Title-chasing Juventus will be looking to keep the pressure on leaders Inter as they host an in-form Cagliari at the Stadio Olimpico this Saturday.
A week that started with so much promise has turned into one to forget for the Bianconeri. Last weekend’s fortuitous 1-0 victory against Fiorentina saw Claudio Ranieri’s side temporarily move to the top of the table above Inter, albeit on goal difference, before Jose Mourinho’s side held on to a slender 1-0 lead against Sampdoria the following day to restore their three point lead at the Serie A summit. Few could have foreseen Bianconeri’s shock defeat to Udinese last night and the Nerazzuri took full advantage of their slip up, winning 2-0 at Catania to extend their lead at the top to six points.
The Old Lady travelled to the Stadio Friuli unbeaten in their last eight, with the hosts without a win in the league since October. However, the Zebrette took a shock lead through Fabio Quagliarella and added a second after the break through fellow strike partner and top scorer Antonio Di Natale. Vincenzo Iaquinta did manage to net a consolation penalty for the visitors but it proved to be too little too late and the home side managed to hold on to secure a much-needed win.
Bianconeri Coach Ranieri, who led Cagliari to two successive promotions between 1988 and 1991, will be hoping his Juve side can again produce the scintillating home form that has seen them lose just once at the Olimpico di Torino this term – against Palermo in Week 6. The Rossoblu, however, will travel to Turin full of confidence after a string of impressive recent results, which has seen them lose just once since November. Since the turn of the New Year Cagliari’s away form has dramatically improved and they recently helped Juve by holding Inter to a draw at the San Siro, as well as the stunning 1-4 demolition of high-flying Lazio last weekend. This, combined with two home wins against Udinese and Siena has seen the Isolani slowly rise up the table.
Massimiliano Allegri will have taken plenty of positives after his sides performance at the Stadio Olimpico, where four first half goals put the visitors out of sight before half time. The result, coupled with the midweek victory over Siena has pushed a resurgent Rossoblu up to ninth in the table, just five points behind fifth placed Roma. Coach Allegri has slowly built a team that are proving they are able to hold their own against the big boys in Serie A. The weekend demolition job could have finished entirely different with the Rossoblu, at times, riding their luck, with the home side missing two penalties. However, few could take anything away from a Cagliari side that outplayed and out passed a Biancocelesti team that had previously lost just twice on home soil this season and the follow-up performance against Siena ensuring that weekend win wasn’t wasted.
One player that Old Lady’s usually reliable defence will have to contain is Cagliari’s top scorer Roberto Acquafresca, who is enjoying a successful loan spell from Inter. The 21-year-old has been a revelation for the Isolani since his arrival, netting nine times already this season, including four in the last five games and he will no doubt be looking to pile further misery on Ranieri’s deflated side this weekend. It would be cruel irony for Bianconeri should Acquafresca, who is still technically an Inter player, be the one to inflict major damage to Juve’s title aspirations.
The recent head-to-head record between the two sides does not bode well for the Rossoblu, winning just once in the last ten meetings, a 1-0 victory almost a decade ago to the day – at the Stadio Sant’Elia. Juve have won five of the nine games since, with the other four all finishing 1-1, a run which saw the Old Lady remaining unbeaten at the Stadio Olimpico during this period. The reverse fixture earlier this term saw the Bianconeri take a narrow 1-0 win away from Sardinia, courtesy of a first half strike from Amauri. Cagliari will have considered themselves unfortunate not to earn a draw, with Alex Manninger making a sublime one-handed save in injury time.
Ranieri is likely to keep faith in the same side that overcame Fiorentina last weekend, with keeper Gianluigi Buffon set to retain his place ahead of Manninger despite a less than assured second game back after injury against Udinese. If Cagliari are to end their torrid run in Turin they will need to find a way to thwart the Old Lady’s attacking threat, which has seen them score 34 times in their 21 games so far this term. Ranieri also looks set to start with the formidable strike partnership of Alessandro Del Piero and Amauri, which has already produced a combined total of 18 goals for Juventus this season. Del Piero’s performance against Fiorentina showed that he is an integral part of Bianconeri’s title challenge. There is also the prospect of more game time for the returning David Trezeguet, another long-term injury victim for Juve.
Despite their mid-week slip up, the home side have leaked just 16 goals this campaign and although Cagliari has still only recorded two wins away from the Stadio Sant’Elia this term, their recent revival will no doubt prove to be a stern test of Juve’s title credentials. It will be interesting to see how Bianconeri react to their midweek disappointment, while Ranieri is now faced with the unenviable task of picking his players up for a match, which after recent results, is one they cannot afford to lose.