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Adam Digby On February - 8 - 2011

Cagliari 1-3 Juventus: Delneri’s Tactical Victory

Alessandro Matri made a winning visit to a stage he knows all too well as the Bianconeri finally returned to winning ways at Cagliari’s Stadio Sant’Elia and he has been rightly lauded for his performance against a club he spent four years calling home. His transfer to Juventus, this display and his tally of Serie A goals - now at thirteen for the season - has seen him called to Cesare Prandelli’s Italy squad for Wednesday’s friendly against Germany.

Following a disappointing first month of 2011 however, the pressure was firmly on Gigi Delneri, who had been on the receiving end of some harsh criticism in recent weeks. While some of this was undeniably justified there were a number of mitigating circumstances, not least of which was a lengthy injury list that left the tactician with only one striker on a number of occasions. Given an almost complete squad to select from for this encounter, the former Sampdoria coach had no excuses here, he had to get a result and by the final whistle he would deliver exactly that.

Cagliari made just one injury enforced change from their midweek encounter, maintaining the 4-3-2-1 formation Roberto Donadoni has utilised since Matri’s departure, while Delneri made two changes; Jorge Martinez came in as a second striker to allow Alessandro Del Piero a break and, in an interesting move Leonardo Bonucci returned from suspension in place of the currently out-of-form Fabio Grosso. This meant the former Bari defender formed a new-look partnership in central defence with 2006 World Cup winner Andrea Barzagli - freshly arrived from Bundesliga outfit Wolfsburg - and Giorgio Chiellini returned to a left back role he last played in September 2007.

The early stages of the game were fraught with nerves as you would expect from a match between a small provincial side and one of Calcio’s giants desperate to turn their form around after losing four of their last six matches.

Cagliari were neat and compact while Juventus kept possession well and created one great chance for Matri, who saw Cagliari goalkeeper Michael Agazzi race off his line to narrow the angle and make a sharp save after a wonderful pass from the impressive Claudio Marchisio released the striker. Agazzi made another good stop, tipping a superb Alberto Aquilani volley over his crossbar from a well worked corner.

But then Matri finally shrugged off the weight of expectation put upon him following his deadline day move from the Sardinian side, beating his former team-mate with a low drive from a neat Milos Krasic pass which allowed him to beat the offside trap. Despite the boo’s and whistles raining down from his former fans in the stands, Matri showed dignity and class in not celebrating the goal.

An uncharacteristic mistake from Italy number one Gigi Buffon left the goal wide open but Radja Nainggolan failed to capitalise after an Andrea Cossu free kick. Another great ball from the diminutive playmaker just after the halftime break brought an equaliser, Chiellini losing Robert Acquafresca at the far post and the ex-Granata man enjoyed volleying home against Turin’s other team.

Immediately after scoring the home side almost took the lead from a brilliantly conceived set-piece, Cossu scooping the ball over an unprepared defence and Daniele Conti should have made more of the opportunity, firing over the top with Buffon stranded.

The game became locked in a stalemate and as Cagliari’s defence began to cope well with Juve’s regular formation, Delneri decided it was time to make changes and went to a previously unseen 4-3-1-2 formation. To do so meant taking off Martinez, Marchisio and the jaded Krasic for Momo Sissoko, Luca Toni and Alessandro Del Piero, the captain making his record breaking Serie A appearance number 444.

The move made Juve much narrower but with Del Piero and Aquilani orchestrating the play the Rossoblu had no answer and once again it was their former hero who would hurt them. In one move Matri would display almost all the attributes that made him such an attractive proposition for the Old Lady, holding up the ball well, sending Chiellini away down the left with a smart pass before completely losing his marker and perfectly timing his run to arrive at the back post and volley home.

Cagliari believed they had equalised a second time when Nene’s shot found the back of the net, but the referee had whistled long before due to a shirt pulling offence in the build up and the result would be beyond all doubt moments later when Toni opened his Bianconeri account.

It was a combination of new arrivals as Barzagli’s rare attacking foray saw him pick out the big striker with a perfect cross and the former Bayern Munchen man would make no mistake with a superb header. The accuracy and power was hugely impressive given that the 2006 European Golden Shoe winner was only just inside the area when he rose to meet the ball and notch the 100th Serie A goal of his career.

While Matri’s return to Sardinia, both new strikers scoring their first goals in their new colours and milestones for both Toni and Del Piero gather the headlines there is no doubt the shift in formation gave the impetus to Juventus. Having Sissoko, Aquilani and Felipe Melo form a three man midfield allowed Juve to do to Cagliari what Palermo did to them just three days earlier.

In that match, the Rosanero central trio passed the ball around the Turin outfits 4-4-2 formation as Marchisio was always struggling to make up numbers in the middle and provide width when Juve had possession. Calls to make this new formation permanent are premature however, as there is no place for Krasic, one of the clubs most dangerous and effective weapons.

The change was specific to this match, and the way it worked is a huge credit to Delneri, who answered his critics in the best possible way - winning the match with a tactical switch many thought was beyond him.

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Adam Digby

Adam is an Italian football journalist, contributing regularly to SI.com. He also is the co-founder of JuventiKnows.com

4 Responses so far.

  1. Anthony says:

    Adam, yes Juvw on, but it was only Cagliari, big deal.

    One win and Juve are the best team in the world? Lets see hoe Juve play against the Champs.

  2. Anthony says:

    I’m not sure if I’d use a 4 CB defense again.

    • David says:

      yes, they’re CBs… but chiello was originally a LB, and sorensen has been playing RB the whole season, and they didnt have any problems except some marking issues… yes its only cagliari, but its also a new system, the players just have to get used to it, and juve doesnt have the wingbacks to play 4-3-3 so they need the cover that in our current squad only CBs or perhaps De Ceglie can give us.
      Just my opinion…

  3. nwanne says:

    This article is crap. First Cagliari got a second goal which was disallowed and not Juve scoring 2 first. And on what channel did this writer watch the game? It was Del Piero who crossed the ball to Toni and not Barzagli. Forza Juve. Best Juve fan alive.

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