Sampdoria had massively exceeded all expectations by finishing in third in Serie A in 2022/23. However, season three was likely to be much more of a struggle as the club looked to balance competing in the Champions League with the league on a shoestring budget.
Manager Roberto di Lazaró found his name being banded around by the media as the man to take various big jobs around Europe, including the likes of Lyon and Valencia. And you could have forgiven him for having his head turned given the lack of finances at Blucerchiati.
He remained focused on the task ahead, but his plans weren’t helped by goalkeeper Emil Audero deciding he wanted out and moved to PSG. A few youngsters also moved on, including Álvaro Bastida and Nemanja Jovic, who they couldn’t register with the silly Non-EU rules.
His first move on incomings was to permanently sign Yacine Adli, who spent the end of last season on loan at Samp, for a cut-price fee from Milan. He also snapped up exciting midfield prospect Welmo from Málaga. But the major priority was finding an Audero replacement. He eventually took a gamble on Man City’s Gavin Bazunu, who has plenty of promise and should learn loads from 45-year-old Gianluigi Buffon. Another midfield option was added as Mickael Cuisance arrived from FC Bayern then a backup striker as Lorenzo Colombo joined on loan from Milan.
However, the biggest win of the window was keeping hold of Anel Ahmedhodzic amid interest from Real Madrid and Mikkel Damsgaard, who turned down a £40 million move to Aston Villa. The transfers in full were:
|Transfers Out||Club and Price|
|Emil Audero||PSG, £15.5m|
|Álvaro Bestida||Crystal Palace, £3.5m|
|Nemanja Jovic||Koln, £3.1m|
|Facundo Farías||River, £1.4m|
|Valentin Decarpentrie||Granada, £625k|
|Antonio La Gumina||Brescia, £275k|
|Ciaran Dickson||Motherwell, £125k|
|Dario Barbera||Udinese, £100k|
|Maxim Gresler||Lecce, £29k|
|Exaucé Mpembela Boula||Foggia, £17k|
|Total Received: £24.5m|
|Transfers In||Club and Price|
|Gavin Bazunu||Man City, £15m (£27.5m)|
|Yacine Adli||AC Milan, £5m (£12.5m)|
|Danijel Kiric||Dinamo, £2.5m (£5m)|
|Mickael Cuisance||Bayern, £200k (£400k)|
|Kamil Kraus||Slavia, £45k|
|Andrei Coubis||AC Milan, Free|
|Lorenzo Colombo||AC Milan, Loan|
|Total Spend: £23.5m|
On top of the transfer issues, di Lazaró allowed virtually his entire staff to leave the club and had to set about rebuilding it. That included bringing back club legend Fabio Quagliarella back as an under 18s coach, hiring former Man City assistant Juan Manuel Lillo as his number two and Julio Baptista as Under 20s Manager.
With the transfer business done, di Lazaró had tweaked his 4-3-3 approach slightly. He had three variations, one of which was pretty conservative, another was more attacking but fairly direct, and his preferred shorter passing approach, which is below.
Strong start to Serie A
Having finished last season with two home games, Samp started this season with two home games! They began against Fiorentina and conceded to their first shot of the season. But main striker Cosimo Marco Da Graca got them level before Fiorentina were reduced to 10 men. And Samp finally made the extra man count as midfielder Kristoffer Askildsen struck a 25-yard beauty in the 95th-minute. While last year’s 43-goal man Ciro Immobile scored four in Lazio’s opening game!
Askildsen scored again as Samp ran riot on Venezia in the first 22 minutes, leading 3-0 with goals from Andreas Schjeldrup, who’s shown massive improvement over the summer, and centre-back Giorgio Scalvini’s first for the club. And Askildsen, who’d scored twice in 40 games in the previous two seasons, made it three in three as his late goal killed off Sassuolo in a 2-0 win that began with Ahmedhodzic’s early header and saw Bazunu play a 7.7.
Two 100% records were on the line as Samp went to Lazio and it unsurprisingly swung on an Immobile goal after an hour. A Schjeldrup penalty was enough for a 1-0 win over Torino but the team really kicked into form against Salernitana. Adli and Rayan Cherki both scored wondergoals, which came first and second in the goal of the month, Adli went on to bag a hat-trick and Cherki a brace in a 6-0 thumping, which is the biggest win of the save so far.
They unsurprisingly lost 2-1 at Inter, despite Cosimo hitting the bar in the last minute. Colombo came off the bench to nick a 1-0 win at Bologna with his first league goal then a stupidly impressive 3-0 win at home to Napoli thanks to Duje Caleta-Car scoring twice from Antonio Candreva corners.
Parma gifted Samp an own goal after 28 seconds before Cosimo finished off a superb team move and Schjeldrup sealed a 3-1 win in injury-time. Cosimo then bagged consecutive braces in a 3-0 win at home to Udinese and a 3-1 win at struggling Venezia. And Samp were absolutely flying with 10 wins from their first 12 matches.
That continued as winger Stipe Biuk scored the only goal to bag a first win of the save against Roma then a 0-0 draw with AC Milan that Samp really should have won. But the good run came to an end with a 2-1 loss at Juventus. However, they bounced back as a stunning volley by left-back Tommaso Augello earned a 1-0 win at Cagliari, which Samp dominated by 24 shots to six and 2.51 xG to 0.51.
Samp went into a three-week winter break sitting third in Serie A, having won 12, drawn one and lost three of their 16 matches. They’re only four points behind leaders Inter and two behind Milan, but it’s all very close with just seven points separating them from seventh-place Roma. Samp are also the top scorers in the league with 31 goals. Last year’s Champions League qualifiers Sassuolo are struggling down in 11th and Napoli have again been poor down in ninth.
Once again, Immobile has been amazing this season scoring in 15 in 16, which is nearly double the next-best tally of eight. Cosimo is one behind that on seven but he’s had the fourth-most shots in the league, so di Lazaró is looking for a little more from him. Ahmedhodzic has the third-highest average rating in the league of 7.39 while Bazunu has the second-most clean sheets with 10, only bettered by Radu of Inter’s 11, and has the highest save percentage of 86%.
Worryingly, Samp have the joint-worst pass completion ratio in the league (86%), which is a concern given they’re actively attempting to play short passing football.
First taste of the Champions League
Samp got an interesting Champions League group draw alongside Real Madrid, Shakhtar and RB Salzburg. It certainly could have been worse.
The group began with the toughest ask possible, away to Real Madrid. The hosts came out flying with eight shots in the first 20 minutes but, out of nowhere, Schjeldrup tapped home a Bartosz Beresyznski cross for a completely undeserved win. The defence continued to repel Madrid and Cosimo then Ahmedhodzic scored to give Samp a 3-0 lead at Santiago Bernabéu. Vinicius Jr. got one back late on, but what an amazing result! The frankly ridiculous Ahmedhodzic played an 8.4 and Bazunu continued his impressive start with an 8.0.
They fell behind early at home to Salzburg but fired back to thump them 5-1, including first goals for Cuisance, Colombo and exciting right-back Maximilian León, in which Buffon became the oldest-ever Champions League player at 45 years 249 days.
A rotated side, due to a small squad being exhausted, earned a 2-2 draw in Shakhtar then Colombo scored two and made one for Damsgaard in a 4-0 win at home to the Ukrainians. And that sent Samp through to the knockout stages with two games remaining!
A completely rotated side, including four academy players making their debuts, only lost 2-1 at home to a full-strength Real, including Buffon saving an Alaba penalty! And a Schjeldrup penalty earned another rotated side a 1-1 in Austria. That left Samp second in the group and through to a first knockout stage.
Unfortunately, Samp got a tough draw against Man UFC in the knockouts. But simply being involved in the Champions League has already seen finances spike to having more than £50 million in the bank balance, having started the campaign with just £22 million.
Join us next time as di Lazaró continues to take the challenge to Italy’s big boys and takes Sampdoria into the knockout stages of the Champions League for the first time in club history.