Sampdoria 3-2 Werder Bremen (AET): Pazzini puts Sampdoria in charge, but subs prove crucial

August 25, 2010

The starting line-ups

An amazing second leg of a superb tie sees Bremen progress thanks to a dramatic late show, whilst Sampdoria must settle for the Europa League.

Both teams changed shape from the first leg, with plenty of personnel changes too. Sampdoria set out with a strange formation vaguely resembling a 4-4-2 diamond (more on that later), with Stefano Guberti and Daniele Dessena starting in midfield, and Marius Stankevicius replacing the suspended Stefano Lucchini.

Bremen had severe injury problems – to the extent that they only named five substitutes. The star of the first leg, Aaron Hunt, was injured along with striker Hugo Almeida. Therefore, with no central creative player, Thomas Schaaf dropped Claudio Pizarro deeper and switched to something 4-4-2 / 4-2-3-1ish, with Marko Marin on the left playing a much more attack-minded role than Tim Borowski on the right.

There was barely time to consider the formations, as Sampdoria made a flying start with two quick goals from Giampaolo Pazzini. He picked up from where he left off in the first leg, being a constant danger when the ball was wide, generally taking up positions at the far post, and showing excellent movement to beat his man to the ball. He had already threatened once from this situation even before his eighth minute goal, a decent header from a left-wing Antonio Cassano cross that Tim Wiese should have kept out.

Main threat from crosses

Sampdoria were keen to get the ball as quickly as possible into wide areas, with long, diagonal balls from right to left towards Cassano a key feature of their play. On the other side, Franco Semioli and Stankevicius combined well, with the Lithuanian making surging runs on the overlap to provide a different outlet, forcing Marin into defensive positions, and opening up space for Semioli.

The second goal came on 15 minutes – again from Pazzini, and again after he was lurking at the far post. This time the goal was spectacular – a long, deep free-kick from the right was met with a stunning volley into the top of the net, and with a quarter of an hour gone, Sampdoria were heading through.

Sampdoria system

With that in mind, they slowed the tempo, and the rest of the half was slightly more even. Here, we had a better chance to take a look at Sampdoria’s unusual formation. There was no left-winger – instead Guberti played as a trequartista, behind the front two. This required positional changes from Cassano – who moved left, up against the right-back, and Andrea Dessena, who shuttled from a central midfield position alongside Angelo Palombo, into a leftish position when in possession.

Sampdoria's unusual formation - the back four in red, the midfield diamond in yellow, and the wide front two in blue

All things considered, it was not entirely dissimilar to the formation Dunga used with Brazil. Either way, it shows that Domenico di Carlo is looking past the Gigi Delneri 4-4-2 / 4-2-2-2, and is planning on something slightly more unique.

The final chance of the first half fell to – guess who – Pazzini, when his header from a left-wing corner was cleared off the line by the Bremen defender on the far post, and the German side were slightly fortunate to go in at half-time just 2-0 down.

Second half

Bremen came out for the second half with the same eleven players and broadly the same shape, but a seemingly a completely different state of mind. In basic terms, they were simply braver in getting forward – Clemens Fritz was more attack-minded and took advantage of the lack of a Sampdoria left-sided midfielder, whilst Marin saw more of the ball and looked far more dangerous.

Pazzini was the key figure in the first half, but after half-time it was unquestionably Marin, who ensured Stankevicius had a torrid time trying to defend against him. Martin had the ability both to cut inside and shoot, or go down the outside and get a cross into the box, and Stankevicius couldn’t get the better of him. The situation became so grave that it was surprising Di Carlo did not address the issue with a substitution – not necessarily to get Stankevicius off the pitch, but at least to give him some protection, as Semioli is not a particularly talented player in a defensive sense.


Indeed, it was substitutions which were key in turning the game around. Sampdoria did little with theirs – first Fernando Tissone replaced Guberti (who had played well, and was clearly unhappy to be withdrawn) but then injured himself after seven minutes, meaning Daniele Mannini was introduced, seemingly unsure of what he was supposed to be doing. Their other substitution was withdrawing Cassano after he had scored what he thought was the clinching goal in the 90th minute, giving him an ovation, and putting on Nicola Pozzi, a fairly limited striker.

Schaaf used his changes very well. Marko Arnautovic replaced the invisible Borowski and immediately offered creativity in the final third from central positions, going close to scoring with a dipping shot over the crossbar. But Markus Rosenberg made the most crucial impact from the bench – in the 93rd minute, he received the ball in an inside-right position on the edge of the box, and drilled a superb low shot into the far corner to take the tie to extra-time. Just as Bremen had switched off in the first leg, Sampdoria had done in this game – their full-backs were still trying to get forward when they should have been solid and disciplined, and that was partly what cost them.


The body language of the two sides after the 90 minutes was fascinating. Sampdoria were down and out – literally – their players were collapsed on the floor receiving massages and treatment to various knocks, whilst the Bremen players were on their feet, rejuvenated and energised after Rosenberg’s late strike. The home side had spent the final period of the game trying to take the sting out of the game, the away side were playing at a high tempo trying to get back in it.

It was no surprise, therefore, that Bremen won the extra-time period. Marin continued to be brilliant and hit the woodwork twice (he deserved a goal), but the winning strike came from Pizarro – a low shot into the corner in similar fashion to Bremen’s first goal. And that was that – Sampdoria looked too tired and disorganised to create anything at the other end, and Bremen were through.


An extraordinary tie that featured two very similar games – the home side dominating and deservedly being 3-0 up going into stoppage time, and then conceding a crucial late goal. The pattern of play – as well as the difference in substitutions – meant that Bremen were always likely to go on and win the game, despite the fact they played very, very poorly in the first half of this game.

Credit should go to Schaaf for getting his side in shape despite the loss of Mesut Oezil (permanently) and Aaron Hunt (temporarily), although it’s hard to imagine he’ll ever again choose the XI with which he started this match, as there was no cohesion or creativity until the substitutions.

Sampdoria’s opening was sensational and their formation was fascinating – but on balance, they were narrowly second best.

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