Sampdoria have been a pretty dismal attacking outfit this season since Antonio Cassano was excluded. Their attempts to compensate for his absence have been strange, acquiring several strikers, all of whom are rather similar to one another. But the failure of the forwards to perform has allowed one man to shine – 26-year-old midfielder Stefano Guberti.
Bought on a co-ownership from Roma last summer, Sampdoria could be in an even worse position without Guberti in the squad. He has scored the most goals of the players still at the club (only Giampaolo Pazzini has more for Samp this season), but far from simply completing a task his forwards seem unable to, it is the attacking impetus he has offered the side from midfield that has been his biggest asset.
The Blucerchiati are an incredibly predictable side in midfield, and the absence of Cassano has brought this to the fore. Their brightest central midfield prospect, Andrea Poli, has been hit by injuries and inconsistency this season, and so the guile he could (and possibly should) be providing has been missing for long periods. On the right, Daniele Mannini is more of a role player, a runner, than someone who is going to add a spark to a team going forward, and Vladimir Koman (who has also been used in a central role) has not built on the promise he showed on loan at Bari last season.
So it is left to Guberti, who has spent the majority of the season playing on the left. He has many of the attributes you would desire in a wide player – pace, the ability to beat a man, equally comfortable using either foot, and of course a goal threat. Those goals do not just come against the weak teams either – of the five he has scored in Serie A this season, three have been put past Lazio, Inter and Roma.
But he is more than a conventional winger – his movements this season have seen him come in off his flank frequently, and his ability to find space effectively in the centre has made marking him a tough task for opposition defenders. His goals against Milan in the Coppa Italia, and Inter last October are two such examples of how well he can use the space he finds. Defenders cannot simply show him one way or another such is the damage he can do centrally.
Coach Domenico Di Carlo recognises both his importance to the team, and his abilities in the middle. For the past two games, he has switched to a 3-5-1-1, and has placed Guberti behind striker Massimo Maccarone (similar to Alexis Sánchez at Udinese). This has not really worked out as Di Carlo would have hoped – with the wing-backs tasked with providing the width, Guberti’s remit is to stay central and find the spaces, but all it has served to do is nullify the threat he carried from wide. He is much easier to close out when starting from the middle, even more so when there is only one striker for opposition centre-backs to deal with. It is not like utilising Guberti as trequartista in a 4-3-1-2, where the narrow system encourages him to wander into wide areas and creates uncertainty for defenders.
Given his performances so far this season, Guberti can consider himself unlucky not to have been called up to the Italy squad. With Cesare Prandelli stating on numerous occasions a desire to play 4-3-3, and the dearth of Italian wide players, the Samp man should be in pole position. He may simply be a victim of Prandelli’s recent decision to forget 4-3-3 for the time being, but if he can make the central role he has at club level work (although he will need help from Di Carlo with this, namely the addition of another striker to the line-up) then it may not be too long before he is seen in the Azzurro Savoia.