Club Focus – Sampdoria – Son of a pitch

While a 1-0 home win over humble opposition may not seem like anything to write home about, Thursday’s result will be a great comfort to Domenico Di Carlo. Up against a determined and dirty Debrecen outfit his side remained calm and focused in order to snatch a narrow but fully deserved victory from the jaws of another 0-0 draw. Not only does the three points gained put Sampdoria in a strong position to progress from their group, it also sets them up for a testing run of fixtures including trips to Inter and Metalist Kharkiv.
For Di Carlo, the most pleasing aspect of the victory will likely be the performance of his defence. The Coach took a risk by leaving out three of his first-choice back four – instead selecting Fabrizio Cacciatore, Pietro Accardi and Massimo Volta alongside Stefano Lucchini. The makeshift back line dealt comfortably with everything Debrecen threw at them and were fully deserving of their clean sheet.

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In midfield, Daniele Mannini was given a rare start on the wing in the place of Stefano Guberti. The former Napoli man was anonymous in the first-half, and was replaced with half an hour to go by Guberti. On the other wing, Vladimir Koman came in for Franco Semioli and performed extremely well. In his last start, Koman was simply bullied out of the game by a physical Juventus defence but against Debrecen he seemed unfazed by the aggression showed by the visitors and looked in good touch. The return to the squad, if not the pitch, of Fernando Tissone also bodes well for the Blucerchiati as both Daniele Dessena and Angelo Palombo have been playing almost flat-out since the Argentinean sustained an injury against Werder Bremen. Sampdoria have at times looked somewhat lightweight in midfield in the absence of Tissone and his return will certainly boost the side’s physical presence in the centre of the pitch. It is a measure of the respect that Di Carlo is showing to the Europa League this season that Antonio Cassano, Giampaolo Pazzini, Angelo Palombo and Daniele Dessena all played 90 minutes. While the Coach is happy to rest a number of his first-team for European games, he is clearly keen to reach the next round of the competition and is willing to risk the fitness of his star players to do so.
Encouragingly, the Blucerchiati dominated Debrecen in terms of possession, keeping hold of the ball for 65% of the game and boasting an impressive 82% pass completion ratio. These stats are made even more impressive when the state of the pitch at Marassi is taken into account. In recent weeks Di Carlo has cited the poor condition of the playing surface at home as a reason for his side’s inability to break down stubborn opposition. After the 0-0 draw with Udinese, he claimed: “With a broken pitch it becomes far easier to defend and prohibits a faster passing game.” With Italy due to face Serbia at the Luigi Ferraris in the near future, the Coach stated his hope that something would be done to improve the surface and he will be glad that his team play away from home in three of their next four fixtures.
Another encouraging sign for Sampdoria is to be found in the return of Giampaolo Pazzini’s name to the score sheet. The forward has not been at his clinical best this season but will hope that his strike from the spot on Thursday might open the floodgates as he looks to replicate last season’s tally of 19 goals in Serie A. Alongside Pazzini, Cassano continues to cause problems for every defence he comes up against. While he was not at his devastating best on Thursday, his mere presence around the penalty area was often enough to distract defenders and create space for the likes of Pazzini and Koman to exploit. Di Carlo, for one, will hope that his front two can continue to improve against Bologna on Sunday. Falling immediately before clashes with Fiorentina and Inter, the trip to Bologna represents a significant opportunity for the Blucerchiati to pick up some momentum and form before the bigger games ahead.
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