Sampdoria bid farewell to not one but two legends as the outrageously impressive Antonio Candreva and 46-year-old Gianluigi Buffon retired from football in the summer of 2024. Club captain Candreva went out on a high, winning Serie A player of the year before retiring to become an under 18 coach at the club, and 46-year-old Buffon finally hung up his boots at the end of the campaign after 748 league games in a 22-year playing career.
The club’s involvement in the Champions League had seen the bank balance spike to £98 million at the start of the summer, up a huge £70 million in the last 12 months. That was boosted by a £30 million deal that took the hugely underperforming Mikkel Damsgaard to Tottenham. Other sales included right-back Bartosz Bereszynski, midfielder Sivert Mannsverk and defender Anselmo García McNulty moving on for a total of around £8 million.
Manager Roberto di Lazaró replaced Damsgaard by taking advantage of a strange situation at Wolves, where Pedro Neto had been denied a work permit. he tried a couple of bids but Wolves wanted silly money, so he eventually settled for saving a fortune with a season-long loan. He also relied on loans to bring in a couple more long-term targets in left-back Rayan Ait-Nouri and Barcelona winger Ilias Akhomach.
He did eventually spend the money available by bringing in the rarity of a couple of Italians in midfielder Samuele Ricci for £10.5 million from Empoli and defender Lorenzo Pirola for just £4.5 million from Inter. He strengthened his defensive options with Ajax’s highly-rated Angolan defender Armando Coelho, who cost £11 million, then midfield support in Norwich’s Zaydou Youssouf for £3 million. He also added exciting French midfield talent Yann Monier, who arrived from Lyon for £4.5 million.
The age of the squad had been massively reduced over the summer, now containing three teenagers, nine aged 21 or under and only two players over 25.
di Lazaró didn’t see any need to deviate from his tactic that led Samp to second last season. However, he was slightly concerned about the lack of consistent performances from wingers. He added the “play out of defence” instruction in hope that might bring a more appealing brand of football and switched the winger role to the left and inside forward to the right. He also planned for Andreas Schjelderup to replace Candreva as the mezzala.
Bright start to season four in Samp
The new season began at Sassuolo who, surprise surprise, scored with their first shot. But Samp bossed the game and had twice as many shots, eventually making one count as Schjelderup curled home from 25 yards. It took just 19 seconds to get on the scoresheet in their first home game as Neto crossed for striker Cosimo Marco Da Graca to score from close range. Napoli had Di Lorenzo sent off before half-time and the same duo combined to seal a 2-0 win, with Neto playing a 9.3.
Another away day draw followed with a 1-1 at Bologna. But Samp got their first away win in style, despite falling behind to Empoli’s first shot after two minutes. But Neto created an equaliser for Cosimo, who doubled his tally just after the hour. Empoli swiftly equalised but Neto laid on a goal for opposite winger Stipe Biuk before Cosimo wrapped up his hat-trick late on after a lovely flowing move. And both wingers played well for the first time in ages, so maybe the tactical tweaks have worked?
However, both wingers then got injured at home to Atalanta! But Cosimo was at it again, scoring early on before Schjelderup smashed home a penalty to seal a 2-0 win. And they took that form into an absolute mauling of Roma, in which Josha Vagnoman scored his first Samp goal and Cosimo made it two inside five minutes. Schjelderup scored another penalty, Anel Ahmedhodzic and Rayan Cherki got their first goals of the season and Cosimo added a second to seal a 6-1 thumping! And that has to be the best performance of the save so far. Cosimo won September player of the month for an incredible nine goals in five games.
Tough run of fixtures
The strong start took Samp into a first Lanterna Derby of the season at Genoa. And they continued their fine form with a 3-0 win that probably should have been even more convincing but took them to 10 league games unbeaten.
That teed up a huge clash with fellow pacesetters Milan. Samp got the perfect start through a Cosimo header but Milan struck back immediately through Gabriel Barbosa. Vagnoman foolishly picked up two yellow cards in the first seven minutes of the second half, but a heroic defensive effort earned a 1-1 draw with goalkeeper Gavin Bazunu winning player of the match.
They then welcomed Zebre to town and an Adli screamer had them one up at the break despite 0.05 xG. Cosimo then scored in the first minute of the second half to make it 2-0 with 0.13 xG! Zebre scored a late consolation and Bazunu made several big saves as Samp claimed arguably the least deserved victory of the save.
A dire 0-0 with Udinese was followed by a 2-0 win at Monza, in which both teams had goals disallowed by VAR, before running riot with four first-half goals at Cagliari and thumping bottom of the league Crotone 4-0 led by a Cherki brace. That game was marred by Ahmedhodzic suffering a broken ankle, but his replacement Giorgio Scalvini nicked a 2-1 win at home to Fiorentina before Cherki and Schjelderup continued their fine form to seal a 2-0 win at Salernitana.
The sparkling form continued with a 3-0 win at home to Verona, who had a player sent off after just eight minutes and didn’t even have a shot. And they reached the winter break unbeaten with a crazy 3-3 draw at home to Lazio, who led early through Immobile, a Cosimo brace and Schjelderup brace had Samp looking good, but Lazio came fighting back and equalised with a 30-yard screamer by Ginter (which seems unrealistic).
That took Samp into a two-week break on a streak of 20 league games unbeaten and without defeat in the first 17 games of this season. However, they weren’t top of the league as Inter had only failed to lose twice! While Milan are also unbeaten but have drawn seven games.
Samp lead the way with 42 goals, which is four more than Inter who’ve also ridiculously only conceded four goals in 17 games! Cosimo is the top scorer in Serie A with 15 goals, which is four more than Isak and five more than Immobile. Schjelderup and Adli have the most assists in the league with nine, while Schjelderup has the highest average rating (7.64) and most player of the match awards (6). He’s absolutely kicked on in his new mezzala role!
And Samp’s form through the calendar year saw Roberto di Lazaró honoured as the Italian Serie A Managers’ Manager of the Year for 2024. Then a few days later, the increasingly impressive Schjelderup was honoured as European Golden Boy, after 10 goals and 13 assists in 41 games this year. The award had previously been won by Pedri, Jamal Musiala and Jude Bellingham, so he’s in fine company.
Tricky Champions League group
The European draw was much tougher on Samp as, still in pot four in their second season in the Champions League, they again went up against Real Madrid alongside Chelsea and Sporting. And Samp’s chances were highlighted by odds of 900/1 to win the tournament!
Sporting at home was first and Schjelderup opened the scoring before Bazunu chucked one into his own net and a 1-1 draw wasn’t great for either side. They took a 35-shot battering at Chelsea but somehow only lost 2-0 before there was no repeat of last year’s heroics as they lost 3-0 in Madrid.
The home game with Madrid was probably the craziest match ever. Backup striker Marcos Leonardo got his first Samp goal inside 30 seconds then Real ran riot for 50 minutes. Out of nowhere, Leonardo scored two more to equalise with seven minutes left. But Real retook the lead, Pirola equalised two minutes into injury-time and five minutes later Coates had a goal disallowed for offside. Sampdoria 4-4 Real Madrid! A fully rotated side went to Portugal and dominated Sporting with Biuk and Leonardo goals enough to qualify for the Europa League knockouts in third place in the group.
Join us next time as Roberto di Lazaró attempts to take an unlikely title challenge to a dominant Inter Milan side and steps into the Europa League for the first time.