Following on from the resounding success of season 1, it was time to get to work on the recruitment drive in the defensive third of the park as we look to close the gap on Capello’s Milan. After reviewing the analytics of last season, I knew that this is where fell short in comparison, and I wanted to ensure the right player was brought in to improve that on the off.
Immediately, the goalkeeping stats caught my eye. As things stood, we conceded just over 1 goal a game from around 10 shots face, in comparison to Milan’s less than one goal conceded with 7 shots faced. So with that in mind, my first signing of the window was confirmed a couple of months before the end of season 1:
Oliver Kahn joins for £5 million, and immediately improves the side as a whole. The young German conceded just 38 goals in his 37 competitive matches this season as Karlsruhe recorded a 4th place finish and a Champions League berth, and was 10th in the Bundesliga for average ratings, recording a 7.28 rating. But of course, the work didn’t just stop there, as the defence needed a bit of a rework.
On the left, Lizarazu joins from Bordeaux and that arrival has brought the balance down that side of the park with his crossing ability coupled with his defending ability. A deal worth £12.5 million was enough for the French side to part with their left-back, and I knew that this was a good bit of business for the season ahead. Through the middle, Popescu joined PSV Eindhoven for £8 million up-front and a further £3.5 million in instalments. The Romanian certainly looked like a step up in quality compared to Des Walker, and with these two coming in, along with Kahn in net, I was positive we would be defensively sound this season.
To complete the spending for the summer, I made sure that we captured a bright talent coming out of the Czech Republic in the middle of the park, and £8.5 million was enough for Sparta Prague to let go of their prospect:
Yes, that’s right. 21-year-old Pavel was on his way to the coast of Italy, and I knew that his ability would be a game-changer in the middle of the park. This and stopping his talents from being picked up by AC Milan, anything that could strengthen us instead of them, I would take the opportunity.
I stand by the old saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and with that in mind, I wanted to go ahead with the same formation that proved to be successful for large parts of last season. To me, I felt as though our downfall was due to individuals more than anything, and now with recruitments that improve the squad, I fancied my chances at overthrowing AC Milan.
Sampdoria’s 93/94 season saw them record a third-place finish behind champions AC Milan and a resurgent Juventus, and it certainly was one of their more successful seasons during this period in time after their lone Scudetto – Sampdoria took home the Coppa Italia, so there was a bit of incentive for me going into this season.
However, comparing the opening 10 games against the opening 10 last season, I knew I had to tweak a few things with the tactic. It was working in the majority of the games, but I had to freshen things up to ensure we didn’t let slip more ground early on to AC Milan. I tried to change some of the tactical shape early on in the season, but perhaps the timing of these changes was not ideal considering our next game:
I switched to a narrow 41212 for the AC Milan game and Monaco game, but I felt as though we missed having a body in the middle of the park instead of just in front of the defence. This was telling considering AC Milan ran right over the top of us, and a narrow victory over Monaco away from home suggested that I was right to have the 4312, but perhaps then changing a couple of things in amongst this setup was the answer instead of building once again.
I switched the roles slightly to try and maintain our boot on opposition throats, and in the first game against Padova, they certainly felt the extra weight. A huge 2-2 draw at Anfield was massive in terms of getting the tactic right, and this run of form would continue for the foreseeable future.
The change certainly benefited the partnership of Šuker and Mancini up front, 17 goals combined between the two in those 10 games, with Chiesa still coming off the bench to add goals where he could. Chiesa was a key man last year, but playing Šuker in the more advanced role was paying dividends and I couldn’t justify dropping the Croatian.
The change was justified given that only Bayern Munich and Real Madrid were the only teams capable of beating us, narrowly, over the next 3 months and a week. We did have to navigate through a January transfer window where we received bids threatening to break up our good time, but I manage to see them off without too much disappointment in the squad.
The only two notable players to leave the squad were our former number 1 Gianluca Pagliuca and backup full-back Michele Serena – both left to join Napoli and Dynamo Kyiv for £25 million and £8 million respectively. There was a bit of outrage over allowing Pagliuca to leave, which is understandable given he is Italy’s number one, but I brought in a replacement that would be pushing Kahn for the number one spot:
Edwin Van der Sar. A legendary goalkeeper in the modern era joined Sampdoria for £11.75 million, and come summer will be the number one. Secondly, Roberto Di Matteo joined from Juventus for £7.5 million, and whilst he did not have standout attributes at the age of 24, he was certainly a capable enough option off the bench to keep the pressure on and keep things fresh.
But unfortunately, our unbeaten run was not going to be enough. Our theme this year seemed to be switching off in the final third of a game, and that would lead to conceding massive goals that would affect the title race. Last season, our problem was losing too many games, this season it was not killing games off. We did dig our heels in and stop AC Milan from winning the title earlier than they should have, but we only had ourselves to blame that we were not up there battling:
A disappointing way to end the season, and the tied games certainly made the season worse. Although we did close the gap by 4 points, AC Milan, certainly on the eye, looked to have coasted to another Scudetto and that was the most frustrating thing about it. Key observations from the league campaign were that we were a lot more defensively secure, actually boasting a better record than Milan, but we lacked the killer edge, scoring 14 less than last season.
Davor Šuker was our top scorer in the league with 19, Mancini close behind with 16, but Milan had van Basten and Romário leading the way on 36 and 22 – this was the key difference between the two sides and the games were drawn. Which gave me an indication of where I had to improve in the summer.
But it couldn’t all end in doom and gloom, could it? I had the incentive to match Sampdoria’s Coppa Italia success this season, could I lead them on to glory?
We did! A Coppa Italia was coming back to Genoa once again, and that sets it up perfectly for the final season; can we retain it? I knew that we had a big chance when Napoli dispatched Milan in the semi-finals, but it was never going to be a straightforward match. However, Valdo stepped up when it mattered 18 minutes from time to put us in the driving seat, before January signing Di Matteo scored his first goal for the club 8 minutes from time. And what a time it was to score his first goal for the club!
So, as the league table suggested, we were a lot more secure defensively, so I don’t feel that this is an area worthwhile diving into. I knew that I was going to need to invest in the defensive department to be on the safe side for the new season, but I still wanted to ensure that our analytics matched up with my assessment of the league table:
The key stat there, conceded per game, was down by just under .5 and I was delighted with the summer recruits coming in to shore that area up. With another player or two to come in for this area of the park, I fancied our chances that we would remain defensively sound, but on the other hand, I had to get the attacking options nailed on.
There was not much separating us and AC Milan in terms of attacking output, other than the fine line between wasteful and clinical shooting. Whilst our goals per game look to be about .5 less than Milan’s they had a higher xG due to their clinical shooting. With our attacking change ups throughout the season, I would expect a consistent partnership to be scoring providing they have the composure to deal with the pressure when bearing down on goal.
Šuker and Mancini did manage to grab 55 goals between them, Chiesa got 18 from 27 starts but his patience was growing thin and there is interest in the young Italian striker. Valdo managed to grab 13 goals from central midfield, but that was too large of a gap between the attack and midfield. I was disappointed in Dejan Savićević’s contribution to the cause this season, the playmaker only registered 3 goals and 8 assists from the pocket behind the strikers, and I believe our shortcomings this season were due to this – Mancini recorded 23 goals and 12 assists from a similar position last season.
|Sampdoria 93/94 Official – 2 points for a win||Games Won||Games Drawn||Games Lost||Goals For||Goals Against||Goal Difference||Points|
|Sampdoria 93/94 FM Save||Games Won||Games Drawn||Games Lost||Goals For||Goals Against||Goal Difference||Points|
|Sampdoria 93/94 FM Save – 2 points for a win||Games Won||Games Drawn||Games Lost||Goals For||Goals Against||Goal Difference||Points|
This was the final season in Italy where clubs were awarded 2 points for a win, so I have added that in to compare the seasons accurately. Champions League football would be coming back to Genoa, and with one season to go, I knew that the pressure was on to try and finally end the Milan & Capello dominance in Italy. This summer was going to be massive and I had already agreed on a couple of deals before the end of the season…