Last season was a special one for the Blucerchiati, as they finished the season in fourth place in Serie A and qualified for the Champions League. The club also unveiled a striker-duo that could not only lead Sampdoria to further success but form the basis of a more potent attack on the Italian national team. But Sampdoria’s rivals have not sat still this offseason (including arch rival Genoa) and the club must adjust to being one of the clubs on top, not only seeing if they can make a run at the Top 3 but hold-off much improved Juventus, Palermo, and others.
Management: Luigi Del Neri did such a good job developing and leading Sampdoria last season that he was promptly snatched away by Juventus in the offseason. Into the void stepped former Chievo Verona manager Domenico Di Carlo. In an odd twist of fate, Sampdoria’s 2-1 victory over Parma in 2008 cost Di Carlo his first Serie A job, when he failed to lead Parma out of the relegation zone early in the season. He has received great praise for his ability to be so successful with Chievo, a club with a budget much smaller than most Serie A teams. This will only be his fourth year coaching in Serie A, however, and the expectations are much higher than they were at Chievo.
Transfer Market: The club had a quiet offseason save for reshaping the keeper position. Last year’s starter Storari is in Milan and his replacement is Gianluca Curci from Siena. He’s young at 25 and was at one time an heir apparent to Gigi Buffon on the Azzurri, although he has not been called up to the team since 2008. This season could be a chance for him to make his case for inclusion. Another player added to the roster is Nicola Pozzi, who is a depth addition to the front line.
Key Players and Formation: A concern going into the season has to be the defense after the disappointing Champions League play-in versus Bremen. A key starter on the backline is Daniele Gastaldello who has ninety-six appearances for the club since 2008. He will likely be flanked by a combination of Marius Stankevicius, Stefano Lucchini and Massimo Volta. I expect the young Swiss international Jonathan Rossini to also compete for substantial playing time.
Captain and Sampdoria stalwart Angelo Palombo returns to anchor a talented midfield after there was some speculation he could go in the offseason. On his right will be former Viola player Franco Semioli who notched two goals last season. Young star-in-the-making Andrea Poli also returns to gain valuable experience and could be a future member of the Italian national team. Depending on his injury sustained in Tuesday’s match, Argentine Fernando Tissone enters the Serie A season as a starter in a midfield where, depending on the match, Di Carlo could play four or five players.
Of course the big names for Sampdoria are the two strikers – Antonio Cassano and Giampaolo Pazzini. Both had excellent ’09-’10 seasons and both legitimately deserved to play in South Africa, although only one did. They have picked up where they left off against Bremen, scoring all four of the team’s goals. If they stay healthy and motivated, Sampdoria again will have one of the most dangerous attacks in Serie A. If they do not, however, the depth is less spectacular.
Outlook: This week’s Champions League loss was a heartbreaker for the club, and showed some of its faults to an international audience. Nevertheless, this is essentially the same club that finished fourth last season, and they should be expected to compete for the top four again. A couple of keys for the season will be [a] how the players adjust to Di Carlo’s scheme and how Di Carlo adjusts to Top Four calcio, [b] if Cassano behaves himself and is as productive as he can be, and [c] if this team can handle both a Serie A schedule and the Europa League.