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Milan-Sampdoria preview: making domination count

In August 2010, Sampdoria played in the third round of Champions League qualifiers, losing 5-4 on aggregate to Werder Bremen in a dramatic 180 minutes. So they said, OK. We tried our best and paid our toll to inexperience. This season we'll do better. Thirty-two games, one Cassano and one Pazzini later, they find themselves 16th in the standings, one tiny point above the relegation zone. Sampdoria are struggling to avoid relegation to the delight of all those who are after what remains of their prized assets, such as Poli, Palombo and Ziegler. It's a sad story really and one that shouldn't be happening in Italian football, and it reminds me a little of Wolfsburg's situation in Germany. When one of the most talented young teams in the league goes from European football to a relegation fight in one year, there's something seriously wrong with the club hierarchy and/or the way players are treated at the club.


But I digress. The team described above will visit the San Siro on Saturday with little hope of not returning to Genoa empty-handed, but Allegri needs to make sure complacency doesn't become an issue, or we will find ourselves level with Napoli very, very soon. The first game between these two teams ended with a 1-1 draw, and the first thing that comes to mind when I think of that game are Allegri's substitutes. After Sampdoria equalized through Pazzini, he did nothing; instead, he waited until the last minute of the game to make two substitutes, bringing Ronaldinho and Flamini on for Seedorf and Boateng. It didn't make sense then and it still doesn't today, but I think Allegri has since made a serious improvement to the way he handles the last 30 minutes of close games.

If they lose, Sampdoria could easily find themselves in the relegation zone, as 17th-placed Cesena host Bari. The reason I'm focusing on Samp so much is simple - we all know how Milan is going to line up (with one or two personnel dilemmas) but we don't know what kind of attitude our guests will bring to the San Siro. Truth be told, they're in a sad state, not having won a game since mid February. Milan should make it a point to press hard and score early in order to let them know from the off they don't stand a chance. If the game is allowed to drag on with little action in front of Sampdoria's goal, they just might find the strength to put in the kind of performance Bari put in 4 weeks ago.

Since Pirlo's condition is still a mystery, I'll assume Seedorf will get the nod again after two marvelous performances in the last two weeks. If he plays as well as he did in those games, I don't think Milan should have a problem dominating this game and creating opportunities in the box, as the Dutchman's vision and ability to control the tempo will put the wheel safely in Milan's hands. If, however, he fails to make an impact, we could have trouble breaking through their defense. Cassano will most likely start on the bench against his former team, with Robinho and Pato on the pitch from the beginning.

Sampdoria play a classic 4-4-2 with lots of overlaps between the fullbacks and the wide midfielders, with one enormous difference when compared to last season - their partnership up front used to be a creative, technical player with great vision and a clinical finisher with a nose for goal, now they have a young player on loan and a 32 year old Maccarone who, although crafty and experienced, shouldn't be much of a challenge for Thiago Silva. Their left side may be their strongest part of the pitch with Ziegler and Mannini. It's not much of a concern for Milan since Abate, with the help of Gattuso, is more than capable of owning that side defensively, while Robinho's and Pato's movement up front will hopefully force their fullbacks to adopt a more defensive role.

In the middle of the pitch, Milan will outnumber and outmuscle the opposition - one of the main strengths of Allegri's 4-3-1-2 is the reinforced middle, and Palombo should have little hope going forward. Sampdoria can try to counter this problem in two ways.

1. They try to close down Seedorf to leave Milan without creativity in the middle. Such an attempt, however, would only leave acres of space for Boateng and Robinho between their lines. This should, in turn, force them to play narrower than they're used to, with Mannini and Semioli dropping towards the middle, thus leaving them without their primary offensive strategy.

2. The more likely option - they will fall back, leave little space between midfield and defense, and hope Milan has a bad day. They let our midfield hold the ball, but try to mark Pato our of the game with sheer physicality. When he drops back and tries to run at them with the ball, they tackle recklessly. This is the strategy most relegation candidates in Italy would use, but since Sampdoria aren't used to being relegation candidates, maybe (hopefully) they'll try to battle Milan in midfield and make the hosts' job a lot easier.

All in all, this is a game Milan should really be winning, as long as the players are fully concentrated...which they should be, seeing how they haven't won a scudetto in 7 years now. Milan is inching towards the title and, while we will naturally have our eyes on the San Siro, we can also hope for a slip up from Napoli who have a tough game against Udinese at home. This weekend just might turn out to be the one that puts 5 or 6 points between Milan and the other teams. Forza Milan!