While all eyes are on the Scudetto race, there’s another Serie A battle brewing this weekend that will be much more entertaining.
In most of the major European leagues, there are the sharks and the minnows, with a few barracudas in between. The mid-level teams are like cheering for the underdogs, except more rewarding as a surprise Champions League or Europa League birth is a wonderful reward, rather than just avoiding relegation.
Last year in Serie A, it was Fiorentina who managed to grab the fourth Champions League spot, and made a great run in the competition this year.
Watching Manchester City and Tottenham battle for fourth in the EPL was extremely exciting.
This weekend in Serie A, Sampdoria travels to Palermo for a battle at the Stadio Renzo Barbera, with the right to play in the Champions League on the line.
Both Palermo and Sampdoria have been fantastic teams to watch this year. They have made the most of their offensive catalysts, a workmanlike midfield and a solid if unspectacular backline.
Take a look at these quick facts and tell me who has the upper hand:
While Sampdoria had the fifth best defense in Serie A, Palermo had the fith best offense.
Palermo has the second best home record in all of Serie A, and hasn’t lost a game at the Renzo Barbera all season.
Sampdoria has won every one of their last five games and is the hottest team in Serie A at the moment.
Fabrizio Miccoli of Palermo is in third place for Serie A scoring and Giampaolo Pazzini of Sampdoria is in fourth.
The squads are evenly matched and poised to put on a show for their fans, which is all we could ask for. The difference will likely come down to the match-ups at various locations on the pitch.
Let’s examine that a little closer.
The Starting Lineups
Sampdoria typically play a 4-4-1-1 with Cassano playing off of Pazzini up front and the wide midfielders pushed up with the central midfield players sitting in front of the back line.
DEF: Zauri – Lucchini – Gastaldello – Ziegler
MID: Semioli – Palombo - Poli – Guberti
FWD: Cassano – Pazzini
Palermo has been playing a 4-3-1-2 with Javier Pastore as the trequartista and Miccoli as a support striker, often drifting out wide to the left.
DEF: Cassani – Kjaer – Bovo – Balzaretti
MID: Nocerino – Liverani - Migliaccio
FWD: Abel – Miccoli
The matchups that will decide the game are:
Miccoli vs Zauri
Miccoli will frequently drift out to the left and into the defensive zone of right-back Zauri. If Zauri can keep his mark from dancing past him, making room for a curling shot or at least paying for each possession with a hard tackle, then Sampdoria have a shot. My thoughts, however, are that Miccoli will own this matchup.
Pastore vs Palombo and Poli
In the middle of the pitch, Sampdoria have two deep-lying midfielders to deal with the ambling runs of Javier Pastore. Palombo has been one of the better two-way midfielders in Italy this season and should be able to body the slight Pastore off the ball. I would give the advantage to Sampdoria here.
Palermo play a tight midfield that flairs wide when needed and often gets added width from the fullbacks as well as Miccoli drifting wide.
Sampdoria gets their width from the wide midfielders pushing forward and Cassano dropping off to pick up passes or drifting wide to find a mismatch. Unfortunately, with both central mids sitting deep, there can be a lot of space to exploit. Both Migliaccio and Nocerino could have acres of space in front of them if Palombo and Poli concentrate on Pastore. They are also able to help the fullbacks deal with Guberti and Semioli.
Palermo will outman Sampdoria in the center of midfield and won’t lose anything out wide. Palermo should have the advantage.
Cassano and Pazzini vs the Palermo back line
The dynamic duo up front for Sampdoria has at times appeared to have a telepathic connection. That said, they could frequently be isolated as two attackers vs a four-man back line if the Palermo midfield cancels out Sampdoria’s.
In this scenario, Simon Kjaer is more than capable of handling Pazzini while Cassano is constantly presented with two defenders in his face. Again, the advantage is in Palermo’s favor.
It should be a hard fought game with a lot of action, but I see Palermo getting the win, and enjoying a one point lead on Sampdoria for fourth going into the final week of the season.