Two sides with very different league ambitions meet at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris on Wednesday, with a important three points at stake. The Biancocelesti’s slow slide down the table continued last weekend as they were thrashed at home by a resurgent Cagliari side. Delio Rossi’s men looked like genuine contenders for a Champions League place after their fine start to the season but their inconsistent form has seen that dream slowly diminish and they find themselves sitting a rather tepid 9th following that brutal reverse at the hands of the Rossoblu. It leaves them five points off the 4th spot and that final Champions League spot and with results and performances as unpredictable as they have been all campaign, few would tip them to overhaul that gap.
But while the Aquilotti gaze hopefully upwards, the Blucerchiati’s stare will be firmly fixed over their shoulder as they sit a desperate 15th and just four points from the drop zone. It’s one win in seven for Walter Mazzarri’s side as well as a mountain of injury problems after leaving the San Siro not only empty handed, but with more players bound for the treatment room. Mazzarri himself is becoming increasingly under pressure – the home defeat to Palermo on Week 19 not only saw his side booed off but also saw the Marassi faithful question the team’s effort and desire.
Both clubs are enduring a rickety spell at present, but it seems that’s where the similarities end. Samp’s goal tally stands at a dire 16 goals in 20 Serie A matches thus far – just Siena and Chievo have a worse total. Only three players have netted more than a solitary goal for the Blucerchiati this season and with relegation now a realistic concept, the goals will really have to start flowing. The capture of Fiorentina’s Giampaolo Pazzini will certainly add more firepower alongside the erratic and volatile Antonio Cassano but arguably the lack of goals seems to lay more with the supply than the finishing. Mazzarri has preferred the 3-5-2 system with the use of wing backs, but it is a formation that is incredibly rare in modern day football, largely due to the fact both wing backs are so heavily relied upon in terms of both defending their channel and attacking along it in order to supply crosses for the strikers. If the side is under the cosh somewhat or struggling to hold onto possession, the system can quickly become a 5-3-2 formation, leaving the forwards starved of any kind of service or support from the wings. Samp are very much a solid outfit – just 24 goals conceded in the league – but their torrid scoring record may just force Mazzarri’s hand in terms of a change in formation.
With Cassano struggling with a neck injury, much of the goal threat may well be firmly through new signing Pazzini on Wednesday. Yet to get off the mark after his two outings, the former Viola man will be desperate to contribute in the way of goals in order to pay back the faith and money his new Coach has shown in him. Samp also has problems at the back and will struggle to find three fit centre-backs for the midweek game, after Daniele Gastaldello was stretchered off at Inter, leaving Angelo Palombo and Marco Padalino to fill in as makeshift centre-halves.
Thus with Samp hopeless in the attacking third, but a decent enough outfit otherwise – Lazio’s problems are the total opposite. The league’s entertainers have seen 60 goals in their 20 matches this season – joint most with Udinese. They are Serie A’s fourth top scorers with three strikers amongst the goals along with plenty of others chipping in, Le Aquile have scored three or more in a match on no less than six occasions this season. However, the fact they’ve conceded three or more five times already this campaign shows you just what kind of side the Sky Blues are. Which Lazio will turn up? The question asked before every one of their games. The side capable of tearing a team apart, effortlessly bulging the opposition’s net, or the defensive carnage we saw last Sunday – or a mixture of both. December’s 3-3 draw at Udinese saw the Biancocelesti 3-0 down after 55 minutes subsequent to some horrendous defending, before an inspired last half an hour saw them rescue a point and completely encapsulate their topsy-turvy season in just 90 minutes.
Now undoubtedly, Goran Pandev, Tommaso Rocchi and Mauro Zarate are a frightening three-pronged attack but if Rossi harbours European aspirations he will have to sort out his leaky defence. Perhaps reinforcements in the January transfer window being an option – Zaragoza’s ex-Milan and Napoli centre-back Roberto Ayala has been linked, although an excellent defender in his prime, at 35 seems a desperate measure. Meanwhile, Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic, who has found himself linked with numerous Serie A clubs, is also being rumoured as a potential signing for the Biancocelesti, after the 24-year old voiced his anger at having seen few first team opportunities at his time in England.
But Rossi will know his team has plenty of potential and perhaps the cries of European football are a season early. There’s heaps of talent at his disposal yet his defensive unit needs some working on and surely he will be looking to add to his options in that area – if not this transfer window, then surely in the summer. While Rossi racks his brains in trying to find the right balance and possible recruitments, the neutrals will continue to enjoy watching such a maverick and at times gung-ho team, thrill and horrify for the rest of the season.