italian sides are famous. With Daniele Gastaldello imperious at the back, a full strength PSV side relied on a late wonderstrike from the brilliantly named Balazs Dzsudzsak to salvage a point.
The display also suggests that, even without a number of key players, i Blucerchiati can remain competitive. Di Carlo will be buoyed by this and will hope that his side can continue their excellent early season form and get a result against Napoli, another of the sides pushing for fourth. Unlike Sampdoria, Napoli have not enjoyed the greatest of starts to their campaign and Di Carlo will believe that his side have what it takes to secure victory. In Antonio Cassano, i Blucerchiati posses Europe’s in form player and the young coach will hope that Fantantonio can again inspire his team to success.
Di Carlo will bring back either Nicola Pozzi or Giampaolo Pazzini to partner the talismanic Cassano and Daniele Dessena alongside Angelo Palombo in midfield for the weekend’s encounter with Napoli. However, the coach may well look to his younger players to make an impact from the bench. After the performances turned in by Marilungo and Pedro Obiang off the bench against Juventus, he will be looking for similar displays against Napoli. A win would leave Sampdoria looking very healthy going into the fourth round of fixtures and would send out a real message to their direct rivals in Serie A just as their draw away to PSV was a statement of intent in Europe.