The derby for Genoa looks the most exciting in years – the Sampdoria team seems to have finally found some semblance of cohesive form and are riding on a boost of morale, while Genoa are one of the big surprises of the season, firing on all cylinders and knocking down some of the major teams in Serie A. Both teams possess some striking talents ready to clash against each other on Sunday. Look out for the following duels when the teams come on to the pitch.
Walter Mazzarri vs. Gian Piero Gasperini
Mazzarri raised some discussion following the rough start to his campaign and some controversial decisions (particularly his reluctance to play the young and talented Daniele Dessena, even when his team was falling to pieces under an injury crisis). However, the questions surrounding the Sampdoria Coach are nothing compared to the enigma posed by Gasperini. Should we credit the incredible success of his team this year – which saw them winning or drawing against virtually all big teams except for Juventus and reaching UEFA Cup positions – more to the man’s tactical vision or to the qualities of his roster (especially the stunning Diego Milito)? The derby may offer some clues to answering the question as he faces Sampdoria. Mazzarri will field a 3-5-2 capable of turning into a 5-3-2 in defensive situations. Since Gasperini’s formation deploys three attackers at the expense of a thinner midfield, we can expect Mazzarri to try and suffocate the dynamisms of the Genoa team by gaining a solid control of the centre of the pitch. Gasperini will probably try and respond to this by quick counter-attacks (exploiting the holes potentially left on the wings during the offensive moments of the 3-5-2) and strong support by the side-backs. If the Genoa Coach succeeds, we may witness a very kinetic game, with the ball moving fast between the two sides of the pitch. If he doesn’t (or just decides to play more cautious), it may turn out to be a match like that of last year – a physical, exhaustive matter of grind.
Antonio Cassano vs. Domenico Criscito
Cassano has been exploited by Mazzarri this year in a free-roaming, anarchic position, acting less as an all-out forward than as the eclectic bridge between midfield and offence (all discrepancies taken into account, what used to be the role of his old team-mate Francesco Totti). The Genoa defence has already stopped creative forwards of the calibre of Ronaldinho, Kaka and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but it is still impossible to understate the threat posed by this dark kid from Bari Vecchia. With dazzling technique, an unbound position and a newly discovered out-of-the-box shot, Talentino is less powerful but even more unpredictable than any of the players cited above. The ingrate task of locking him down will depend mostly and most likely on Domenico Criscito (an ex-Juventus promise whose growth among the Bianconeri was impeded by the explosion of Giorgio Chiellini). The Genoa central defender is young, astute and blessed with undoubted technique, but as an athlete he is also very small and very light. This deprives him of one of the most important assets a defender can use against the most technical forwards in sheer physical momentum. Criscito is going to have to pull his best cards out if he wants to stop Cassano without that power – either that, or he will have to rely on the help of his ex-Roma comrade Matteo Ferrari (who may know a thing or two about Talentino, but who may thus leave spaces for the rapacious other forward, Claudio Bellucci. Good luck to Gasperini if Ferrari does).
Pietro Accardi vs. Diego Milito
The other great confrontation between a defender and an attacker is going to take place at the other end of the pitch. Milito is without doubt the revelation of the year among forwards in Serie A (alongside perhaps Lazio’s Mauro Zarate) and some would argue, the main reason behind Genoa’s success so far this season. With 11 goals in 13 games under his belt, the Argentinean is an utterly prolific goal-scorer and the current Serie A Capocannoniere. The 29-year-old is a treat for the eyes, possessing power, technique, an instinct for positioning and great team-play. Accardi is not the only defender who will be asked to stop him (Hugo Campagnaro, provided he is back from injury, will share in the task), but he is the most rocky and durable, providing the physique and determination to challenge the forward. Milito is the key element in a three-man attack, which is perhaps more than can be said for Accardi’s role in his three man defence, but both will have to look out for each other once they hit the field. Milito’s actions, and Accardi’s capacity to limit them, may well be the factor to decide the match.
Angelo Palombo vs. Thiago Motta
Motta would probably be playing in a much more potent team than Genoa if his career hadn’t been awfully riddled with injuries. Now that he has finally found his form, however, his Brazilian descent is beginning to shine. With only two men partnering him in the midfield, Motta faces a critical task against the five players that Sampdoria will deploy in the middle of the pitch. Most prominent among these will be the destroyer Angelo Palombo, who has only just returned from injury and will have his own uncertain form to deal with. When Palombo is fit, there is very little of an ‘Angelo’ in his game and you could well mistake him for a (slightly less versatile) Gennaro Gattuso. When he is not, as he may well not be against Genoa, he is no player to stop the geometries and the assists drawn by Motta. The pitch will tell.
Mirko Pieri vs. Raffaele Palladino
Palladino first came to the notice of the Italian public when playing for Juventus two years ago in Serie B, but he disappointed in the step up to the top league and all the jazz around the ‘heir to Alessandro Del Piero’ was quickly forgotten. In the least expectant ambience of Genoa, however, he has offered some major contributions, proving a mature and versatile offensive player with strong technical attributes. The ambitions of the Turin club may be a bit too much for this burnt star of Italian football, but Palladino is one of the most precious – and dangerous – players in the formation where he has landed. On the wing where he plays, he will encounter Mirko Pieri, a defender who possesses competence and experience, but who may just find himself a bit out of his depth – the man will be expected to attack as well as to defend, and dealing with both roles may be a lot to ask from a player aged 30 marking a winger aged 24. It is true that, even if Pieri should find himself outrun or outwitted by Palladino’s fancy footwork, there will be Accardi or Daniele Gastaldello to offer some cover. But this will inevitably lighten the load on Diego Milito, and given the Argentinean’s fearsome potential, it may be all that Gasperini is asking for from ‘Palladinho.’