Sempre Samp | Part 7: Captain Candreva Retires In Style

Roberto di Lazaró’s Sampdoria side was once again defying expectations as they sat third in Serie A and were the competition’s top scorers heading into 2024. That’s not bad for a side with the sixth-lowest wage spend in Serie A and only predicted to finish 10th by the media!

The manager’s options in the January transfer window were hindered by starting with a transfer budget of £0, despite the club’s finances having been boosted above £50 million by their European run. However, the board handed di Lazaró a nice New Year’s Day present by handing him a £25 million kitty.

He used the cash to invest in a couple of exciting young talents. He added some much-needed Brazilian flair in striker Marcos Leonardo, who arrived from Santos for an initial £2.5 million and can’t be registered until next season. Then 17-year-old winger Daniel Lousada came in from Sporting for £1.5 million. But again, the best deal was keeping hold of Anel Ahmedhodzic, who came close to a £49.5 million move to Bayern, only for the transfer window to slam shut too soon.

Going goal shy as Serie A resumes

Just like last season, the winter break concluded with Samp facing off against Atalanta. Duje Caleta-Car got himself sent off for a ridiculous challenge after 50 minutes, which forced Samp onto the defensive. But they survived an Atalanta barrage courtesy of Gavin Bazunu making 10 saves and an 8.4 rating to earn a 0-0. Another solid defensive effort helped Samp to a 2-0 win at Empoli thanks to a brace from striker Cosimo Marco Da Graca.

The striker got injured ahead of a clash with Spezia but his replacement Lorenzo Colombo scored one and created one for Yacine Adli, who made it 3-0 with a late penalty. And they made it six successive clean sheets as an Anel Ahmedhodzic header nicked a 1-0 win at Monza then Mikkel Damsgaard’s second goal of the season decided a tight clash with Sassuolo. However, that streak ended as an injury-ravaged side lost 1-0 at Fiorentina.

A fifth 1-0 game in a row (including a cup defeat) saw Samp get the better of fourth-place Lazio as a Damsgaard goal decided a really tight clash – and they somehow managed to prevent Immobile from scoring! That game also saw Bazunu break his predecessor Emil Audero’s clean sheet club record as he kept his 16th of the season.

That teed up a huge game against Inter, who scored with their first shot through Correa. But Samp came back into it and deservedly gained a point through an overdue goal from winger Stipe Biuk. Despite the good result, that continued a worrying streak of only scoring more than one goal in a match twice in the last Serie A games! But they soon brought that to an end with a 4-1 thumping of Bologna, inspired by Cosimo scoring all four after only scoring twice in his previous 11 games.

Champions League hammering

A tough ask in the first Champions League knockout round pitted Samp against Premier League leaders Man UFC, who absolutely dominated. Brozovic and Ronaldo scored twice in three minutes either side of half-time to take control of the first leg in Italy, Antonio Candreva got one back but Vlahovic came off the bench to score a third late on. And di Lazaró dished out seven fines for poor performances. Ronaldo scored twice in the return leg in a dominant 3-0 win.

Tight Serie A conclusion

Back to domestic action, Samp continued their good form with Cosimo scoring, creating a goal for Biuk and winning a penalty that Adli converted for a 3-0 win at Salernitana. They then went to Napoli, who offered di Lazaró an interview before hiring Frank Lampard who just got sacked by Lyon, and the end of another boring, boring Samp phase was confirmed by one of the best first halves of football you’ll ever see. Napoli got in front early but Candreva, who just turned 37, immediately equalised, created one for centre-back Giorgio Scalvini and scored again to treble his tally for the season. Napoli got one back, in an attack that saw them fire five shots on goal before scoring, but, as per standard, a dull second half saw Samp nick a 3-2 win.

Interestingly, Inter decided to sell their main goalkeeper Ionel Radu in January, which left them with retiring Vicente Guaita as their number one. Unsurprisingly, they went four games without a win, lost 3-2 at home to Lazio courtesy of former striker Sebastiano Esposito scoring a hat-trick, then 5-1 a Sassuolo! That dropped them to fifth and they sacked Simone Inzaghi 10 months on from winning the league! While Juve sacked Didier Deschamps after one year in charge, having previously sacked Zidane after 189 days!

Candreva was at it again, scoring in a 2-0 win at Torino and Samp’s great form earned di Lazaró another new contract, which increased his wage to £30,000-a-week until 2027.

With two months remaining in the season, di Lazaró presumed he’d need to hunt for a new backup goalkeeper in the summer. However, he decided to chance his arm at retaining Gianluigi Buffon, now 46. And surprisingly, the veteran agreed to a new two-year deal as a player. Will he ever retire in this game?! Even better news was Ahmedhodzic agreeing to a new four-year deal after deciding he no longer fancied a move to Bayern.

di Lazaró decided to treat Buffon with a first league start of the campaign at home to his former club Parma. And the veteran performed fairly well as fellow old man Candreva stole the show with both assists in a 2-1 win. The same weekend, Milan lost at Atalanta, which sent Samp top of the league for the first time with nine games remaining. Samp’s stunning form continued with a 2-1 win at Udinese led by a Cosimo brace that took him to 50 league goals for the club, while Milan lost at home to Empoli.

Unexpected title battle

With eight games remaining, Sampdoria found themselves top of Serie A with a four-point lead over AC Milan. However, they faced several tough games in the run-in.

First up was a trip to in-form Roma, where a switch to a more defensive approach failed drastically as Abraham and Icardi scored in the first 20 minutes. But a half-time water bottle throw and more attacking switch saw a brilliant comeback as another Cosimo brace earned a 2-2 draw. Milan beat Monza 3-1 to close the gap to one point.

A week later, Samp travelled to closest rivals Milan. They performed well defensively until three late goals from crosses (shocker) saw Milan go 2-0 up before Cosimo got one back. And Milan moved top of the league. They then welcomed Juve to town and went behind to a Morata header completely against the run of play. But an inspired second-half performance with a goal and assists from the soon-to-be retiring Candreva earned them a much-deserved win.

That teed up a tight title battle going into the final five games. Candreva was brilliant again with another goal and assist as Samp twice wasted leads to draw 2-2 at home to Giovanni Simeone. A trip to third-place Atalanta was decided by a Pasalic screamer as Samp created absolutely nothing in 90 minutes. Milan won at home to Torino to open up a six-point gap and basically kill the title race off.

An easier game saw Samp bounce back led by the evergreen Candreva. The 37-year-old scored two second-half goals and began the attack for Adli to score in injury-time and inspire a much-needed 3-0 win. Annoyingly, Milan won 3-2 at Inter to move six clear with two games remaining, and that made them Champions.

Samp confirmed second place with a pretty dire 1-0 win at bottom side Spezia, in which Candrvea was player of the match in his last-ever away game. They finished the season at home to Monza and the woefully out-of-form Damsgaard opened the scoring but another wasteful performance saw them draw 1-1.

That meant a second-place finish with 84 points thanks to 26 wins, six draws and six defeats. They finished five points behind Milan, five clear of Atalanta and 10 ahead of fourth-place Inter. Samp scored 68 goals, which was only bettered by Inter’s 72, and had the best defence in the league, only conceding 25 times.

Candreva recorded the second-most assists with his 12 only bettered by Inter’s Calhanoglu (13). Candreva also finished with the best average rating in Serie A with 7.42, which won him the Serie A Best Player of the Season award. While Cosimo won Best Young Player of the Season for his 19 goals in 37 games. And Samp’s impressive defensive efforts saw Bazunu set a new Serie A record 20 clean sheets in his first season in Italy.

Season Review

There’s only one place to start, club captain Antonio Candreva. Playing as a mezzala on attack, the 37-year-old has been absolutely phenomenal again this year. His eight goals and club-high 13 assists won him fans’ player of the season and he’ll take a lot of replacing this summer. That’s because the midfielder retired to become an under 18s coach at Sampdoria.

Cosimo also impressed, scoring 20 goals in all competitions and won fans’ young player of the season. While Ahmedhodzic was brilliant with five goals and a 7.28 average rating, Adli scored 12 and got six assists, Bazunu got a 7.10 average rating and left-back Tommaso Augello averaged 7.10 but was poor towards the end of the season.

A big concern this season has been the consistency of wingers, as Schjelderup scored five and got nine assists but only got a 6.77 average rating and Damsgaard got four goals and five assists at an awful 6.75. While the performances of Buik and Cherki have been really poor.

Samp’s Under 20s won the U20 Cup and U20 Primavera title for the second year in a row, led by star striker Yusuf Kabadeyi, who scored 27 goals in 35 games, and Portuguese starlet Lousada, who scored three and created nine in 17 games.

A look around Europe

Chelsea won the Premier League by a point from City and two clear of Liverpool, as UFC bottled a six-point lead with six games remaining to finish fourth! Leeds, Fulham and Palace went down as big-money Newcastle finished 15th having flirted with relegation.

Barcelona won La Liga with 90 points, nine clear of Bilbao with Real dropping to third. PSG won Ligue 1 by two points from Monaco, Bayern won Bundesliga by six points from Dortmund, Ajax regained Eredevisie by a huge 17 points from Feyenoord, and Porto won Liga NOS by 15 points from Sporting.

The Champions League saw all-English semi-finals as City beat UFC and Chelsea beat Liverpool. Chelsea then beat City 2-1 in extra-time. Arsenal won the Europa League, beating Barca 1-0 in the final.

Join us next time as another major summer rebuild may be required as Roberto di Lazaró looks to target the Italian title with his flourishing Sampdoria squad.

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