After a turbulent few years, it seems Cagliari may be finding stability under Ivo Pulga. With their best squad since they won Serie A in the late 60s and star player, Radja Nainggolan looking more likely everyday to stay the future could be bright for the Rossoblu’s. But there is an if, and that if is very big – Massimo Cellino, chairman of the club, is what you may call ‘sack happy’. Likened to Chelsea’s controversial chairman Roman Abramovich, Cellino has has either sacked or seen no more than 16 managers leave during his second stint, averaging over 2 managers-a-year whilst he has ran the Isolani (The Islanders).
Pulga joined Cagliari last October to replace Massimo Ficcadenti after his second disaster spell. The Italian coach’s appointment was rather surprising as the 49-year-old has no previous managerment experience. Despite this, Pulga led Cagliari to their highest finish in three years with the help of the deadly front 3: Mauricio Pinilla, Victor Ibarbo and Andrea Cossu.
Here we see the brilliance of Cagliari’s frontline. Firstly, lets highlight Pinilla: the only out-and-out striker. With 15 goals last season, Pinilla is probably the best player Cagliari could have here realistically. With his strengths lying solely in his finishing and winning aerial duels, his link-up play is poor, so he allows the players behind him to build the play and supply him, whilst he applies the finishing touch of a goal. Behind you have Ibarbo: the ultimate second striker – Quick, superb dribbler, and can shoot from distance. At just 23, you sense the future could be bright for the Colombian, and with the World Cup next season, the Cagliari man could be in line for a call-up should his country qualify. You often see Ibarbo drift out to the right wing to allow the other midfielders to move into a 4-2-3-1 formation and counter quickly. You can also swap out Pinilla and Ibarbo for Marco Sau and Nene, with options aplenty for the Isolani.
Next, you highlight Andrea Cossu. Despite at the ripe old age of 33, the Italian is still a vital part of the team. With a pass accuracy last season of 81%, it’s no surprise Cossu is seen as the lynchpin of this Cagliari team. Not only seen as a pass master, the midfielder is also seen as a dead ball specialist. His burst of acceleration gives the veteran an extra dimension of his play. Moving onto Nainggolan, wanted by Inter and Fiorentina, is the box-to-box midfielder for Cagliari. His defensive qualities make him able to play in a more defensive midfield role, but his dribbling and wide range of passing makes him more equipped to play further forward. Also, when the Rossiblu’s counter and move into the 4-2-3-1, he takes up the role as the left attacking midfielder due to his relative amount of pace, and his love to cut-in from the wing. It is essential for Ivo Pulga to keep hold of the Belgian this summer.
On to the two defensive roles occupied by captain Daniele Conti and Albin Ekdal. Firstly, lets look at the Swede, a tough tackler who often helps his defence, but can dribble quite well. His range of passing is predominately short, as he prefers Cossu, Conti and Nainggolan to thread illustrious passes. Next to Ekdal we have Conti: club captain, strong in the air, marvellous passer, and strong in all departments of defending. These two have formed an exemplary partnership because they’re almost complete opposites. You see Ekdal like the Vidal-type player: good defensively, yet is quite fast and is a decent dribbler, yet Conti is more like a Pirlo-type player: Great passer, ageing and is a sterling free-kick taker.
The full-backs, Pisano and Murru also provide another attacking outlet with their ability to get forward. Starting with the right-back Pisano – he adds pace, good dribbling skills and is excellent at holding onto the ball. Whereas Murru on the left has just turned 18 and is beginning to establish himself in the Cagliari line-up. Like Pisano, the youngster is first class at holding the ball. On top of this, he is shows particular strengths in tackling and interception.
With this, you can see why Pulga’s men are potential challengers for a Europa League place: Every position is occupied by a key piece of the jigsaw. Keeping their star men and adding younger players when the time is right can help to sustain high finishes season-after-season.
Watch Cagliari’s opening match of the season at home to Atlanta on the 25th August at 19:45.
Thanks for reading!
By Cain Bennett