Sitting 13 points adrift of safety prior to kick-off, Sampdoria knew defeat at Udinese would mark the end of their top-flight status for the first time since 2012. A positive result, however, was always going to be a tall order for the visitors, having picked up just one victory in their previous 17 SA matches (D5, L11).
True to form, it was Udinese who started on the front foot, with Florian Thauvin seeing an early header tipped over the bar by Nicola Ravaglia.
Powerless to the hosts’ dominant start, Sampdoria found themselves behind inside 10 minutes, as Roberto Pereyra raced onto a perfectly-timed pass from Festy Ebosele, before lifting a clever finish over Ravaglia.
Armed with the early momentum, Udinese continued to assert their authority during a one-sided opening half-hour, and after numerous opportunities went begging, the Bianconeri finally doubled their advantage through Adam Masina, who met Sandi Lovric’s inviting delivery and planted an accurate header into the bottom corner.
Faced with a two-goal deficit and their relegation all but confirmed, Dejan Stankovic’s side emerged after the restart with a certain freedom to their play. Alessandro Zanoli saw a fierce strike tipped around the post by Marco Silvestri, while Manolo Gabbiadini struck the woodwork with a brilliant long-range effort.
Having ridden their luck to keep Sampdoria at bay, the hosts looked to regain some semblance of composure going into the final 20 minutes, and Walace came close to adding a third when his dangerous effort was deflected narrowly wide of the target.
With time running out, the visitors continued to search for some late inspiration, but Silvestri stood firm to deny Gabbiadini, as Udinese coasted through the closing stages to extend their unbeaten run on home soil to eight matches.
As for Sampdoria, their miserable season finally has its due reward with relegation to Serie B.
Empoli moved 11 points clear of the drop zone thanks to goals either side of half-time in a backbreaking encounter against Salernitana, who caved for the first time in 11 Serie A matches, bringing an end to the second-best unbeaten streak in Europe’s top-five leagues after Manchester City.
One key reason why Salernitana have managed to punch above their weight this campaign is Guillermo Ochoa, and the Mexican shot-stopper was up to the task once again, brilliantly denying Francesco Caputo and Nicolo Cambiaghi’s early efforts to unsettle the Granata.
Regardless, Empoli continued to make inroads by withholding the ball and giving the visitors a run for their money, eventually breaking the deadlock in the 38th minute.
Just as Paulo Sousa’s outfit thought they were faring well defensively, they were caught napping as Cambiaghi redeemed himself for his earlier miss, capping off Empoli’s one-touch move with a diving header and leaving Ochoa with no chance this time around.
With the challenge of ending the visitors’ 10-match unbeaten league streak strongly in his side’s favour, Paolo Zanetti maintained hopes of carrying the momentum forward, although words of caution would surely have greeted the Azzurri dressing room, given Salernitana’s unyielding attitude.
A hat-trick of substitutions after the break by Sousa indicated a tactical switch involving two forwards, but instead, it was Empoli doing all the footwork upfront.
Taking the game to the Granata, the hosts went 2-0 up after the hour mark following a lengthy VAR check, with Caputo netting a tap-in from a mere yard away following a corner delivery.
Salernitana entered the final 10 minutes without a shot on target, but with nearly a third of Empoli’s conceded league goals arriving in the same timeframe, it wasn’t game over just yet.
Krzysztof Piatek halved the hosts’ lead with a sizzling rebound shot four minutes from time, however, the visitors failed to build upon the goal.
Zanetti’s side ultimately sealed a maiden clean sheet victory of their visitors and gained the upper hand in six meetings against the Granata, who in turn tasted a first defeat in three trips to the Stadio Carlo Castellani.
Salernitana will look to ensure mathematical safety in a tough clash against Atalanta next, whereas Empoli travel to lowly Sampdoria with their heads held high following a second straight victory.