Cagliari v Juventus
Serie A Week 25 – Sunday, 12th February – 19:45 GMT – Stadio Sant’Elia
Juventus have a seven-point lead in Serie A and everything is right again in the world. Well, in the football world at least. It was not an easy task to work around Crotone’s bus since they played with a very conservative lineup that included three fullbacks and only one and a half strikers and defended with nine players. It was not a great performance by Juventus, but they were patient, they attacked with poise without getting too antsy or rushing things and the first goal arrived just before it was starting to get too late for anyone’s liking. This time, it was Mario Mandzukic the one who broke the tie with a very opportunistic score, then Gonzalo Higuain sealed the deal as usual. If you look at the football predictions, Juventus are clear favourites to retain their title now.
The gap gives Massimiliano Allegri some leeway to rest some players ahead of the Porto two-game clash and he has started Wednesday giving the day off to Miralem Pjanic and Juan Cuadrado. Tomas Rincon did not have a flashy game, and so many of his performances will be like this, but he was stout. Unfortunately, I do not think this squad is equipped to make do with the absence of the Bosnian, but, barring an injury, he will not stay out many times. Marko Pjaca finally started a game, but he did not have many chances to shine as Crotone put the clamps on him and on most of the other offensive players.
An interesting part of the game was the coaching staff veering to a 4-2-4 with Pjaca and Paulo Dybala wide and Mandzukic in his natural position to shake thing up when the squad was struggling to create chances. Pjaca was more comfortable there and Dybala performs at a high level pretty much everywhere you put him, nonetheless it was a tactical subtlety that paid off in the first goal because Mandzukic would not have been in that position if he was playing wide.
On Sunday night, Juventus will travel to Sardinia to take on Cagliari and to try to continue grabbing wins on the road, probably the only statistics where Bianconeri have not excelled so far this year. We know the four losses have come after midweek matches, but the last time out, the team beat Sassuolo convincingly.
After playing fairly well twice in three games, Sami Khedira is likely to be rested. Claudio Marchisio is back with the rest of the squad at practice, so the back pain has subsided and he could start ahead of Rincon, even though some reports indicate that Stefano Sturaro could get the nod. Cuadrado, Pjanic and Giorgio Chiellini will return to the XI. Mandzukic could be the one watching from the sidelines, with Pjaca or Kwadwo Asamoah as left winger, but that is not certain at this stage. The battle at right back is undecided, but Stephan Lichtsteiner has a small edge. Leonardo Bonucci could be the subject of some rotation in favour of Medhi Benatia. Andrea Barzagli picked up a minor hamstring injury that will cost him a couple of games.
UPDATE: Pjanic is a little banged up and might not start.
4-2-3-1: Buffon; Lichtsteiner, Bonucci, Chiellini, Sandro; Marchisio, Pjanic; Cuadrado, Dybala, Mandzukic; Higuain.
Barzagli (hamstring), Mandragora (foot).
Cagliari have had a decent season so far, but you would think they were terrible by the way they were at times booed at Sant’Elia or for the number of fans calling for the firing of Massimo Rastelli. They have certainly struggled almightily so far on the road, where they have collected only four points in twelve matches, but seeing how the other two newly promoted clubs have played, the supporters should be more than happy.
At least they have an identity: they are a high scoring team that can win in shootouts. If you’re looking at football predictions, they should remain up this season. The downside is that they have a very porous defence and it showed in some matches against some top teams: they have conceded five goals both to Fiorentina and Napoli. After that the coach has tried to tweak his lineup to make it a little more solid, but without consistent results. They have tried every single combination in the defensive line but none of them worked particularly well.
They are dealing with several injury concerns, but they have a chance to have something close to a full squad on Sunday night. The only sure absentees are Federico Melchiorri, who has a torn ACL, the newcomer Paolo Faragò who has a strained calf, Joao Pedro and Luca Ceppitelli who are suspended. Simone Padoin, Diego Farias and Marco Sau have been dealing with muscular issues over the last two weeks, but they could recover in time. Marco Borriello has a bruised knee and has practiced on his own all week long: I would not bet against his availability, but at this stage he is not slated to start.
With so many doubts, the XI could go in few different directions, also tactically-wise. Their ordinary system is a 4-3-1-2, but Rastelli has opted for a 4-4-1-1/4-5-1 recently. Considering the various ailments, they would be very thin with the first one, so the second is more likely. The defence will be formed by Fabio Pisacane, Bruno Alves and two between Marco Capuano, Bartosz Salamon and Nicola Murru as Capuano can play both as CB and as LB. Murru has stayed on the bench in the last two games and Inter loanee Senna Miangue has been the first fullback to come on.
The midfield will be likely composed by Mauricio Isla, Davide Di Gennaro, Daniele Dessena, Niccolò Barella and one between Panagiotis Tachtsidis and Simeone Padoin, depending on whether the former Juventus talisman has recovered. Sau is the frontrunner upfront but of course Borriello would easily take his spot if he is ready because he makes more sense in a one-man attack. Farias would play as left winger if he could start, likely in a 5-man midfield: he would give them the tactical flexibility to switch to the diamond formation without any sub. Di Gennaro and Barella have experience as attackind midfielders.
They have had some memorable comebacks, so Juventus will have to be very careful if they get a lead. They have the worst defence in the league and that is something to take advantage of. That is partially caused by the fact that they are not content with sitting back and countering: they try to be proactive, but they do not have the soldiers to be balanced when they do it. Borriello influences a lot their playing style: if he is out there they would attack more down the flanks and cross, because he provides a great physical presence in the box. With Sau, that would be taken away, but they would be way quicker.
UPDATE: Farias is not in the squad, while Borriello and Ibarbo are. Rastelli hinted that he will opt for a 2-man attack, anyway the absence of the Brazilian striker takes away some flexibility.
4-4-1-1: Rafael; Pisacane, Alves, Salamon, Capuano; Isla, Dessena, Padoin, Barella; Di Gennaro; Sau.
Farias, Melchiorri (knee), Faragò (calf).
About the author:
Ignacio del Valle Ruiz, a true fan of football, is one of the founders of FootballPredictions.com. He also manages the content team behind the website, Twitter and Facebook. In his spare time he enjoys winning FIFA games.