Werder Bremen 3-1 Sampdoria: Late Pazzini goal keeps the tie alive

August 19, 2010

The starting line-ups

Bremen were the better side and looked to be sailing through to the group stage, but their loss of concentration might come back to haunt them.

The game was an interesting match-up in terms of formations – Bremen played a 4-3-1-2 / 4-4-2 diamond system, with Aaron Hunt shuttling across the pitch into wide areas, hoping to impress after the departure of Mesut Oezil.

Domenico Di Carlo fielded the same system Sampdoria played last season under Luigi Delneri – a 4-4-2 / 4-2-2-2 with two out-and-out wingers, and Antonio Cassano dropping deep to the left of Giampaolo Pazzini. Fernando Tissone was selected in midfield ahead of Andrea Poli.

On paper, Bremen’s formation suffers from a distinct lack of width, which would be all the more problematic considering they field two strikers, Claudio Pizarro and Hugo Almeida, who thrive on crosses. In reality, however, they manage to find width in three separate ways – the shuttlers either side of the diamond move gradually into wide zones, the full-backs take up advanced positions to stretch the play, and finally – and most crucially – Hunt plays an unusual role – nominally a trequartista but almost always ending up in wide areas on both sides of the pitch.

Tactical duel

This game turned out to be a tremendous tactical contest, that stemmed from Bremen having a numerical advantage in the centre of midfield. Tissone and Angelo Palombo, the two midfield terriers, worked hard in closing down Tim Borowski and Philipp Bargfrede whenever they received the ball, and early on they were forced to play it back to Torsten Frings, who sat deep ahead of his own centre-backs.

With Cassano playing little part defensively – only picking up Frings when the ball was in Bremen’s own half, and letting him go free when their attacks developed – Frings had a tremendous amount of time on the ball. Gradually, he played a bigger part in the game, and Bremen’s 3 v 2 midfield advantage started to show.

As a result of this deficit in the centre of midfield, Sampdoria’s wingers were dragged too far into the centre of the pitch to help out, and in turn this left the Bremen full-backs with room to exploit in wide areas of the pitch. Petri Pasanen was danger on the left-hand side, but Clemens Fritz was concerned with Cassano’s movement to his side, and was slightly more conservative.

All this ignores the issue of Hunt, the key figure of the first half. His distinctive role made it very hard for Sampdoria to pick him up – the Italians’ midfielders were concerned with their opposite numbers, the centre-backs had a powerful centre-forward each to deal with, and the full-backs were reluctant to be drawn out of position to come and meet him in semi-central positions.

Sampdoria play direct football

Of course, football is always 11 v 11, so all these advantages enjoyed by Bremen mean they were also weaker in another area of the pitch – the flanks, where Sampdoria basically had 2 v 1 on each side. But the Bremen diamond shifted across the pitch well, and Sampdoria rarely looked to switch play to counter this tactic. The time on the ball that should have been enjoyed by Sampdoria’s full-backs wasn’t of particular value, as they were looking to play quick, direct balls to the front two, rather than building up play gradually.

The first half was fascinating tactically but relatively quiet in terms of goalmouth action. Despite Bremen’s dominance, Pazzini was the biggest threat – he headed just past the post after a clever quick free-kick from Palombo, and had a goal correctly disallowed when Bremen’s excellent offside trap caught him out.

There was a goal after just five minutes of the second half, however. Hunt was far quieter in the second half, but had a part to play in the goal. Sampdoria had let him run free in the opening period, but Di Carlo had clearly given his players strict instructions to close him down ferociously in the second. Daniele Mannini helped Reto Ziegler double up against him in Sampdoria’s left-back zone, but this left Fritz free. After Tissone’s pathetic attempt at a clearance, Fritz had time to line up a shot and smash the ball into the far corner.

Second half

This theme vaguely continued throughout the second half – Sampdoria dealt with Hunt far better, but this seemed to open up space across the pitch for other Bremen players. After Pazzini hit the far post with an angled shot, Bremen took charge of the game following Stefano Lucchini’s pull on Sebastian Prodl at a corner kick. Lucchini was given a second yellow card, Frings converted the penalty, and Bremen had a two-goal and one-man advantage.

Sampdoria reshaped, taking off Franco Semioli (rather than a forward) and bringing on Marius Stankevicius, a centre-back,  and going 4-3-2. Unfortunately, Stankevicius’s first touch was deflecting the ball past his own goalkeeper after Almeida’s wonderful move, and at 3-0, Bremen looked home and dry in the tie.

Di Carlo wanted his players to attack, though, aware that an away goal now would be more important than a goal at the start of the second leg. Substitute Stefano Guberti twice went close, before Pazzini got the goal he deserved in stoppage time, with a trademark towering header from a right-wing cross. Sampdoria knew how crucial a goal here was, and so did Bremen – “The goal Sampdoria scored was avoidable and leaves a bitter aftertaste”, said Fritz afer the game. 3-1 is very, very different to 3-0.


For Sampdoria – read Tottenham Hotspur. Impressive last season playing 4-4-2 with two wingers, their first Champions League experience, and they find themselves 3-0 down away from home, before staging a late comeback. Both seemed tactically naive by keeping two strikers high up the pitch, a tactic rarely seen from teams playing away in the Champions League.

Bremen were excellent and played a clever game – dominating possession in the centre of the pitch, narrowing Sampdoria, before bringing their full-backs into play and finding the creative Hunt in dangerous positions.

Sampdoria are a force to be reckoned with at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris, and the second leg will be much tougher for Bremen.

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