Italian Serie A News, Results, Analysis and Features on Football Soccer

Kirsten Schlewitz On October - 21 - 2011

Italian Serie A Week 7 Preview: Cagliari vs Napoli

Serie A Weekly welcomes writer Kirsten Schlewitz to our Italian football frontpage

For some reason, when gearing up for Napoli’s match last week, I was convinced that they were playing Cagliari. Perhaps I simply had a premonition that the Partenopei were about to be beaten by Parma – at the San Paolo, mind you. My brain was simply protecting my heart by fast-forwarding a week (while the internet protected me by not having any decent streams available).

But now we’ve arrived at the actual Cagliari – Napoli match, included in the clump of Serie A games scheduled for Sunday afternoon. Last time Napoli traveled to the Stadio Sant’Elia, they demonstrated what we’ve come to expect from Walter Mazzarri’s side: In the 4th minute of added time – well into Zona Napoli – the visitors hustled the ball out of their area, Edinson Cavani racing up the left flank before sending the pass to Ezequiel Lavezzi, charging up the center. With no Cagliari players able to catch him, Pocho easily looped the ball into the net, securing a last minute win against the isolani. The reverse fixture was also won by Napoli, 2-1, with Cavani scoring a brace and Robert Acquafresca providing the Cagliari goal.

Despite the wins, neither game provided a straightforward path to victory for Napoli, and it’s unlikely a win will come easily this time around, either. The Partenopei have had an odd start to the season, beating the traditional powerhouses of Inter and AC Milans, as well as Cesena, while losing to Chievo and Parma. Their energies seemed focused on the Champions League, where their unbeaten streak have made many regret labeling them as the weakest team in Group A. The problem, however, lies with Napoli’s small squad and reliance on Lavazzi, Cavani, and Marek Hamsik. The entire trio were rested for Chievo, as were Paolo Cannavaro and Gokhan Inler. Mazzarri clearly didn’t repeat the same mistake for the Milan opponents, and he’ll likely give Cagliari the same respect – meaning Napoli will likely be a bit tired for Sunday’s match.
Meanwhile, the rossoblu have had quite a start, losing only to Palermo and sitting third in the table – a bit unexpected for a team that finished 14th last season. Much, if not most, of the credit can be given to Massimo Ficcadenti, who did such an impressive job keeping Cesena up last season. The odd thing about Cagliari is that they’ve scored just two goals at home this season, both of them in the 2-1 victory over Novara. It’s not from wont of attack – Cagliari, despite having a quality defense, do not simply sit back and park a bus. But shots from Daniele Conti, Alessandro Agostini, and Thiago Ribeiro just don’t seem to want to land in the back of the visitors’ net.

So what we’ve got on tap for Sunday is a tired team that rises up to challenges from typical big names, visiting a squad that is looking to break a bit of a home hoodoo. Can we please all cross our fingers in hopes that another 0-0 Serie A draw won’t be forthcoming? In the end, it will likely come down to whether Mazzarri panics or not. The pressure weighing on his shoulders is much greater than that on Ficcadenti –it’s what we saw in Napoli’s loss to Parma, when they learned the lesson that five forwards might help find the equalizer, but the weakened defense means the go-ahead goal could very well be conceded.

Should Mazzarri field his usual starting XI, their counter-attacks should be able to get through the stalwart Cagliari defense. But too many changes and Napoli could find their title hopes prematurely diminished.
One more thing – while Mazzarri makes panicked tactical changes, Ficcadenti stays cool, having established himself as a quality tactical thinker. Should he use his expected 4-3-2-1, Napoli, who always start a 3-4-2-1, could very well struggle if Walter Gargano and Gokhan Inler aren’t at their very best. If Cagliari are able to control the midfield, the azzurri attack will be drawn back and thus less effective.

Probable Lineups

Cagliari Starting XI: Agazzi; Pisano, Canini, Astori, Agostini; Biondini, Nainggolan, Conti; Cossu, Thiago Ribeiro; Larrivey

Napoli Starting XI: De Sanctis; Campagnaro, Cannavaro, Aronica; Maggio, Inler, Gargano, Dossena; Hamsik, Lavezzi; Cavani

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