Sunday, August 9, 2020

Sampdoria 1-4 Milan: Zlatan on the double as Rossoneri secure top-six finish

Veselin Trajkovic in Editorial, Serie A 29 Jul 2020

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Sampdoria played host to AC Milan at the Luigi Ferraris stadium in Genoa in the round before last of the 2019/20 season in the Serie A.

Sitting in 15th place and completely safe from relegation, the contest bore no competitive importance for them, but the sixth-place visitors needed the points desperately as they sought to secure their involvement in the Europa League next season. City rivals Inter did them a huge favour by beating seventh-place Napoli the previous day, which meant a win here would be enough to get the job done.

Team News

Sampdoria boss Claudio Ranieri couldn’t call upon winger Felice D’Amico and midfielder Albin Ekdal, both out with injuries, but defender Omar Colley and midfielder Ronaldo Vieira were again at his disposal after missing the previous game through suspensions.

Wladimiro Falcone was in goal. Maya Yoshida and Colley made the core of the defence, flanked by Bartosz Bereszynski on the right and Tommaso Augello on the left. Karol Linetty and Vieira were tasked with the hard work in the middle of the park, with Fabio Depaoli and Jakub Jankto in wide midfield roles. Gaston Ramirez played just off Fabio Quagliarella in attack.

Stefano Pioli in the away dugout had to make do without injured Alessio Romagnoli and Andrea Conti in defence, but his options were boosted by the return of left-back Theo Hernandez and midfielder Ismael Bennacer who were suspended in the previous round.

Gianluigi Donnarumma stood between the posts. Matteo Gabbia took Romagnoli’s place alongside Simon Kjaer in the hear of defence, with Theo on their left and Davide Calabria on the right. Bennacer joined Franck Kessie in the deeper roles of a midfield five, with the trio of Hakan Calhanoglu, Ante Rebic and Alexis Saelemaekers supporting striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic further up.

The First Half

Despite the obvious lack of need for points, Sampdoria entered the match with attacking intent and within a minute Quagliarella fired a cross into the box looking for Ramirez, but Calabria reacted well.

However, Milan quickly took possession of the ball and in the fourth minute, Rebic broke past Bereszynski down the left and found Ibrahimovic on the edge of six yards, and the Swedish veteran had no problems heading past Falcone.

0-1.

Two minutes later, Ibrahimovic spotted Falcone off his line and tried one from over 40 yards, but his effort went over the bar.

Nonetheless, the Rossoneri were now in complete control of the proceedings and in the eighth minute they almost doubled their lead. Theo combined well with Rebic, broke into the box and hit the target from around 10 yards, prompting a fine save from Falcone. Calabria hit a volley from the edge of the box on the follow-up, but the Sampdoria goalkeeper shone again.

It was now the home team’s turn to have a go and space opened up for Linetty to shoot, but the midfielder missed the target by a yard or two. Milan responded immediately and Rebic found himself in a chance, and had his 12-yard effort deflected wide.

Sampdoria then shook themselves free from the pressure for a while and attacked, but they couldn’t find a way past the Milan defence. In the 16th minute, Depaoli ran in behind and fired low across the goal, missing the far post considerably.

Three minutes later, Calabria broke into the Sampdoria box and went down without any contact. Nothing was given of course, but the Milan right-back needed medical assistance before he could continue. With Conti out of action already, it must have been an anxious moment for Pioli.

The flow of the game hardly changed as time went on. Milan had more of the ball with Sampdoria occasionally moving forward too, but at this point chances ran dry for a while. A few half-hearted attempts, hopeful passes and crosses at both ends, that was all until the 30th minute.

Then Calhanoglu instigated a dangerous attack for Milan and eventually Theo found Ibrahimovic in the box, but the striker’s shot was deflected wide. Gabbia had a go from 25 yards soon afterwards, closely missing the top corner.

Six minutes later, Bereszynski handled the ball just outside the box on Milan’s left side and picked up a booking. Calhanoglu hit the free-kick over the wall and missed the near top corner by an inch. Then Theo broke through and almost doubled his assist tally with a lovely square for Saelemaekers, but the winger couldn’t direct his shot on target under pressure from the home defence.

Sampdoria’s attacks now mostly came down to long ball directed at Quagliarella, but the striker was always closely marked by either Gabbia or Kjaer and stood no chance of winning an aerial duel against them. In the 42nd minute, however, they moved forward in numbers and Bereszynski found Jankto in the edge of six yards with a lovely cross, but the midfielder’s header looped off target.

There was a slightly controversial moment soon afterwards. Saelemaekers broke down the right and tried to cut it back for Ibrahimovic inside the box, but the pass was intercepted by Augello. The Sampdoria left-back then sent the ball towards his ‘keeper and Falcone caught it in his hands a yard in front of his goal. The Milan players close by appealed for an indirect free-kick, but referee Fabrizio Pasqua waved the appeals away, obviously judging that the backpass was accidental.

In the dying seconds of the four-minute stoppage time, Ramirez went down holding his head after clashing with Rebic, eventually resulting in the Croatian winger picking up a yellow card.

The Second Half

Rebic was left in the dressing room after the break and Rafael Leao came on in his place. It’s very likely that Rebic was nervous after his altercation with Ramirez and the consequent booking, because his performance in the first half certainly wasn’t a reason for him to be replaced.

As for Sampdoria, Ranieri withdrew Depaolo as well as Ramirez, and sent on Mehdi Leris and Gonzalo Maroni.

Leris’s first contribution the match came very quickly – a low effort from a tight angle wide of the near post. Sampdoria attacked again and in the 50th minute, Gabbia brought Quagliarella down on the very edge of the box in a very dangerous position.

Quagliarella himself stepped up and fired powerfully on target, but straight at Donnarumma and Colley headed the rebound over the bar.

Two minutes later, Ibrahimovic tamed a cross for the incoming Calhanoglu at the other end and the attacking midfielder fired into the net from close range. The referee initially judged that Calhanoglu had committed a foul on Vieira in the process and disallowed the goal, but having taken a look at the VAR screen, he corrected his mistake.

0-2.

Milan were now on fire and withing four minutes, they put the contest beyond the reach of the hosts. This time Calhanoglu returned the favour to Ibrahimovic after a run through the middle by slipping the ball to him inside the box, and the 38-year-old striker didn’t find it hard to put it past Falcone.

0-3.

Sampdoria had a great chance to pull one back straight away when a scramble in Milan’s box left Quagliarella free to shoot from very close range, but Donnarumma produced a fantastic save.

Pioli then made further changes to his team. Calhanoglu and Saelemaekers made way for Giacomo Bonaventura and Samuel Castillejo.

The two newcomers took the same positions on the pitch as the players they replaced and nothing changed in Milan’s system. Nothing changed in the way the game was unfolding either, with the visitors still mostly in control of the ball and Sampdoria managing meaningful possession in the opposition half only occasionally.

In the 69th minute, Milan almost added a fourth as the home defence allowed Kessie too much time on the ball inside the box wide on the left, obviously expecting a cut-back. Seeing his opportunity, the midfielder tried to slam it under the bar, and forced another good save from Falcone.

With 17 minutes to go, Ranieri made his last throw of the dice with a triple change. Manolo Gabbiadini, Kristoffer Askildsen and Andrea Bertolacci replaced Quagliarella, Linetty and Vieira.

Gabbiadini was in action maybe sooner then he would have liked as Jankto broke down the left and found him in the box, and he scuffed his shot.

Sampdoria then had a penalty appeal after Bertolacci went down in the box following a contact from Kjaer. The referee went to the screen and changed his decision again, pointing to the spot. In the absence of Quagliarella, Maroni stepped up, but Donnarumma saved his shot from the spot.

Pioli then withdrew Ibrahimovic and Kessie, sending Lucas Paqueta and Lucas Biglia into the fray and using up all his changes as well.

Jankto was looking very lively down the left flank at that point and in the 82nd minute he broke into the box again, going for the goal himself this time, but all he could hit was the outside of the net.

Sampdoria looked generally much better in the final 10 minutes of the game than throughout its course before. In the 85th minute, they had another good free-kick opportunity at 20 yards, a great position for a right-footed shooter, but it was taken by Gabbiadini who hit the wall with his left.

Milan, on the other, appeared to have lost all sense of responsibility late on, and they were punished three minutes from time. They lost the ball in their own half and allowed Askildsen to shoot freely from around 25 yards, and the Icelander whacked it straight into the far top corner with Donnarumma unable to do anything about it.

1-3.

Only then did the Rossoneri get their act together and after two attempts from Castillejo, Leao created just enough space for himself to shoot from the edge of the box and fired into the top corner in the second minute of stoppage time.

1-4.

The Afterthought

There cannot be any doubt that Milan thoroughly deserved this victory. Apart from a very short spell towards the end, they were the better team throughout the contest as the quality of their players, as well as the impeccable way in which they were set up, shone through. Despite being 38 years old, Zlatan Ibrahimovic clearly proved he can still play at the highest level with two goals and an assist, but his teammates mostly put in very good individual performances as well.

Milan have now secured a place in the top six, which means they are now sure to play at least in the qualifying stages of the Europa League. They could yet overtake AS Roma for the fifth place which would get them into the competition’s group stages directly, but Roma could put that race to bed with a win over Torino straight after this match.

Match Report

SAMPDORIA: Falcone 7, Yoshida 6, Colley 6.5, Bereszynski 6.5, Augello 6, Linetty 5 (75′ Askildsen 7), Vieira 6 (75′ Bertolacci 6.5), Depaoli 6 (46′ Leris 6), Jankto 7, Ramirez 6.5 (46′ Maroni 5), Quagliarella 6.5 (74′ Gabbiadini 6.5).

MILAN: Donnarumma 7.5, Gabbia 6, Kjaer 7, Theo 7, Calabria 6.5 (62′ Castillejo 7), Bennacer 7, Kessie 6.5 (79′ Biglia 6), Calhanoglu 7 (62′ Bonaventura 7) , Rebic 7.5 (46′ Leao 7), Saelemaekers 5, Ibrahimovic 8 (79′ Paqueta 7).

GOALS: Ibrahimovic 4′, 58′, Calhanoglu 54′, Askildsen 87′, Leao 90’+2.

YELLOW CARDS: Bereszynski 36′, Rebic 45’+4

REFEREE: Fabrizio Pasqua.

DATE & VENUE: July 29, 2020, Stadio Luigi Ferraris, Genoa.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Veselin Trajkovic


Vesko is a football writer that likes to observe the game for what it is, focusing on teams, players and their roles, formations, tactics, rather than stats. He follows the English Premier League closely, Liverpool FC in particular. His articles have been published on four different football blogs.

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