PSV went into this fifth Europa League match knowing that a draw would be enough to secure a place among the final 32 teams. Sampdoria, on the other hand, were in need of a win to keep their hopes of qualifying alive.
Most of PSV’s regulars featured in this match, with two exceptions. Midfielder Otman Bakkal and right winger Jeremain Lens missed out due to illness, causing Fred Rutten to move playmaker Afellay to the right wing, drafting Hutchinson into midfield and thereby creating space to allow Manolev a first start at right-back after a three months injury.
PSV’s system is well known as a 4-2-3-1, which has been described here before, for example in their home match against Twente. A clear difference between their home and away games can be seen in the positioning of Toivonen. Featuring as a second striker, or a false number ten if you like, in PSV’s home matches, he tends to put in more of a true central midfield role in away games, as evidenced by PSV’s display against Ajax two weeks ago, and more recently in their 4-2 defeat at the hands of NAC.
Past manager Luigi Delneri installed a flat 4-4-2 system, based on bombarding wing players with quite some success. His successor, Domenico di Carlo, was drafted in from high-flying Chievo Verona to continue this same line. And although he still plays with what is best described as a 4-4-2, he did make certain alterations to their line-up and playing style. Regularly facing four band formations, he prefers a 4-4-2 diamond. In a way this compares to the only Eredivisie team to consequently play a two striker system, Roda JC.
Sampdoria’s hot headed big star, Antonio Cassano has fallen out of favour with the club president after refusing to attend an awards ceremony and the club is currently in the process of looking to terminate the player’s contract. So no ‘Gioiello di Bari Vecchia’ (Jewel of old Bari) tonight, but a striker combo of regular Italian international Giampaolo Pazzini and 21 year old Guido Marilungo.
The previous confrontation
Both teams played each other in the first Europa League match, where Sampdoria held PSV to a 1-1 draw. Aided by an early lead due to a glaring communication error in PSV’s defense, Sampdoria seemed happy to sit deep and often use the long ball towards Cassano, hoping for his creativity to shine. Today, playing at home and being in need of a win, something different is to be expected.
The first half
And different it was by Sampdoria. As if to illustrate that playing style is quite something different to playing formation, they lined-up in the same 4-4-2 diamond they played a high paced game from the off. Often pressing PSV in their own half, Sampdoria managed several dangerous early interceptions, one of which led to Marilungo’s shot that hit the post early in the game.
PSV’s choice to move playmaker and captain Afellay out to the right wing to replace Jeremain Lens had serious implications for their midfield game. PSV clearly missed the passing qualities of Afellay, who himself was replaced by Hutchinson in defensive midfield. Furthermore, Otman Bakkal, PSV’s regular partner for Afellay in defensive midfield, missed out through illness.
Facing a packed midfield in the form of Sampdoria’s narrow diamond, PSV often found itself outnumbered here while their full-backs were smartly occupied by the dynamism of Marilungo and Pazzini upfront. Since these two hard-working players managed to occupy PSV’s entire back four, Sampdoria was always sure to outnumber PSV on the rest of the pitch.
Another problem was both Afellay’s and Dszuszak’s tendency to play as an inside forward rather than as a wide winger. This limited PSV’s ability to play around their opponent’s packed midfield, which would have been the most sensible way to go. Although Afellay managed to get in behind his marker one, delivering a dangerous cross that was missed by Toivonen, this was far from enough to pose any real danger to Sampdoria’s defense and striker Reis was limited to a handful of touches.
Sampdoria was able to commit their full-backs forward more and more and it was a cross from their right-back Ziegler that found Pazzini at the first post. His sublime diving header found the far corner and, just like in the teams’ previous encounter, Sampdoria led 1-0 at half time, although this time by dominating the game rather than taking advantage from a defensive mistake.
Second half changes
PSV made one change to the second half and that was to switch Afellay and Dszudszak. With Afellay now no longer split between defending Ziegler’s forward runs and connecting PSV’s offensive passing, his role became more prominent. At the same time Dszudszak was enabled to make some threatening runs inside from the right, looking to shoot with his left foot.
One moment of slack defending from Sampdoria was enough for PSV to equalize. Afellay was not pressured at all in his cross to a completely unmarked Toivonen.
Sampdoria meanwhile tried to commit more bodies forward, but saw their players run out of energy which saw their tactical plan crumble. Their strikers were no longer able to bind all of PSV’s back four and PSV’s full-backs became more and more involved. This meant that PSV became able to play around Sampdoria’s narrow midfield and the face of the game started to change. Sampdoria, in desperate need for a win, starting chasing PSV’s possession and PSV found space to control the ball.
In the closing minutes of the game Toivonen scored his second goal of the game in his otherwise unimpressive performance. Sampdoria had been reduced to ten men by then, after Marilungo saw a second yellow card for furiously discussing some fairly debatable offside decisions.
In the end
This has been a match with two faces. Before half time Sampdoria was more or less in control, dominating the central area of the pitch while occupying PSV’s wide players, especially the full-backs, with their hard-working striker pair. In the second half, and especially after PSV switched their wingers, PSV gained the upper hand by dominating the flanks, bypassing Sampdoria’s crowded centre. Their strikers and ‘carilleros’ running out of steam meant they virtually surrendered to PSV, a fact further illustrated by Marilungo’s frustrations in the end of the game.