In what both sides may view as something of an eerily similar reworking of last weekend’s respective fixtures – high-flying yet unfancied side taking on battling relegation strugglers – a repeat of last weekend’s results seems unlikely.
Even with reality against them, Chievo will be striving to emulate their performance last Sunday, when they managed to stride proudly out of Bergamo three points in hand after dispatching Atalanta. A two goal victory, despite the suspension of then highest scorer Vincenzo Italiano, was not just a shock for the Flying Donkeys, it was essential. The home side, although lacking talismanic stalwart Cristiano Doni, had made the Stadio Azzurri D’Italia something of a fortress this season – José Mourinho would undoubtedly attest to this – a factor that only serves to emphasise what a good result it was for the struggling Verona outfit. Coach Domenico Di Carlo would have been proud of his side’s performance and additionally warmed by the fact that young Frenchman Nicolas Frey put in his best performance in his debut season for i Mussi Volanti.
No-one will be more pleased with last weekend’s confidence boosting win than long-standing captain Sergio Pellissier. The 29-year-old marked his new found partnership up-front with Lazio’s on-loan striker Stephen Makinwa by burying an injury time penalty to seal Chievo’s victory and the forward will want more of the same come Sunday if they are to avoid the drop. However, as the Flying Donkeys were sky-high, in Sardinia Cagliari Boss Massimilano Allegri was counting the cost of drawing an eminently winnable game against struggling Torino. In fairness, Chievo may have sobered slightly when the news broke that Walter Novellino and his cohorts had flown back to the mainland with an unexpected point. Having worked wonders to get the Rossoblu within spitting distance of European football, Allegri will be left questioning how a team which can go to the San Siro and give a good account of themselves can then come back to the Sant’Elia and split the difference with a Toro outfit looking into the abyss of Serie B.
Despite the shock win against Atalanta, expect Di Carlo to show no signs of sentimentality towards last Sunday’s successful squad and welcome Italiano back into the midfield, probably at the expense of fellow loan signing Giuseppe Colucci, while Antonio Langella’s goal is unlikely to edge him into the starting eleven ahead of Makinwa. Elsewhere, he will also have to contend with the enforced replacement of former Azzurrini star Andrea Mantovani, after the defender was booked for handball on Sunday. Expect Francesco Sardina to fill the void left by yellow card magnet Mantovani, who is only exceeded in that chart by Giampiero Pinzi.
Their opponents face a similar selection problem, with young Argentine right-back Carlos Matheu also facing a spell on the sidelines after picking up a needless booking for handball. Fan favourite Francesco Pisano could find himself lining up in Matheu’s place on Sunday. However, Coach Allegri also has the luxury of calling a man back from a ban, with right-sided midfielder Michele Fini coming back into the side having received his full complement of yellow cards to earn a game on the naughty step. The 34-year-old will no doubt look forward to becoming reacquainted with the Verona natives, having scored the decisive second goal when the two sides met in Sardinia in October. On that day, Chievo were on the end of a 2-0 defeat, with Roberto Acquafresca having one effort wrongly ruled out before lashing a wonderful dipping volley passed a helpless Stefano Sorrentino.
Becoming frustrated by the irregular flashes of brilliance from their leading scorer, on loan from Inter, Cagliari fans will be hopeful that Acquafresca can add to the nine goals he has bagged so far this season having not found the net since the 1-0 victory over Siena at the end of January.
Both sides will be aiming to build some momentum with a number of tough fixtures on the horizon. Igniting the old cliché, the Flying Donkey’s will have to treat every game as a cup final from here on in and look to ensure that as many points can be stripped from visitors to the Bentegodi. Equally, Allegri and his men will be seeking some impetus from Sunday with the usually inconsequential affair between Genoa and Cagliari coming up on the 14th March. However, this year the clash has now taken on a great deal of importance with regards to who will represent the peninsula in Europe next season. A good performance, and more importantly a victory, would set-up nicely for the must win game against il Grifone.
When these two meet at the Bentegodi on Sunday afternoon, both sides will be striving for a victory to keep them on course for their ultimate goal. Cagliari needs to keep ground on the increasingly impressive Roma, whilst Chievo ache for survival and could rise above Torino if the Turin derby goes the way of the Bianconeri, as most expect, on Saturday evening.