As eyes across the continent draw themselves away from the past week’s World Cup qualifying, there is still a veritable bevy of club fortunes still to be decided on the domestic scene.
This season more unlikely sides have pressed for a place in the league standings, whilst the middle of Italy’s premier division has become somewhat cluttered with those usually clamouring for the attractive and lucrative jaunts into European club competitions. Three teams usually expected to be looking into hotel costs across the continent ahead of next season’s exploits have report cards that read ‘must do better.’ Napoli, Udinese and Sampdoria.
In what can easily be seen as the wrong half of the Serie A table, the latter two are feeling the pinch of this season’s trips to foreign climes whilst the former is struggling with indifferent form after over-shooting expectations since their return to the top flight. Separated by a solitary point and three places, Napoli could use the win against Sampdoria when the two meet on Sunday to apply pressure on Atalanta whilst Doria will be looking to ensure they can slingshot their way from the clutches of an end-of-season dog-fight. Without too many disruptions caused by the international scene – except the continual pressure on Azzurri Coach Marcello Lippi to give the nod to Bari bad boy Antonio Cassano – these two teams will use this final furlong to push as close to the fringes of European football as their wracked and tired bodies can take them.
Samp has flirted with the drop zone and were in danger of being a big name casualty, before eventually finding some sort of form when it was most needed, particularly when dispatching the bigger guns visiting the Stadio Luigi Ferraris. Most recently, the Blucerchiati have held Roma to a two-goal clincher and even managed to upset Brand Beckham’s Italian fairytale with an accomplished 2-1 victory over Milan at the start of March. However, the unfortunate reality for Walter Mazzarri’s men is that they tend to take the foot off the gas in between big games – as a 3-0 defeat away to Bologna in the middle of those two commendable results shows. Ultimately, the trend of Doria’s season has been stuttering momentum and erratic form, which leaves them sitting near the bottom of the pile and now without Europe to reassure them.
The Sampdoria tifosi can take heart from a 3-1 dispatching of Torino on their travels before the international break however, a performance that showed their team can play outside Genoa with the necessary focus. A glimmer of hope that could go a long way to keeping Samp in the ascendancies is the burgeoning chemistry between the aforementioned Cassano and former Fiorentina frontman Giampaolo Pazzini. Ever since the young buck left the Artemio Franchi for the Blucerchiati, the 24-year-old has bagged eight goals in ten games and can thank the guidance of the once wayward number ninety-nine lining up alongside him, something that has not escaped the attention of Pazzini, who paid tribute to his strike partner, branding him: “the best footballer I have ever played with,” in a gushing interview with La Gazzetta dello Sport.
Along with Angelo Palombo, Pazzini will be buoyed by featuring in the Azzurri set-up (despite the all-too-brief appearance midweek against the Irish) and will look to add to netting his first senior goal for his country in the furious surroundings of Montenegro with an equally important effort past Nico Navarro on Sunday. Casting their minds back to the 3-1 win in Turin on March 22, the Blucerchiati head into the clash with the Partenopei without any suspensions and the only expected change to the line-up is Palermo-loanee Andrea Raggi slotting in at right-back ahead of Hugo Campagnaro.
Conversely, the international lay-off may have been a hindrance for the Neapolitans. Rumours from South America claim that Chelsea-target Ezequiel Lavezzi underwent a muscular twinge despite being unused in the 4-0 bulldozing of Venezuela and was removed from the squad for Bolivia. In addition to sweating on the fitness of his key frontman, new Coach Roberto Donadoni may be left lamenting the timing of the internationals. Having only just taken over the still lukewarm seat of Eduardo Reja, Donadoni was quickly up against the club that made his name and snatching a point off Milan is good for any team’s confidence regardless of the opposition’s recent form.
However, the hard-fought goalless draw at the San Paolo seems like something of a distant memory now and the former Azzurri Coach will hope that the good messages being imparted to produce a more calm and composed performance by the Partenopei can be remembered when they make the trip to Genoa. One man who struggles with the concept of calm, Manuele Blasi, is set to miss out having picked up a deserved yellow during his whole-hearted performance in subduing the Milanese midfield three. The likelihood is that Francesco Montervino is to come in to fill the void left by the former Juve defensive midfielder.
With Atalanta up next for the Neapolitans, the result against Sampdoria could be all important in terms of defining their final position, especially if the men from Bergamo capitalise on low esteem within the Partenopei ranks. Meanwhile, Samp has a good opportunity to put together a great string of results ahead of the Genoa derby on May 3. A victory over Donadoni’s men would set them up well for potentially difficult but winnable trips to Lecce and Catania and a home game against surprise package Cagliari.
As Serie A boils down to what so many pundits like to term ‘the business end,’ some sides begin to shut up shop and look for supposedly safe points. In all likelihood, an in-form home side in Sampdoria against a Napoli team improving under new Coach Donadoni means this could either be a taut draw or a very open, high-scoring affair.