Sampdoria and Roberto D’Aversa Must Win Now, or Else

Sampdoria have had a disappointing start to the Serie A season, earning nine points in eleven matches, sitting just outside of the relegation zone. La Samp was unable to retain manager Claudio Ranieri at the end of 2020-2021, and the former Premier League winner was replaced by Roberto D’Aversa.

The 46-year-old, despite his uninspiring managerial record, took over Sampdoria after two stints with Parma and three seasons at Virtus Lanciano. His club’s start to the season has been underwhelming, most recently falling 0-3 to a Torino club with a comparable level of talent.

D’Aversa’s Tactics are Failing

D’Aversa’s tactics at Sampdoria primarily involve the 4-4-2, a formation that has largely fallen out of use over the past several seasons, especially in Italy. The 4-4-2 is defined by the presence of a second striker, who operates as a hybrid between a number ten and a number nine, as well as two wide midfielders who have both attacking and defensive responsibilities.

D’Aversa’s lineup employs two central midfielders, Morten Thorsby and Adrien Silva. The pair typically remain deep, with Silva in particular playing the role of a defensive midfielder. Thorsby plays in a box-to-box style, supporting the offense from behind and finding shooting lanes from close-range. Almost all of the creativity in this formation comes from Sampdoria’s two star wingers, Antonio Candreva and Mikkel Damsgaard. The duo run the offense from the wide channels and are involved with nearly every goal scored through open play. Candreva in particular plays a modern role, drifting only moderately wide and rotating from right to left.

The offensive obstacles with this formation mostly stem from Sampdoria’s lack of a creative midfielder. The second striker position can fill this role when implemented correctly, but the club’s roster lacks this sort of player. Francesco Caputo, a creative player forward, does not drop into the midfield frequently enough, while Fabio Quagliarella is a target man at his impressive 38 years of age. Manolo Gabbiadini is best-suited to the position, but the once-promising forward is not playing at a high enough level to provide a consistent presence for his club.

D’Aversa’s strategy needs to change significantly. The manager tried employing a 4-3-3 in a recent 3-1 loss to Atalanta, and the change had disastrous results. The best option for Sampdoria at this point could actually be a formation used in a scoreless draw with Sassuolo earlier this season, the 4-2-3-1.

The 4-2-3-1

Stefano Pioli’s radically successful tactics at Milan would be a fine system for D’Aversa to draw inspiration from. Thorsby, alongside Silva or Albin Ekdal, would be natural at the double pivot, playing a much involved box-to-box role similar to Franck Kessié. The two withdrawn central midfielders would allow left-back Tommaso Augello more freedom to attack and combine with Damsgaard on the left.

The 4-2-3-1 could also help correct Sampdoria’s flawed defensive organization. The backline is often caught in poor positioning, and a lack of pace impairs its ability to recover. The two deep midfielders would provide extra cover and a more structurally sound formation. At times this season, La Samp has been overrun in the midfield with just two central players. A midfielder like Kristoffer Askildsen could provide a more versatile presence capable of dropping deep from the attacking midfielder position.

Lastly, a switch to the 4-2-3-1 would also provide the club with a truly flexible offensive approach. The addition of true number ten would allow the club to create from the middle of the pitch, taking some of the defensive spotlight off its wingers. It would also give the club’s aging strikers a chance to rotate and rest, similar to Pioli’s current handling of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Olivier Giroud. Finally, the added midfield slot could give Askildsen much needed playing time to develop. The young Norwegian international is a bright prospect, and if he was to struggle, the club could fall back on more experienced options like Gabbiadini or Valerio Verre.

The Cagliari vs Sampdoria Match

Perhaps Sampdoria’s most disappointing match was against Cagliari. The Genoan club fell 3-1 en route to giving the bottom dwellers their only win of the season. The loss showcased several flaws and areas that Sampdoria must address if they want to attain mid-table status.

Firstly, D’Aversa’s squad looked to play direct long balls and combine on the wings instead of building through the middle of the pitch. The Isolani wide midfielders pinched inside to outnumber Thorsby and Silva, at times at a 4-2 advantage. Route One is an outdated style of play, and Sampdoria’s penchant for circumventing the midfield caused severe spacing issues that Joao Pedro and Razvan Marin easily exploited. 

Sampdoria also suffered from poor finishing in the match. The club managed 17 shots, but put just three of these on target. On the season, they have the fourth-fewest shots on target percentage in the league at 27.9 percent. Finishing is a serious problem for Sampdoria, which has scored only 14 goals through 11 matches.

The old age of Sampdoria’s starting eleven means that the club needs to win now. While they have a handful of young talents in Thorsby, Askildsen and Damsgaard, over 40 percent of Samp’s minutes played this season has come from players over 32-years-old. At 38, Quagliarella has clearly regressed, and D’Aversa’s side must capitalize on the veteran talent of Caputo, Candreva and Maya Yoshida while they can still play at a top flight level. From a long term perspective, the club must also do a better job identifying and developing youth prospects.

Sampdoria’s upcoming fixtures are critical. Matches at home against Bologna, Verona and away at Salernitana are winnable, and the club could potentially double their current point total and move into a fortified mid-table position. For Roberto D’Aversa, anything less than six points is unacceptable and will likely result in his firing. The manager and club are faced with a straightforward scenario: win now, or else.