Juvetus’s defeat of Sampdoria on Wednesday was simply crushing and not only because of the unforgiving 5-1 scoreline. It was the quality and sheer determination of their performance that made the occasion such a spectacle. Though frustrating at times this season, the Bianconeri’s playing has had an air of expectant danger, a calm before the storm as it were that was unleashed with all its force upon a sorry Sampdoria that, try as they did, had no chance to weather the storm.
Juventus were simply perfect. Their sweeping quick-fire attacks, coming from all directions, and not just through their attacking linchpin Diego, ripped the Sampdoria defence to pieces and left them scattered time and again. The interplay between the forward quartet (Amauri, Diego, Sebastian Giovinco and Mauro Camoranesi) worked seamlessly to a devastating effect, perhaps for the first time this season. And that was not all, the full-backs, Fabio Grosso and Zdenek Grygera (and the centre-back Giorgio Chiellini in the second goal), were going gung-ho as well. And why not, it was training pitch stuff, moves that only work with this kind of precision when there is no opposition to bother you, if even then: the timing of forward runs, the the movement between positions, the slickness of the passing, the effectiveness of the finishing. At best the pace of it all was simply mind-numbing and that was probably exactly what it felt like for the Sampdoria defenders. Suitably for the occasion, Sampdoria’s best player was the keeper Luca Castellazzi. Had it not been for a few heroic saves by him, the scoreline would’ve been closer to double-figures.
Sampdoria’s collective approach
Sampdoria have triumphed thus far through their down-to-earth collective approach in general and through the excellence of Giampaolo Pazzini (7 goals, 1 assist) and Antonio Cassano (1 goal, 6 assists) in particular. This has been no secret to anyone and, on the face of it, it should not be as difficult a task, even despite the steady quality that cuts through their squad and the huge talent of the attacking duo, to disarm them. But until now, only few have been able to contain and suffocate their attacking flow. The coach Luigi Del Neri has been able to harness the squad, the star duo included, to play his highly hard-working, dynamic and straightforward brand of football. The unit is always primary in Del Neri’s thinking and the whole team complies to his approach by working tirelessly in both directions. When in attack the midfielders and full-backs push forward like blood-hounds chasing a scent in order to provide back-up for the attackers (a testament to this is utility-man Daniele Mannini’s staggering total of five goals and three assists). Even if Pazzini and Cassano have stolen the limelight, Sampdoria, as Del Neri’s teams always are, are nothing if not defined by the performance of the collective.
Ferrera’s defensive tactics the key
At the Olimpico, the home team succeeded in stifling Sampdoria’s approach with brutal effectiveness. Ciro Ferrara’s tactical abilities and especially his capability to make changes during games have been put under question when things have not gone Juve’s way. However, on Wednesday at least, Ferrara excelled with his initial tactical decisions. He revamped his preferred 4-4-2 (with a midfield diamond) into a 4-2-3-1 (bringing in the excellent Giovinco and Mohamed Sissoko into the starting line-up). Defensively their primary objective was to press high up the field and contain the visitors’s midfield from providing controlled and quick passes to Cassano and this way to launch counter-attacks. Secondly, Juventus’s whole defence line pushed forward knowing that they can risk leaving space behind their backs since Cassano would be driven closer to the half-way line to receive the ball (where Juve have already packed their midfield bruisers) and because Pazzini, excellent though he is, isn’t the fastest of attackers. With their unit tight, compact and up the pitch, Sampdoria’s defenders were forced to play uncontrolled balls from deep areas to the two attackers and whenever either of them had the ball, Juve defended ruthlessly with two of three players. With his technical ability, Cassano was often able to receive the ball but was straight away pressured and tackled from all directions. In this Melo and Sissoko did a terrific if near-criminal job. The rigour of Juve’s defending was almost spartan with the result that Cassano had his quietest and most frustrating game all season and Pazzini was kept virtually without delivery throughout the match (though, he did manage to score a superb header from his only chance in the game).
One would have though that Juventus would have been able to brush past a Napoli side at home that are still in transition after appointing Walter Matzzarri in place of Roberto Donadoni. After the mid-week matches both teams were full of confidence (Napoli made an epic come-back from dead against AC Milan in mid-week, after being 0-2 down after 90 minutes) and to the surprise of most, it was the resurgent Napoli that took most heart from their Wednesday heroics. The Sunday’s clash went according to a similar plot for both team as it did in mid-week. David Trezequet and Giovinco put Juve into a comfortable 2-0 lead after 54 minutes but the visitors came from behind remarkably with two goals by Marek Hamsik and one from Jesus Datolo to record a well-deserved 2-3 victory.
Most sides would throw in the towel after going two goals down at Juventus but Matzzarri’s team seem to come to life in these conditions. The horrible start to the season under Donadoni is now only a fading memory for Napoli who are now sixth in the table. Maybe next time around they could try start scoring when it’s still 0-0.