The fans on both sides of Genoa divide did not have high expectations ahead of this season after a relatively below-par campaign last year with Sampdoria finishing 12th and Genoa 14th. Both clubs did not show enough ambition to be considered as contenders for Europe while they sat well clear above the relegation zone. Fast forward to today and both of them have undergone significant improvement as Sampdoria currently occupy the 5th spot while their city rivals are in 6th position just 1 point shy of third place Lazio. In Genoa, the mere fact of having these two teams in top flight is viewed as a satisfactory achievement. Both these clubs have suffered relegations over the last few decades while also qualifying for Europe in this period as well. But they have not shown any sort of consistency for their fans to consider European competitions for granted.

Expectations were modest at the start of the season with Gian Piero Gasperini addressing that Genoaai??i??s first objective was to secure top flight status while Sinisa Mihajlovic was a bit more ambitious in claiming that Sampdoria aimed to finish in the top half of the table. Neither club overhauled their squad but some astute signings (Mauricio Pinilla, Iago Falque, and Diego Perotti for Genoa) coupled with some tactical tweaks have brought them in this respectable position in the first half of the season. Sinisa Mihajlovic was brought in last November and deserves most of the credit for turning around the fortunes of the Blucerchiati. The Serbian has never enjoyed a widespread respect during his tenure at Catania, Fiorentina and Serbia but seems to have found the perfect club in Sampdoria. Gian Piero Gasperini is very familiar with Genoa having spent three very successful years before his current tenure which began last September. As mentioned earlier, he was ably backed by clever work in reshaping the squad.

Gian Piero Gasperini looking to lead the club to greater heights

Genoa have collected 7 wins and 5 draws so far this season and are the only team to beat Juventus this season. Jose Mourinho famously named Gasperini as the toughest tactician he faced in Italy comparing their clashes to games of chess where each move was met with an immediate and thought provoking counter. He is still the only coach in Serie A to regularly field the 3-4-3 module and his philosophy and ability to transfer his ideas across his team is working perfectly so far this campaign. Gasperini has always given a fair chance to kids from the academy like Stephan El Shaarawy earlier, Stefano Sturaro last year and Rolando Mandragora who was the most efficient player in the 1-0 win over Juventus in September. The wingers in his system regularly switch flanks with the impressive Diego Perotti already attracting interests from Roma and the two Milan giants. Only Mattia Perin has been given more playing time compared to the Argentine who has really settled down quickly in Italy, scoring one goal and providing one assist but completing an average of 3 successful dribbles in a single match. The components of Gasperiniai??i??s system are so versatile that it reminds of Ajax in the early to mid 90s. Five years ago Genoa finished joint fourth but missed out on the Champions League only on head-to-head with Fiorentina. But they were rightly celebrated as the best football team in Italy as they used attacking width when most of the clubs preferred a narrow diamond in midfield.

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The philosophy of Gasperini is to shorten the playing area with relentless pressing high up the pitch. For example when left forward Andrea Bertolacci pushes up to prevent the defender playing out from defence, Giovanni Marchese who is actually the left central defender will come up in midfield with Diego Perotti acting as the winger. Gasperini promotes a direct brand of football which is visible from the number of passes per game which is significantly less than Juventus, Napoli, Inter and Fiorentina. They do not use any ai??i?? illuminatoai??i?? like a Pirlo, Pjanic or Borja Valero while Gasperini has no obsession for dominating possession as well. The central defenders are usually making the most number of passes in a game while two of them are former full-backs who are intentionally used in this role as they are comfortable in carrying the ball from defence. Gasperiniai??i??s system has always helped his strikers find the back of the net with relative ease. Previously both Diego Milito and Marco Borriello came close to becoming Capocannoniere and this year the much maligned Alessandro Matri is seemingly thriving in this system with six goals already this year. All of them have been away from home where Genoa have had the most success. With five clean sheets so far and the fifth best defensive record in the league, Genao do owe a lot to their young keeper Mattia Perin who has been nothing short of sensational this season and is one of the few keepers along with Gianluigi Buffon, Sergio Romero to not have conceded more than two goals in a single game. He has made some crucial saves and has proved decisive in goal for the Rossoblu. If Gasperiniai??i??s men keep up these positive displays in the New Year then there is no reason why they cannot spread their wings and soar a little further afield.

Sinisa Mihajlovic has masterminded Sampdoria’s early season surge

It was a low-key summer for Sampdoria with the only significant arrival coming in the boardroom with film producer Massimo Ferrero buying the club from Edoardo Garrone. But their impressive start to the season has been mainly down to two factors ai??i?? one their outstanding organization as a team and the other one being the presence of former Sampdoria player Sinisa Mihajlovic who has acted as a catalyst in this rise of the Blucerchiati. The key to the Serbianai??i??s system last year was the 4-2-3-1 module with the holding midfield pair of Nenad Krsticic and Angelo Palombo ably protecting the defence marshalled by World Cup winner Shkodran Mustafi. His system has evolved this season with the Serbian mainly using the 4-3-3 module for majority of his games. Mihajlovic has started few games with his tried and tested 4-2-3-1 formation but like the game against Juventus, he has switched to the more productive 4-3-3 if things did not go according to plan. With Gabbiadini and Eder flanking the revelation of this season Stefano Okaka, Mihajlovicai??i??s men have looked deadly on the break. Gabbiadiniai??i??s goal against Juventus was an example how quickly they can turn defence into attack with the pace of Eder being a major component in this system. Eder, who was used as a central striker mostly last season, has thrived in his new role on the left and his wonderful solo effort against Fiorentina demonstrated his ability to take on defenders and cut in from the wings to devastating effects. Gabbiadini has also looked impressive on the right which has allowed him to use his stronger left foot more effectively. Plus he has also improved his dead-ball skills thanks largely to the inputs provided by Mihajlovic , one of the greatest free-kick masters of the last two generations.

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Okaka acting as the focal point has also helped Sampdoria add a new dimension to their attacking third. His players are responding to his tinkering and Sinisa Mihajlovic has no doubt been one of the best managers in Italy this season so far. Sampdoria have one of the best defensive records this season having kept 5 clean sheets in 16 games. The change from 4-2-3-1 to 4-3-3 has added one extra midfielder alongside Angelo Palombo and Pedro Obiang. Jonathon Soriano who was mainly used as a playmaker last year has done an excellent job in central midfield. Sorianoai??i??s role has changed the most in this new system this year but he has adapted really well. Obiang and Soriano have recorded very high percentage of tackles per match plus they have intercepted passes near the danger zone. Fielding another central midfielder has added defensive grit in Sampai??i??s system and they have conceded very few shots in the league which is a remarkable turnaround considering the fact they sold their star defender Mustafi to Valencia this summer. Mihajlovic bought in two loanees : Alessio Romagnoli and Matias Silvestre to replace the outgoing German international. On paper it looked like a risky gamble but the season so far has proved that both of them have flourished under the Serbianai??i??s tutelage. With defensive organization and an exciting frontline, Sampdoria fans will be hoping their rise continue in the New Year and they find themselves in Europe for the first time in five years.

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