Cagliari finished last season 15th in the Serie A table. They only the drop on the second to last game of last season. Expectations, however, are much higher this year.
Manager Rolando Maran begins the season with one of the youngest squads in Serie A. 30-year-old Leonardo Pavoletti returns as Cagliari’s top scorer. Luca Pellegrini, who is only 20, looks set to lead the defense after a strong season last year. Juventus purchased Pellegrini for €22 million, but he remains with Cagliari this year on loan.
Cagliari’s strength lies in its midfield. Radja Nainggolan returns to the club after one year with Inter and four and a half years with Roma. He’ll function as the engine of Cagliari’s squad this season. Nahitan Nández is another newcomer who joins veterans Luca Cigarini and Artur Ioniță in the midfield.
Cagliari’s midfield is strong and its defence is capable. If Pavoletti consistently finds the back of the net, the Rossoblu will be a tough match for any team.
Cagliari’s hopes and dreams this season lie on the shoulders of Nainggolan. Even at 31, Nainggolan remains one of the best all-around midfielders in Serie A. He plays every position in midfield, and rarely does he look out of place.
Nainggolan played in an advanced role last season under Luciano Spalletti. He primarily featured as an attacking midfielder and even as a second striker. He’ll move back with Cagliari this season and play as a central midfielder; he’ll be the focal point of Cagliari’s lineup.
Inter practically forced Nainggolan out this summer. Expect him to play with some extra motivation on Sunday.
Player to Watch
Leonardo Pavoletti is Cagliari’s player to watch. He finished last season with 16 goals in 32 Serie A matches, and he looks ready to improve this total.
Pavoletti is a traditional center forward who functions as the target man of Cagliari’s attack. He doesn’t wow with speed or agility, but he always finds himself in the right position in front of goal. Pavoletti’s combination of height and aerial skills makes him perfect for crosses into the box.
Inter’s defense looked out of place at times early in the match against Lecce. Fortunately for Inter, Lecce didn’t have the manpower up front to capitalize. Pavoletti is someone who can and will capitalize, so Inter defenders must be better.
Update: According to a team release, Pavoletti picked up an injury against Brescia. This puts his status for the Inter game in question.
Rolando Maran returns for his second season as Cagliari’s manager. He has previous Serie A managerial experience with Catania and Chievo. Maran utilizes a rather rigid style, and his teams tend to be more defensive-minded.
Cagliari hired Maran last year with the hope that his experience would work well with such a young team. That was the case, as youngsters like Pavoletti and now-Inter midfielder Nicolò Barella developed into stars.
Maran opened Cagilari’s game against Brescia with a 4-3-1-2 formation. Many expect Maran to switch to a 3-5-2 with Nainggolan in a central role. This would open up space and allow Cagliari’s deep group of midfielders to dominate possession.
Run of Form
Cagliari opened its Serie A season with a 1-0 loss against Brescia. They had more total shots and shots on goal than Brescia, and nearly had a 60/40 possession advantage. The defense looked solid as well, and only conceded a goal from the penalty spot. Cagliari, however, struggled to muster many real attacking chances.
Head to Head
This Sunday marks the 79th Serie A match between Inter and Cagliari. Inter has a 23-9-7 record at home and a 14-18-7 record on the road.
Inter defeated Cagliari 2-0 in the first matchup at San Siro last season. Lauro Martinez and Matteo Politano scored for the Nerazzurri.
Cagliari won the second matchup 2-1 thanks to a Pavoletti goal in the 79th minute.