Having replaced Massimo Ficcadenti at Cagliari last November, Davide Ballardini has been ousted and replaced by the same man; his 17 match reign at the Stadio Sant’ Elia ending this past weekend. President Massimo Cellino made Serie A’s 15th season coaching change after the 6-3 loss suffered against Napoli. When their four match unbeaten streak was replaced by three straight losses, the trigger-happy chief was chomping at the bit.
Such is the nature of the mid-table logjam, Cagliari had been hovering around the top half after disposing of Genoa, Roma and Palermo (after which they sat tenth), but are now 17th. Following the recent loss at Siena, Thiago Ribeiro noted the club was still confident of its Serie A status: “The game against Siena made us sad, but we are not thinking about the relegation zone which has approached us.”
Despite a six point buffer to Lecce in the first relegation position, Ballardini paid for the stinginess of the defence deserting him, with Michel Agazzi retrieving the ball from the back of the net 11 times in the past three matches. Those savvy punters using a bookmaker comparator would have known not to count on too many clean sheets in this period.
A mixture of promising defenders (Davide Astori) and reliable veterans (Alessandro Agostini and Canini) meant Cagliari conceded a goal a game before the implosion and had lost just one in eight. And whilst Ficcadenti’s Cagliari struggled during his initial spell to make significant headway in front of goal, Ballardini overcame that issue. Having netted nine times during the ex-Cesena man’s reign, they managed 19 for Ballardini, with 13 scored during 2012. After the win over Palermo, Ballardini noted: “We were very good, in particular our forwards, both in the attacking phase and defensively.”
Ballardini had a hard-working group of players willing to sacrifice and do their bit for the greater mechanism. It was efficiency over spectacle but after a slow introduction, his style and 4-3-1-2 began to reap the benefits. The tactician was offering stability to the club not afforded by the short-term outlook of Cellino. Michele Canini made note in October, “our greatest strength is that most of us are able to play from memory,” and they must, with constant change abound.
Cellino stated after November’s 1-0 loss to Atalanta which saw Ficcadenti depart: “We don’t need to get rid of a Coach here. We bought a lot of youngsters in the summer, many foreigners, so they’ll need time to adapt.” Italian owners tend to go back on their word, but Cellino took just two days and evidently did not trust Ficcadenti to build the squad, yet has still rehired him. It smacks of change for the sake of it, as well as appointing the cheapest and most convenient option.
Ficcadenti has a capable line-up at his disposal. The main goal to help ensure Cagliari steers clear of Serie B will be aimed at getting the most out of his attackers. Only Novara, Cesena and Lecce have scored less than Cagliari’s 26. Their failure to ripple the net in 13 of 27 matches is an area of concern. Andrea Cossu is crucial to the system, but his return of just one goal and two assists is below his best. Joaquin Larrivey netted a hat-trick at Napoli to move to seven strikes – well above Ribeiro and Daniele Conti on three apiece. Mauricio Pinilla has two goals since his January switch from Palermo and as the regular bomber, must net with consistency.
Cellino is hoping for an instant reaction and the upcoming month includes winnable matches versus Cesena and Atalanta, but also fixtures against top-half clubs Lazio and Inter. Following the Nerazzurri, Juve is the only true European candidate Cagliari must still face, but their run home does include current high-flyers Catania and Bologna. The buffer over Lecce will help, but should Ficcadenti get the most out of his creative players – whilst keeping the engine tight – Cagliari should have enough in the tank to ensure survival.