Sampdoria 1-2 Napoli: late turnaround as Hamsik and Cavani snatch the win

September 20, 2010

The starting line-ups

Napoli dominated the game and yet fell behind, before rallying in the final ten minutes to record their first win of the season.

Sampdoria lined up with their diamondish formation, with Stefano Guberti as an attacking midfielder, Antonio Cassano off to the left (but narrower than usual) and Franco Semioli on the right.

Napoli fielded a more standard 3-4-1-2 to the one they fielded on the opening day against Fiorentina. Michele Pazienza was in in the midfield, Hugo Campagnaro switched to the left of the back three and marked Giampaolo Pazzini, whilst Gianluca Grava picked up Antonio Cassano.

The key man in the first half was Andrea Dossena, Napoli’s left wing-back. He was constantly an outlet on the ¬†wing, as Napoli looked to move the ball quickly to the flanks, trying to catch out Sampdoria’s diamond shape which was forced to shift across the field.¬†Semioli was the man charged with tracking Dossena, but he seemed uncomfortable in a more defensive, central role than he would have liked – his natural game is as a flying winger.

The problems for Sampdoria here seemed to start when Pazienza and Walter Gargano were able to combine and keep the ball in the centre of the pitch, able to play their way around Guberti easily. This would often draw Semioli inside to try and help win the ball back, and this would open up space ahead of Dossena. Marek Hamsik’s leftish attacking midfield position also caused some confusion here.

Napoli solid

Against Fiorentina, Napoli’s shape was noticeably lopsided, because of the fact they were up against just one striker, Alberto Gilardino. Here, against a two-man strikeforce, the three operated in a much more traditional manner. The duo of Cassano and Pazzini is probably Italy’s most effective partnership, but the spare man at the back (generally Paolo Cannavaro) meant Napoli kept the two quiet. Cassano played into their hands by taking up a reasonably central role, rather than dropping into wide and deep positions which may have caused more problems.

Napoli were also defending well from the front – one of the attacking trio made sure they were on Angelo Palombo when Sampdoria had the ball, and the three worked well to drift into wide positions and dissuade Luciano Zauri and Reto Ziegler from getting forward. Ezequiel Pavezzi, in particular, moved to the right and pinned Ziegler back. He was also Napoli’s most dangerous player when he got the ball, slaloming past challenges and driving towards goal.

Despite their dominance, Napoli weren’t able to go ahead. They were pushing plenty of men forward, summed up by the fact that Dossena, Gargano and even Campagnaro went close from open play. Lavezzi was brought down a couple of times on route to goal, whilst Cavani was the one Napoli player struggling to get into the game, up against two centre-backs.

Second half

Surprisingly, Domenico Di Carlo didn’t change anything major at half-time, although Palombo played slightly higher up the pitch and attempted to win the ball back more quickly. Napoli then started playing a more direct game, and it was Cavani and Maggio had chances on the counter.

With Cassano and Pazzini both anonymous, Sampdoria produced little – although they came close to opening the scoring when Guberti hit the bar from 25 yards. Napoli also hit the bar from a flighted Gargano free-kick.

Sampdoria were coming into the game more, although their opener on 78 minutes from the penalty spot was still against the run of play. Cassano finally drifted across to the right-hand side and caught Napoli’s defence square – his cross didn’t reach Nicola Pozzi (on for Pazzini) but Cannavaro’s foul on Pozzi resulted in a penalty.

But credit should go to Walter Mazzarri for having faith in his system. He didn’t change a thing – not formation, not personnel – and was always confident Napoli would get back in the game. And they did – a clever Gargano free-kick found Hamsik in the box, and he slid the ball home. Three minutes later they got the winner. Lavezzi drifted to the left and chipped a ball into the near post, where Cavani converted. Sampdoria had two men closing down Lavezzi and two men covering Cavani – but somehow still conceded. On the balance of play, it was a fair result.


This was a strange game – the tactical battle came early on when Napoli were constantly able to find a man in space. The goals came at the end and barely seemed to relate to the rest of the game – Cassano and Lavezzi both created goals when they drifted to the opposite flank.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect was how Pazzini (who admittedly may not have been 100% fit) struggled when up against a side with a spare man at the back. This was a long way from his dominant performance against Werder Bremen recently. The rest of the Sampdoria side looked slightly disjointed – both Semioli and Dessena seemed uncomfortable, Palombo wasn’t as much of an influence on the game as he would have liked, the full-backs were too reserved and Cassano was rarely in space.

Napoli’s slight shifts in tactics from the Fiorentina game – Lavezzi drifting to the left, and Hamsik starting from the right – meant they dominated the game, and with their unusual formation, it will be fascinating to see how teams set up against them in the coming weeks.


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