After SPAL surprisingly grabbed the lead, Sampdoria still managed to secure a 2-1 win. Striking partnership Defrel and Quagliarella, displayed their class as focal points in exploiting the space behind SPAL’s defensive line.
Sampdoria was in need of a win after the Genua-based side did not win any of their last three matches. After missing a penalty in the last minute in their last game against Cagliari, which ended in 0-0, the home team was keen on a win against SPAL. Although they lost the last two games, opponent SPAL were situated two positions higher on the table. Their last win dated from 17 September when they beat Atalanta at home with 2-0.
Sampdoria started this game in their usual 4-4-2, including the narrow diamond midfield behind the striking duo Defrel-Qualiarella. SPAL on the other side, changed their approach for this game. Probably to adapt to Samp’s attacking duo, SPAL-coach Leonardo Semplici changed their conventional 4-4-2 formation into an 3-5-2, dropping midfielder Simone Missiroli to the bench. Andrea Petagna was the only player on the pitch for SPAL who had scored this season, with the other goal scorers Antenucci and Kurtic not in the starting eleven.
Samp’s high Praet-pressing
Sampdoria’s intention was to press the SPAL build-up from the first second of the game. Dennis Praet was playing a key role in the game plan. The Belgian number ten was told to shadow SPAL-playmaker Schiatarella. But this was not the only task coach Giampaolo had in mind for his attacking midfielder. In the first stage of SPAL’s build-up, Praet was constantly positioning himself between Defrel and Qualiarella, aggressively pressing Johan Djourou (the most central defender of SPAL’s back three), when the Swiss defender would come into play. This Praet-pressingmade the 4-4-2 formation of Samp at times turn into a 4-3-3 formation with a narrow front three.
If the SPAL goalkeeper would try to reach one of the wingbacks, the ball-sided Sampdoria fullback would go and press the receiving player. From this set-up Sampdoria would try and push SPAL to the sideline (to SPAL’s right side especially) and eventually try and win the ball there. In the attempted tackle plot, it can be seen that Sampdoria made a relatively high amount of tackles at SPAL’s right side in comparison to SPAL’s left side. Because of this one-sided pressing focus, Samp let a lot of unoccupied space at their contra-side, but SPAL often failed to make successful use of this space. Due to the combination of the aggressive Sampdoria-pressing in the first phase of SPAL’s possesion, and the lack in vertical passing and switching the play SPAL displayed, the team had difficulties to create chances throughout the whole game.
From a Sampdoria point of view, their game plan made perfect sense. SPAL was eager to play from the back, even when the opponent was obviously willing to press the build-up. On the other side, a lack of pure pace in the SPAL-team, especially with respect to the front two Petagna and Paloschi, means it is a relatively low-risk game plan to press SPAL very high up the pitch. As if seen today, SPAL was not prepared to play the ball behind Sampdoria’s defensive line. Also, strong striker Andrea Petagna wasn’t quite involved in the game, because SPAL did not choose to hit the ball long in his direction, despite the fact Petagna can contribute to this type of play
Although Sampdoria’s pressing-plan seemed to work, the spaces left in between their midfield and defense were a potential treat when the SPAL-defense succeeded in breaking the first pressing line. A rare moment of success in the SPAL build-up play in the 21th minute, would turn out to be the cause of the opening goal of the game. Sampdoria eventually tried to neutralize this attack making a professional foul in midfield, but the free kick was taken quickly. There wasn’t enough pressure on Manuel Lazzari and after goalkeeper Audero failed to catch his shot from distance, it was striker Paloschi who could easily put his team in front by converting the rebound.
In the remainder of the match, SPAL did not manage to exploit the spaces in between the midfield and defense of their opponent. The main focus in possession was to get Manuel Lazzari into play. The right wingback was the player with the most touches (81) on the visitor’s team, but was also the player with the highest loss of possession (9), something that did not help his team in creating the needed chances. This was a big problem in SPAL’s offensive game, due to the fact Lazzari is a very important player when it comes to creating chances and building attacks.
Exploiting the space behind the defensive line
SPAL defended in a mid-high block 4-4-2 with emphasis on aggressively pressing the Sampdoria midfielders and trying to make sure they would not turn and play the ball in behind to Defrel or into target man Quagliarella. Although this part of SPAL’s game did not went very bad, the visitors failed to tackle Sampdoria’s main focus in creating chances: the transition from defending to attacking.
Especially when winning the ball back, Sampdoria are constantly trying to utilize the space in behind the defense of the opponent. They attempt this through the lightning pace of French striker Defrel and the crafty movement of Quagliarella, who form a dangerous partnership. Also, midfielders Linnetty and Barretto and at times fullback Berezynski are looking to make runs in behind and overlap the player who has the ball. This seemingly well-drilled transition phase, makes Sampdoria a dangerous team attacking-wise.
Sampdoria’s both goals were an outcome of playing the ball behind the defensive line. In the 24th minute of the first half Sampdoria made it 1-1. Gregoire Defrel made the run and received the ball played in behind by Andersen. The ball was crossed into Quagliarella, who found Karl Linnetty with a perfect lay-off header, allowing the Polish international to level the score with a beautiful left-foot volley.
The second Sampdoria goal, which made it 2-1 in the 60th minute, was also a great example of the way Sampdoria exploited the space between the SPAL-defense and goalkeeper. After SPAL lost the ball, they were not quick enough to organize. Edgar Barretto recognized this moment of inadvertency and played a quality pass into Quagliarella, who had made a run into the space behind the SPAL defense. The captain listed his second assist by finding his striking partner Defrel, who netted his fifth goal of the season.
Lack of quality in decision making and passing in final third
Although being the better side and having the possibilities, Sampdoria failed to put the game to bed in the second half. This was due to a lack of quality in both passing and decision making in the final third of the pitch. Because of this the score line stayed close and there still were a few dangerous moments in front of the home team’s goal. Andrea Petagna was the most dangerous SPAL-player in this respect. The physical striker showed his technical skills and was close to scoring two times in the second half of the game. Unfortunately for SPAL, Petagna was the only player who seemed to be in power of making a difference. Despite bringing the more attacking minded Missiroli and Antenucci SPAL never made any pretension on an equalizing goal.
By subbing off both Quagliarella (who accomplished a total of four key passes in this game) and Defrel, Sampdoria-coach Giampaolo seemingly stripped his side from any goal scoring threat.
Dominating the game
With the pressing-minded and counter-attacking plan of Marco Giampaolo, Sampdoria dominated the game most of the time with and without the ball. Despite Sampdoria falling behind, there never was any doubt who was the better team and deserved the win in this match. Even though Sampdoria failed to extend their lead, SPAL did not come up with an answer to the game plan of Sampdoria. The fact that 0.74 of the 1.10 Expected Goals statistic was reached by the shot leading to the 0-1 (after a mistake of the goalkeeper), speaks for itself. In general, SPAL did not manage to be a real threat to Sampdoria.
The fact that SPAL did not make a much-needed change in their approach forced the team to react instead of agitate in all phases of play. If SPAL is going to persist in building from the back in all circumstances in the rest of this season, the team will be facing a lot of problems against opponents who will press them high up on the pitch. Given the lack of speed shown up front and the problems the defenders had with building-up under pressure in today’s performance against Sampdoria, opponents will ask SPAL some serious questions. Regarding to keep his side in the Serie A for a second season in a row, the trouble SPAL had with the high press could be a serious problem for coach Leonardo Semplici.
Expected goals timing chart
Expected goals field
Attempted tackles Sampdoria (orange) and SPAL (blue)