Following their midweek elimination from the UEFA Champions League, Juventus will be looking to pick themselves up when they face Cagliari on Sunday.
The midweek exit from the UEFA Champions League at the hands of FC Porto has hit Juventus hard and unsurprisingly so, as the club continues to struggle in meeting their expectations and aspirations under the leadership of Andrea Pirlo.
With the highest prize in European football out of the picture, Juventus shift their attention towards their title defence as they lock horns with Cagliari on Sunday. It is a vital game for them in the context of the Serie A title race, even though the Bianconeri are trailing league leaders Inter Milan by a whopping 10 points heading into this weekend’s round of fixtures.
While Pirlo’s men may not have exhibited the consistency that we can normally associate with the Italian giants, they have indeed performed well against fellow giants. And with Juventus still yet to play Inter and Milan for the second time, there is still a glimmer of hope.
Cagliari, on the other hand, are hoping to rain on their parade, having rediscovered their form in recent weeks. The Sardinians are dawdling in the bottom end of the table, but back-to-back wins over Crotone and Bologna as well as a draw with Sampdoria have helped get out of the relegation zone for the time being.
It appears the appointment of Leonardo Semplici has worked wonders for Cagliari so far, and the 53-year-old tactician will now set his sights on Juventus this weekend, in his bid to push further up the league table. Here, at The Hard Tackle, we will take a closer look at these two sides ahead of their crucial encounter at the Sardegna Arena.
Team News & Tactics
A former coach of SPAL, Leonardo Semplici has introduced the flat 3-5-2 formation at Cagliari. It has served his team quite well so far, with the two front-men in Joao Pedro and Leonardo Pavoletti making quite an impression with their work ethic and productivity.
Captain Pedro is the club’s top-scorer with 13 goals in Serie A so far. However, the 29-year-old needs to be efficient in a game where Cagliari may not be able to create too many chances in the final third, primarily because of a more conservative approach in midfield.
🔜 | VERSO LA JUVE
Allenamento alla @SardegnaArena.
Due giorni al prossimo match 👊🏼
— Cagliari Calcio (@CagliariCalcio) March 12, 2021
Pavoletti, meanwhile, has been ruled out against Juventus due to yellow card suspension, along with Charalampos Lykogiannis while the likes of Matteo Tramoni, Riccardo Sottil, Sebastian Walukiewicz and Marko Rog remain out injured.
Given the quality of the opposition, Semplici might also be tempted to deploy Radja Nainggolan in a more defensive role in order to provide additional protection for the double-pivot of Razvan Marin and Alfred Duncan.
The former Inter midfielder can also offer that pinch of physicality and aggression in the middle of the park. Nevertheless, such a tactical manoeuvre could come at the expense of a lack of creativity going forward. As such, the onus will be on the wide players to provide that supply in the form of crosses.
While Nahitan Nandez is a guaranteed starter, the absence of Lykogiannis could force Semplici to try his luck with Gabriele Zappa, meaning Nandez may have to shift to the opposite flank while another suspended player in Pavoletti should be replaced by Giovanni Simeone.
Not many changes are expected defensively, apart from the experienced Ragnar Klavan replacing on-loan Juventus centre-back, Daniele Rugani. Klavan, therefore, should slot in nicely alongside Diego Godin and Luca Ceppitelli, although Arturo Calabresi is another option for coach Semplici.
Probable Lineup (3-5-2): Cragno; Klavan, Godin, Ceppitelli; Zappa, Duncan, Nainggolan, Marin, Nandez; Pedro, Simeone
Andrea Pirlo has to find an ideal response to Semplici’s 3-5-2 formation that could put them at a disadvantage in midfield. As such, the Juventus coach could himself revert to a back-three despite the recent injury of Merih Demiral.
Danilo, for one, is a favourite to slot back in central defence alongside Leonardo Bonucci and Matthijs de Ligt. The Brazilian will operate in a pendulating formation, meaning he will have the license to move forward in attacking phases, almost acting as the auxiliary right-back.
Charging up for #CagliariJuve 🔋💪
— JuventusFC (@juventusfcen) March 12, 2021
It should give the right wing-back Federico Chiesa more freedom going forward. The former Fiorentina man was one of Juventus’s better performers in the midweek defeat and his service down the flanks could be essential in his team’s overall chance creation this time around.
The same applies to Federico Bernardeschi, who is likely to replace Alex Sandro on the opposite flank as Pirlo looks to ring in the changes. In midfield, Weston McKennie is a favourite to make a starting appearance alongside Arthur and Adrien Rabiot. The ISMNT international is a far better ball-carrier, and could thus mainly operate in half-spaces, looking to navigate through Cagliari’s second line of press.
McKennie’s presence in the side should also nullify the opposition’s numerical advantage in the middle of the park, giving the Bianconeri more security in possession. However, they will need to translate the possession into chances and chances to goals. And that is where the leadership of Cristiano Ronaldo could be more vital than ever alongside Alvaro Morata.
Probable Lineup (3-4-1-2): Szczesny; Danilo, Bonucci, de Ligt; Chiesa, Arthur, Rabiot, Bernardeschi; McKennie; Ronaldo, Morata
- Only Inter Milan (22) have picked up more points than Juventus in the last eight Serie A matches: six wins, one draw and one defeat for the Bianconeri with only three goals conceded.
- Juventus have won eight of their last nine Serie A matches against Cagliari, collecting seven clean sheets in this period.
- Since their return to Serie A (2016/17), Cagliari have scored just three goals in nine matches against Juventus: their lowest goals per game average against any opponent in this period (0.33 per match).
- Cagliari won 2-0 in their last home Serie A home match against Juventus: only between 1965 and 1966 have the Sardinians achieved consecutive home wins against the Bianconeri in the competition.
- Cagliari are unbeaten in their last three games in Serie A: the last time they went at least four consecutive Serie A games without a defeat was back in December 2019 (13 in that case).
Player to Watch
Interviewer: Were Juventus better without Ronaldo?
Luis Figo: "May be yes, but Ronaldo was even better without them." pic.twitter.com/Uy983uXhhx
— Everything Cristiano (@EverythingCR7_) March 12, 2021
Cristiano Ronaldo has become the main talking point at Juventus following their early exit from the Champions League for the third consecutive season. It appears the Portuguese sensation has not been able to improve the club’s fortunes in the elite competition.
As a result, he has come under severe criticism, with many fans and experts alike deeming him as a bad investment from Juventus’s perspective. On Sunday, however, Ronaldo will have the chances of proving his critics wrong once again and perhaps inspire his side to a victory against Cagliari that could go a long way in rekindling Juve’s hopes of making a late push for the Serie A title this season.
In addition to his productivity, Ronaldo’s leadership, experience and overall influence on the dressing room could be critical in Juve’s bid to pick themselves up after a disappointing result, making him one worth keeping an eye on, this weekend.
Cagliari 1-2 Juventus
This promises to be a game that is going to be decided by fine margins, as Cagliari have indeed improved a lot since the appointment of Semplici. They could appear as a solid defensive side, who are unlikely to offer any spaces in between the lines.
Juventus, though, have exhibited solid form in Serie A themselves and could dominate this game in the form of the lion’s share of possession. Whether or not they can breach the Cagliari defence remains to be seen, but we do expect the Bianconeri to seal a narrow victory at the Sardegna Arena this weekend.