The first leg provided a 3-1 advantage for Bremen in Germany, but crucially Pazzini struck late to grab a crucial away goal. Werder Bremen had the advantage in that match as discussed here. As one can see from the two line ups from the first and second legs both sides made changes. Thomas Schaaf brought in Marin for Hunt and Wagner for Almeida up front while Di Carlo drafted Stankevicius in for the suspended Lucchini while also swapping out Mannini and Tissone for Dessena and Guberti respectively.
Although their line up was similar Sampdoria played much better because of the personnel and tactics employed by Di Carlo. Whereas in the first leg Palombo and Tissone, the two central midfielders, were shadowing Bargfrede and Borowski which left Frings free, in the return match it was Daniele Dessena, more than comfortable in the middle or on the wing, who picked up Borowski. This meant that Guberti played much higher up the pitch than Tissone did in the first leg and he was the one to pressure Frings. This left Palombo with Bargfrede and Marin and he was helped by his winger Semioli and fullback Stankevicius. In truth it often looked at times like Sampdoria were playing a 4-3-1-2.
So Di Carlo seemed to have answered the necessary questions from the first leg. The question now became how do Sampdoria score at least two goals? Early on it was clear to see that Sampdoria were canceling out Bremen’s midfield and found it hard to work their way through it. The opening was fast and direct but this seemed to suit Sampdoria’s front two of Pazzini and Cassano. Cassano found pockets of space on the left and when a long ball was played to him his great first touch allowed him to bring it down and reset the move. However the real point of interest is Pazzini. Some may be hasty to label him a poacher or just a finisher but he is so much more than that. He is fantastic in the air, strong, powerful, quick, he makes good runs and can play the ball with his feet. His endless finding of space and mobility made him almost impossible to deal with and it’s no surprise he opened the scoring.
As mentioned earlier Sampdoria were often bypassing the midfield and Stankevicius played a long, diagonal ball to Cassano who had found a pocket of space afforded by the central playing Dessena. Cassano crosses, Pazzini heads, and Sampdoria take the lead. The second came only five minutes later as Sampdoria earned a free kick off a counter. Again Stankevicius played a long, diagonal ball to the far post but this time Pazzini directly struck it with an unstoppable volley. The marking was non existent but again it was Pazzini’s mobility and skill that allowed him to score that goal.
So now with the two goals they needed Sampdoria looked confident, pressing all over the pitch. Everyone had a defined role, but with Guberti on Frings and Dessena on Borowski this opened up space on the right for Bremen. Cassano was usually there to bother Fritz somewhat but the German fullback found lots of opportunities to bomb forward, often finding himself on a one on one with Sampdoria’s left fullback Ziegler. Pizarro was reluctant to drop so wide, although he did drop deep, and unlike Hunt who ran between both wings Marin was content to camp out on the left so Bremen could not really exploit that space. However, Marin’s clever style allowed him to find some space on the left, especially with Semioli not as disciplined as Dessena, but he could rarely get the ball in the first half. Bargfrede and Borowski could not act as links which they had to, now that Frings had no time on the ball.
Towards the end of the half Cassano switched over the right and while he was finding some space he was less dangerous over there. Pazzini almost scored another header off of a corner which should have been a foul, a team mate setting a basketball style pick on a defender freeing Pazzini. But the moral of that play and the half was this: Pazzini’s movement and willingness to link up was what helped Sampdoria be the better team in the first half. His counter-part, Wagner, showed no motivation to get involved in the play. He simply stood at the shoulder of the last man and moaned about service. It was a stark contrast of ability that could have cost Bremen a Champions League place.
The second half saw no real change in shape from either side and Marin was finding more and more space on the left, however he was forced wide and he is not a winger so he found himself constantly cutting in. The same story lines emerged, Pazzini dominating direct balls and Bremen failing to exploit the space on the right. Eventually Schaaf replaced the ineffectual Borowski with the more attacking minded Arnautovic in the 63′ minute. Di Carlo responded a few minutes later by swapping out Guberti, who had a fine game, for Tissone. This was the first indication Sampdoria were starting to tire. They had pressed so hard all match in the middle of the park they were bound to fatigue. This pressing in midfield also made it hard for either team to slowly build up play and forced them to bypass it with long direct balls. The difference was that Sampdoria had Pazzini and Cassano to collect it with their skill and movement while it seemed like Bremen were launching balls forward relying on defensive miscues.
A couple of injuries then forced switches on either side. For Bremen a bloodied Wagner was subbed of for Rosenberg, a switch which I thought would immediately benefit them while Tissone cruelly only lasted six minutes before injury gave way for Mannini. It was at this point that Bremen clearly had much more time on the ball. Whether it was the fact that Sampdoria knew they were through with a 2-0 scoreline or the fatigue from pressing so hard Bremen had a lot more time on the ball to work it through the midfield, but they still couldn’t find a goal. In fact, it was Sampdoria who scored late. Bremen failed to clear off a corner and the freshest Italian on the park, Mannini, won the ball back. Sampdoria then crossed from the right and both Cassano and Pazzini had made clever runs and either could have scored but it was Cassano’s audacious flick that put the ball in the net.
It was not the winner though, as Werder Bremen scored a last minute shock ‘equaliser’. It is worth noting that Arnautovic, a second half sub, outworked a Sampdoria player in his own half to win the free kick that led to the goal. Bremen played another long, hopeful ball which was collected by another substitute, Markus Rosenberg. He was fresher than Wagner, more mobile, and actually willing to come deep to collect the ball. Wagner would have stayed in the box hoping for a miracle ball but Rosenberg took matters into his own hands, and with Sampdoria too tired to close him down struck it beautifully into the far post.
Sampdoria were done at this point, extra time was almost academic. With Cassano subbed off the best they could hope for was penalties, but Pizarro found some space on the right, almost the same space where Rosenberg scored, and with zero pressing was allowed to beat Curci. The stats help tell the tale, in the first half alone Sampdoria outran their visitors by 4 kilometres but by the end Bremen almost equaled them. A cruel end to a well played match by Di Carlo but he left himself too much to do in the return leg meaning his team was too tired to finish the job.