In the final game of Serie A’s opening round on Monday night, last season’s runners-up AC Milan visit a Sampdoria side under new management.
After enjoying a spectacular resurgence in 2020 the first half of this year has been less kind to the Rossoneri, who will hope to get their campaign off to a winning start in Liguria
If 2020-21 was a season of missed opportunities – as Milan faltered when leading Serie A at the halfway stage and crashed out of the Coppa Italia and Europa League’s latter stages – then the chance to make amends starts this week, with a season-opener at Sampdoria.
Intending to build upon their youth-led revival of recent times, Stefano Pioli’s side have added further experience to the inimitable leadership of Zlatan Ibrahimovic during the off-season; recruiting World Cup-winner Olivier Giroud and Euro 2020 champion Alessandro Florenzi to bolster their options.
Of course, the apparently irreplaceable Gianluigi Donnarumma decided to move on, so former Lille goalkeeper Mike Maignan – a Ligue 1 winner last term – also joins as the Rossoneri’s last line of defence.
There is an otherwise familiar look about the squad which will visit Marassi on Monday, as Pioli attempts to bridge the 12-point gap to city rivals Inter and compete with several other candidates for a top-four place. There is also the small matter of a return to the Champions League – after an eight-year absence – to look forward to.
More immediately though, Milan must concentrate on a positive start to the domestic season, having lost four of their last five Serie A openers away from home – after previously going unbeaten in 14 such matches.
New recruit Giroud could play a major role in their efforts to do so, following his brace in the final pre-season friendly versus Panathinaikos last week, and the French forward’s proven penalty-box nous should make a significant difference throughout the season.
Another veteran striker, Fabio Quagliarella, was the inspiration for Sampdoria’s 3-2 comeback win over Alessandria in the Coppa Italia last Monday, as the Blucerchiati got their competitive campaign underway.
The age-defying Samp skipper’s spectacular back-heeled goal was another to add to his extensive career highlights reel and helped set his side up a second round tie against Torino in December.
Now one of Calcio’s senior statesmen at 38, Quagliarella was an integral part of former manager Claudio Ranieri’s plans as Sampdoria completed a comfortable mid-table campaign in May by finishing ninth in the final standings. However, Ranieri chose to depart at the season’s end, so ex-Parma coach Roberto D’Aversa was hired to keep the Ligurians in contention for another top-half finish in 2021-22.
Though his previous role ended in abject failure, as the Crociati sunk into Serie B with barely a whimper, D’Aversa had previously been lauded for his part in Parma’s miraculous revival during a more successful first spell at the Tardini. He now inherits a squad featuring several much-admired talents, such as Euros star Mikkel Damsgaard and Atalanta target Morten Thorsby, so expectations will be far higher in Genoa.
Samp have failed to win either home or away to Milan in the past two seasons, with their last league success in the fixture coming at Stadio Luigi Ferraris back in early 2019, so a change to that trend would get D’Aversa off to the best possible start.
Sampdoria form (all competitions):
AC Milan form (all competitions):
We say: Sampdoria 2-2 AC Milan
Samp were no pushovers last season, and despite Claudio Ranieri’s lamented departure, they can cause the top teams trouble again – provided they keep hold of their rising stars.
A settled side can hold Milan to a score draw on Monday night, as the Rossoneri are never quite the same side without Kessie and ‘King Zlatan’ and could be vulnerable in their first competitive outing of the campaign.