Two weeks have passed, but the loss against Lazio still stings as the first signature win of the season was very attainable but slipped away as a series of unfortunate events led to yet another late goal for the Biancocelesti. While the deciding action that was flat-out absurd, as Paulo Dybala could have just dribbled the clock out with a better touch near midfield, few players were too soft while trying to tackle Joaquin Correa and Felipe Caicedo, was guarded too loosely in the box, you could see it coming from a mile away.
The Bianconeri had every opportunity to go for the kill-shot in the first well-played 60 minutes, but just could not find the second goal despite multiple chances. Some fast-breaks in the second half were awfully conducted and it you can not leave anything on the table in this kind of fixtures. Moreover, in the final stretch the squad was content being passive and sat back too much, which inevitably doomed it. Apparently, the flaw of giving away leads has carried over through the coaching change, although it happened more often and in sillier ways under Maurizio Sarri. That is just a mental aspect that needs fixing in short order. Fortunately though, the ones in front in the standings have slowed down a bit so, if the Old Lady finally managed put together a convincing and extended run, it would be right back in the thick of it.
As usual, is a mixed bag of news coming off the international break as Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini are both dealing with thigh injuries, but Matthijs De Ligt and Alex Sandro are ready to return. Bonucci is set to miss at least a pair of matches, therefore the Dutch starlet will be thrown into the fire right away after the shoulder injury. The pairing with Merih Demiral is a glimpse into the future and, even if Bonucci has indeed declined, it will still be weird to not have his stabilizing presence in the back. Hopefully the two young centre-backs can mesh together fine even though they have similar styles and the lack of a quality ball-handler will not be felt too much.
It will also be interesting to see what kind of role Sandro will have because the squad has found a good equilibrium with Danilo in the hybrid position as left centre-back/fullback and Juan Cuadrado having more freedom on the other flank and, in a stunning turnaround, Danilo has proved to be extremely solid in every phase. Now the question is whether the more offensive-oriented Sandro can handle the same tasks, or if the coach will just switch the two sides, re-directing Danilo to the right flank and moving Cuadrado to his old position as winger. The Colombian international has grown a lot as fullback, but sometimes his defensive reads are still sketchy and he continues to show he best stuff when he attacks. As for every personnel and tactical decision so far, the situation is probably going to be fluid and the answer could simply be some natural rotation within the trio. With Federico Chiesa hurting in the previous game, Paulo Dybala going through a confusing spell and Federico Bernardeschi having his confidence just totally shot, it was evident that the team was missing some juice off the bench, especially in a game where the was room to counter, and Cuadrado could be the guy that makes up for it.
Late returns from international duties could lead to some shake-up in the XI as it pertains to the South Americans, for instance Cuadrado was initially rested the last time out and there is also a very busy stretch coming up, so the coach will be looking to manage energies. Rodrigo Bentancur is also is a particular situation due to the outbreak within the Uruguayan national team. Chiesa and Dybala are set to be available after their physical issues and the Italian winger has some chances to play over either Dejan Kulusevski or Gianluca Frabotta.
4-4-2: Szczesny; Cuadrado, Demiral, De Ligt, Danilo; Kulusevski, Rabiot, McKennie, Frabotta; Morata, Ronaldo.
Bonucci (thigh), Ramsey (thigh), Chiellini (thigh).
Cagliari were unconvincing to open the season and lost two of the first three games, against good teams like Atalanta and Lazio, but then turned it around by winning in three of the past four contests, against Torino, Crotone and Sampdoria, with the only recent blemish coming versus Bologna.
They have been quick in absorbing the proactive philosophy of new coach Eusebio Di Francesco and that has resulted in some high scoring fixtures. Differently from the past, the manager has also adapted to the roster at his disposal: he had started off with his trademark 4-3-3 with Joao Pedro out wide on the left, but he quickly realized that it was detrimental to field the best player out of position, so he tweaked it to a 4-2-3-1, where the Brazilian forward plays behind Giovanni Simeone and that has been very fruitful as he has scored in five straight matches. As for El Cholito, he may never be the clutchest striker in the word, but he is a hard worker, has great pace, always toes the offside trap and has displayed more touch in the box in the last 18 months.
The tactical switch has not led to different personnel decisions because Nahitan Nandez simply moved from box-to-box to the flank, on the right one if Riccardo Sottil starts, on the left if instead Adam Ounas gets the nod. No matter the position, the Uruguayan international offers tremendous hustle and energy, with a touch of technique that makes him their most appealing asset by far. However, he will not be available in this one because he was a close contact with several COVID cases within his national team and props to them for handling the situation very strictly as he is currently negative. Without him, they can use two pure wingers together, as they have done in the second half of the Sampdoria game, but it would be a very aggressive look in a difficult match-up, or use Fabrizio Caligara in the same strategic way as Nandez. New and creative solutions could possibly be on the table, for instance a tactic based on a three-man defence could make some sense with the men that are available.
Their other Uruguayan Diego Godin, whom they were somehow able to lure from Inter in a major coup for his leadership alone, instead did test positive, so it will likely be Ragnar Klavan substituting him. Godin has not been superb so far, so the drop-off is not as dramatic as it would appear. Polish prospect Sebastian Walukiewicz is at his second season and, after showing pretty well in the resumption, he has become a full-time starter. At right-back, they brought in one of the best Serie B prospects, the dynamic Gabriele Zappa, who rapidly established himself as a weapon in the top league as well and form a pretty offensive-minded and cross-happy pair with Charalampos Lykogiannis, who, after some years on the bench, has taken over on the left since they could not retain Luca Pellegrini, however he is dealing with an injury, and his back-up Alessandro Tripaldelli is just returning, so they might be forced to go to an emergency option there, like adapting centre-back Fabio Pisacane, which will remove some punch on that flank.
They took a hit when they lost Radja Nainggolan, who was great in 2019/2020, but they completely reconfigured the scheme and found new players to lean on, so they have been fine even if they did not replace him directly. The only acquisition that has been only so-so is Marin, who has not been able to pull the strings and maybe is not really featuring in his best position, but, all in all, the two pivots do not really have a particularly meaningful role and mostly take care of the dirty work, something his partner Marko Rog excels at. Pedro and the wingers shoulder most of the playmaking.
During his spell at Sassuolo, Di Francesco was one of the first to adapt a high tempo, possession-oriented style at a minnow few years back and then the trend has spread enormously lately. But they also roster few fast players that allow them to launch swift forays when they recover the ball. They look for Pedro and his creativeness when they arrive in the final third, but all flank players can all be factors. Obviously, this brand of football has its drawbacks if you are unable to control the ball and, since they are not particularly robust defensively, they have had some issues versus quality opponents.
4-2-3-1: Cragno; Zappa, Klavan, Walukiewicz, Tripaldelli; Rog, Marin; Ounas, Pedro, Sottil; Simeone.
Godin, Nandez (COVID), Lykogiannis (calf), Ceppitelli (thigh).
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