They say that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover and all that glitters is not gold. You should also be wary of jumping to conclusions about the league season before the first 10 games have been played. “Dreaming isn’t forbidden” mused Cagliari owner, Massimo Cellino, as his side enjoyed a magnificent start to the season. Since then wheels have well and truly fallen off the wagon for the Sardinian side and they go into the Christmas break in 15th position having already sacked two managers this season alone – so what has gone wrong?
After five games played in Serie A the rossoblu were in 5th position having won 3, drawn 1 and lost another – including wins against Roma and a draw against Udinese. This remarkably good start, while unexpected, was certainly helped by some bigger sides (Inter, Milan and Roma) faltering early on. When interviewed by Gazzetta dello Sport in October, Cellino said “The objective is to do better than last year and avoid tailing off at the end of the season. It would be a great success if we were able to get a Europa League place.”
This appears to have been a kiss of death. Since that win they have only won 1 game in their last 12 in both Serie A and the Coppa Italia. Despite regarding him as “one of the best Italian managers”, an indifferent run of 3 draws and 2 defeats since the start of October saw Massimo Ficcadenti lose his position as coach, though he still claims to have no idea why he was fired.
The sacking was Cellino’s 20th in 20 years at Cagliari – Zamparini-esque form there from the chairman. The man that has stepped into the breach is Davide Ballardini, who returns to the club for a second time after turning down a number of other positions earlier in the season. There has been no honeymoon period, though, and results haven’t improved enough to justify the change yet.
Cagliari have been built on a solid defensive base in a fairly rigid 4-3-1-2 formation. Under Roberto Donadoni they were a team whose whole was far greater than the sum of their parts. Central defender, Michele Canini, said that “our greatest strength is that most of us are able to play from memory“.
Sadly the centre back partnership between Canini and Davide Astori was broken up when Astori fractured his leg against Napoli. Despite this, Cagliari have been able to maintain a defence that is the 7th best in the league – having conceded just 17 goals – and they have the conceded 3rd lowest number of shots per game (11.1).
As well as Astori’s serious injury, the Cagliari medical team have had plenty of other players to worry about. Nene is now injured until March with a serious tear to a thigh muscle and, the talismanic, Daniele Conti will also be out of action for at least the next month with a knee injury. You can also add Mustapha El Kabir and Sebastian Eriksson to the list of the maimed.
Injuries and managerial instability have played their part, but it is up front where the real tragedy of Cagliari’s season is to be witnessed. The situation is epitomised by the fact that their top scorer is, defensive midfielder, Daniele Conti on 3 goals. The rest of the strike force have failed to find the net frequently enough to haul the side up the table.
They have only scored 12 goals in total this term in Serie A – only Cesena have a worse record. This looks even worse when you consider that they have the worst goals scored record at home with their fans having seen just 3 goals at the Sant’Elia this season. They have only one 1 point per game at home this season.
Andrea Cossu has struggled to create the chances he did last season – Cossu topped the assists table with 13 goals made in 2010/11. The side lack creativity and have the worst through balls per game count in the entire league (according to WhoScored.com).
While the goals they do score can occasionally be sensational – see Victor Ibarbo’s effort against Catania – they appear to be missing the striking instincts of Alessandro Matri, and perhaps even Robert Acquafresca. Ironically the argument over Cellino’s first sacking this season was over the purchase of a striker. Roberto Donadoni realised that he needed something else up front after losing strikers from the previous season and tried to persuade the owner to buy Davide Suazo, his arguments fell on deaf ears though and he was swiftly discarded.
Cellino has promised the fans and his new manager that they will spend in January. “I’ll buy three players,” the Stadio Sant’Elia chief told Sky Sport Italia. “They are all Italian and they all currently play in Serie A”. With one of the planned purchases being a striker, Donadoni might be sitting back sipping a nice big glass of Valcalepio Rosso and thinking ‘I told you so’
Follow Rocco Cammisola on twitter (@rcammisola)