The city of Genoa plays host to leg one of Il Derby della Lanterna this weekend. In a season where we have already witnessed the Rome, Milan, Turin and Sicilian derbies, Sampdoria and Genoa are the last to showcase their local rivalry in this season’s Serie A.
Both sides sit outside of the European spots in the current league standings, clearly not the plan at the start of the season for either team. Genoa’s transfer campaign and Sampdoria’s success last season saw expectations set at high levels for both clubs. Respective Coaches Walter Mazzarri and Gian Piero Gasperini will be eager to appease the tifosi with victory this weekend.
The Blucerchiati had an atrocious start to the season, failing to win in their first seven games and only picking up four points. Despite this, Coach Mazzarri has stuck resolutely to his 3-5-2 system throughout the campaign, though he is somewhat unfortunate to have been robbed of several key men so far this season.
The main man in midfield, Angelo Palombo, made his first appearance for eight weeks at the weekend. He has been sorely missed in the middle of the park as he is a player responsible for starting attacking moves, as well as breaking up the opponents play, very much in the mould of the Brazilian Emerson, currently at Milan. He played just under 70 minutes in the defeat to Cagliari, and is likely to start the match on Sunday.
In his absence, the defensive duties fell upon Paolo Sammarco. The 25-year-old started every game last season, and has only failed to start two games this campaign, one due to suspension. With Palombo’s return and Sammarco’s likely start, it leaves one place left in central midfield. Gennaro Delvecchio started the season playing as a striker, yet is by trade a central midfielder. He can provide Mazzarri’s midfield with creativity and threat going forward. Daniele Dessena and Daniele Franceschini are two further candidates. Both offer vision and a passing range that will be threatening from deep.
As in any 3-5-2, the wing-backs play an important part in ensuring the three-man defence is not outnumbered, as well as giving the team width and support going forward. Mirko Pieri has been a fixture on the left-hand side and will no doubt hold on to his place. Marius Stankevičius or Marco Padalino will battle it out to cover the right flank, having started six games a piece this campaign.
It is impossible to talk about Sampdoria without mentioning the brilliance of Antonio Cassano. Currently their top scorer, he is starting to return to the form that marks him out as one of the most talented players around. He was hampered at the beginning of the campaign by the shortage of strikers available to Mazzarri. As such he was used as an out-and-out striker, with Delvecchio taking the withdrawn role of the two. The former Roma youngster is not at his best when used in this way with his talent at finding space wasted by the fact he was forced to stay closer to the penalty box.
The Sampdoria tactician must therefore be relieved at the return of striker Claudio Bellucci. With three goals in seven appearances already, he is demonstrating what a great loss he was to the team. His return coincided with the reversal in form for the Marassi outfit and from a tactical point of view he has allowed Cassano to return to his natural position when playing up-front. These two may prove the key to victory in the eagerly anticipated game.
Across the city, Genoa Tactician Gian Piero Gasperini’s main problem is discovering a formula that will bring his side their first away win of the season. As the designated away side this weekend, there would be no better occasion.
The Rossoblu tactician has his team playing a fluid 4-3-3 system, occasionally switching to a 3-4-3, both at home and away. The defence is likely to consist of four players who were acquired in the summer. Alessandro Potenza, Giuseppe Biava, Matteo Ferrari and Domenico Criscito have combined to produce a back line that has only conceded four goals at home so far, yet 11 outside of the Stadio Luigi Ferraris. As impressive as that quartet look on paper, their lack of playing time together before this season is costing the team dearly on their travels.
If that is the case, then it begs the question as to how the same defence have managed to concede only four goals at home. The answer lies in their forward line, or more specifically Diego Milito. Of the 21 goals scored by Il Grifone, 16 have come at home. The Argentine striker is responsible for 11 of their goal tally to date. He plays as the central striker in Gasperini’s front three, with two either side providing width.
So far, Giuseppe Sculli has been consistently accompanying the former Real Zaragoza man in attack, usually causing problems on the right hand side. The left wing spot has been allocated to ex-Juventus prodigy Raffaele Palladino, but having only scored one goal so far, his place in the team is in jeopardy, with Andrea Gasbarroni very much in contention to replace him.
In midfield, Ivan Jurić is almost certain to start having appeared in all but one of the Rossoblu’s games this year. The talented young Croat has formed a great partnership with Thiago Motta. Both offer great protection to the defence, while also providing further supply to star striker Milito. Former Barcelona midfielder Motta was suspended for the home draw to Bologna, but it would be a surprise if he does not reclaim his place for the derby. The injury-prone Brazilian has been unfortunate to spend so much of his career on the treatment table, but his ability to control a midfield remains. Providing he stays fit, he can be an important figure for Gasperini’s side.
Regardless of this, Genoa will have to overcome their appalling away record to obtain victory. As the highest placed side not to have won away from home this season, they know they must do so soon in order to keep their European aspirations alive. Intriguingly though, being the away side, they are playing at their home ground. Whether this provides the impetus required to banish their away-day blues remains to be seen. All will be answered on Sunday evening.