Cagliari v Juventus Preview
Stadio Ennio Tardini, Parma
by Jerrad Peters (@jerradpeters)
MATCH IN A SENTENCE: Juventus will go into the winter break with a comfortable lead atop Serie A regardless of this result, and the fact that 15th-place Cagliari is having to host the match at a neutral venue should only aid the cause of the Scudetto holders.
BREAKDOWN: Cagliari had hoped to welcome the reigning champions to their own Is Arenas on Friday, but ongoing safety concerns at the rickety ground meant that the match was moved to Parma despite a special order from the Sardinian city’s mayor declaring the stadium fit to host Juventus.
So once again Cagliari will play a home match away from home, and while it’s hardly the ideal set of circumstances Parma are none too happy with what has transpired, either.
“For us it’s a total pain,” remarked Parma general manager Pietro Leonardini on Thursday. “Whoever decided this change of venue should take full responsibility. When a neutral venue is chosen, the Lega Calcio asks the local council for its availability, but nobody asks us...There’s nothing we can do about it.”
As for the match, Cagliari will be looking to avenge their 1-0 loss against Juventus in the Coppa Italia earlier this month. The defeat is part of their current three-match losing streak, and a 4-2 win at home to Pescara represents their only win in all competitions since October.
They’ve also scored just twice in their last three matches and with nearly half the season already in the books have the second-worst defensive record in Serie A. Only Pescara have conceded more goals.
Juventus, meanwhile, come into the match seven points clear of second-place Inter Milan atop the ledger. Since a 1-0 loss at AC Milan on November 25 they’ve won five straight matches and have not conceded a single goal.
Up front, manager Antonio Conte has had the luxury of knowing whichever striking tandem he selects will be able to do the business in the attacking third.
Mirko Vucinic and Sebastian Giovinco appears to be his go-to partnership at the moment, but Fabio Quagliarella leads the side with six goals and Alessandro Matri can get the job done as well, although he has been slumping somewhat this term.
ESSENTIALS: Cagliari will be without injured midfielder Sebastian Eriksson while Daniele Conti, who also plays in the centre of the park, is suspended.
Earlier this week the Rossoblu terminated the contract of Joaquin Larrivey, who has since joined Mexican side Atlante.
Juventus welcome Leonardo Bonucci back from suspension, and the central defender’s return couldn’t come at a better time as Italy international Giorgio Chiellini looks set to miss up to three months with a leg injury.
Denmark striker Nicklas Bendtner is also a long-term injury concern, and winger Simone Pepe remains sidelined as well.
On Monday Juventus and Lucio agreed to a mutual termination of the Brazilian defender’s contract. The 34-year-old joined Sao Paulo a day later.
KEY BATTLE: Cagliari’s Andrea Cossu will operate in the hole just behind strikers Nene and Marco, searching for passing routes to spring one of the pair. Juventus don’t play with an out-and-out defensive midfielder, although it will likely fall mostly to Arturo Vidal to keep an eye on Cossu, who is the player that is most capable of making things happen for the Sardinian side.
FORMATIONS: Cagliari manager Ivo Pulga will use a 4-4-2 formation with a midfield diamond, the anchor of which will likely be Radja Nainggolan in Conti’s absence. Juventus boss Antonio Conte will deploy a 3-5-2 formation with Stephan Lichtsteiner and Kwadwo Asamoah out wide and Giovincio and Vucinic up top.
BETLINE: Cagliari 6/1; Draw 10/3; Juventus 4/9. Juventus beat Cagliari away last season but could only manage a 1-1 draw against the Sardinians at home.