Sampdoria has had a great start to the 2018/19 Serie A campaign and the performances from the Doriani suggest that they will be in contention for a spot in one of Europe’s competitions next season.
Marco Giampaolo is in his third season as coach of the Blucerchiati and he has persisted with his attacking philosophy as well as the 4-3-1-2 formation despite another overhaul of the squad.
During the summer they failed to sign Norwegian-Kosovar midfielder Valon Berisha, Croatian playmaker Lovro Majer, and Italian striker Simone Zaza, but they were still able to reinforce the squad despite offloading a few players.
The most notable absentee is the diminutive Uruguayan midfielder Lucas Torreira, who was purchased by English club Arsenal for €30 million after two impressive seasons with Sampdoria, and another key player that left was Colombian striker Duvan Zapata, who was acquired by Atalanta.
At the back was where the Blucerchiati experienced the most upheaval, with goalkeeper Emiliano Viviano transferring to Portuguese giants Sporting CP, veteran defender Matias Silvestre moving to Empoli, and centre-back Gian Marco Ferrari returning to Sassuolo after his loan spell was completed.
Gambian defender Omar Colley was acquired from Belgian club Genk for €7.5 million plus €2 million in bonuses while centre-back Lorenzo Tonelli has arrived on loan from Napoli. In goal Viviano’s place has been taken by Emil Audero, who arrived on loan from Juventus after impressing with Venezia in Serie B in 2017/18.
Taking the place of Torreira in midfield is Swedish international Albin Ekdal. A player that Giampaolo coached while he was at Siena, the 29-year-old has joined from German club Hamburger SV and he has matured since the two worked during the 2009/10 season.
Twenty-two-year-old Czech midfielder Jakub Jankto has joined on loan from fellow Serie A club Udinese with an option to be purchased outright and former Italy under-21 international Riccardo Saponara has arrived on loan from Fiorentina. Like Ekdal, Tonelli, and Fabio Quagliarella, Saponara has had prior experience playing under Giampaolo having starred for Empoli in the 2015/16 season.
To replace Zapata in attack, the Blucerchiati have brought French forward Gregoire Defrel on loan from Roma, and the 27-year-old arrived at the Genoese club with an underwhelming scoring record. He has never scored more than 12 goals in a league campaign and had scored just once in all competitions for the Giallorossi last season.
Due to the Ponte Morandi disaster that occurred on August 14 and as a mark of respect for the victims of the bridge collapse, Sampdoria and its city rival Genoa did not play their respective Round 1 fixtures in Serie A so they commenced their campaigns in the following round.
Udine was where the Blucerchiati started their season but the result was not an ideal one as the Genoese side lost 1-0 to Udinese. Giampaolo used Paraguayan veteran Edgar Barreto as a holding midfielder instead of his normal role as a box-to-box midfielder and Uruguayan international Gaston Ramirez playing behind the strikers Quagliarella and Defrel with both moves failing miserably.
Napoli was Sampdoria’s first opponent at home for the 2018/19 Serie A season and the Neapolitans decided to rest experienced players like Jose Callejon and Marek Hamsik whereas Giampaolo decided to start Ekdal and Saponara. It backfired enormously on Partenopei coach Carlo Ancelotti as Il Doria triumphed 3-0.
Defrel scored his first two goals for the club including a strike from outside of the thanks to a splendid through-ball from Saponara and then Quagliarella sealed the victory with an outrageous back-heel after he leaped in the air to meet Bartosz Bereszynski’s curling cross from the right.
Sampdoria achieved back-to-back victories after the international break defeating the newly-promoted Frosinone 5-0 away. Defrel netted another brace while Quagliarella, Gianluca Caprari, and Dawid Kownacki also contributed to the scoring.
Eventually the revised fixture between Sampdoria and Fiorentina was played on Wednesday and both teams shared the spoils in a 1-1 draw. Caprari equalised in the second half after Giovanni Simeone opened the scoring early in the game but it was an encounter which both sides looked capable of securing a win.
Currently the Doriani are equal fourth on the Serie A table with seven points after four games and they are ahead of the Viola and Sassuolo on goal difference. Although Giampaolo has created a system and a style of play that is bringing the best out of his squad, there are some players that have stood out more than others.
Changing the defence has so far been ideal because Giampaolo now has defenders capable of playing the ball out from the back with confidence. Young Danish defender Joachim Andersen is earning playing time and has played well alongside both Colley and Tonelli.
Ekdal has filled the void left by Torreira in central midfield. The experienced Swede is not as tenacious as the Uruguayan starlet but he uses his experience to move at the right time and he is more graceful on the ball.
One of the most maligned players in the Sampdoria squad is former Paraguayan international Barreto. He is 34 years old but he is a tireless runner and his ball use and decision making has so far been much better than what it was last season. Barreto has provided two assists and he was also involved in Defrel’s second goal against Frosinone.
The evergreen Quagliarella has retained the captaincy and he remains a vital part of the Sampdoria squad. After scoring a career-best 19 goals in Serie A in 2017/18, he has already scored twice as well as providing two assists, and it seems that his knack for scoring spectacular goals has been passed on to Gianluca Caprari. The 25-year-old has scored in Il Doria’s last two league matches and they have been outstanding strikes.
He scored Sampdoria’s second goal in the demolition of Frosinone, which involved the Doriani stinging an abundance of passes together before advancing forward, and then he thundered home a powerful volley after a Quagliarella cross from the left.
The surprise of the campaign so far aside from Barreto’s impressive form is Defrel, who has scored four goals in as many games and he is currently the leading goalscorer in Serie A alongside Genoa striker Krzysztof Piatek. The Frenchman played a part in helping Sassuolo qualify for Europe for the first time so he can use that experience to help La Samp and continually improve his strike rate.
Aside from the draw at home to Fiorentina, Sampdoria’s results so far in 2018/19 have been an improvement on last season. The Blucerchiati lost 4-0 away to Udinese, failed to beat any of the teams promoted from Serie B, and lost 2-0 at home to Napoli in 2017/18 so there are signs of progress in which Giampaolo and his players can take confidence in.
Although it is premature to make predictions about how far Sampdoria can progress this season, the Doriani have the potential to improve on the previous two seasons under Giampaolo and they have shown that they can win matches with style and panache. Now they need to remain consistent if dreams of European football are to become a reality.
By: Vito Doria