Recent weeks have seen Cagliari display two very different sides to their game, and while results have often not gone their way for one reason or another, their frustrating inconsistency has been clear for all to see.
Last week, the Sardi fell 2-1 to relegation threatened Livorno, in what was a decisive bottom of the table clash, and credit must go to the Amaranto for showing the desire and determination required to take the three points back to the mainland and temporarily climb out of the drop zone.
The most disappointing aspect of the home side’s performance though, were the numerous glaring individual errors and the duels which were lost all over the pitch during their below-par display.
It’s no coincidence that the Sardi have only managed to pick up four points from a possible 21 since Radja Nainggolan left for Roma in January, as Daniele Dessena has so far been unable to fill his considerable shoes in the middle, and was replaced early in the second half only to be jeered off the field of play after his somewhat anonymous display.
Nicola Murru was given a torrid time on the left wing by fellow 19-year-old Ibrahima Mbaye, and lost his battles with the Senegalese right-back time and time again, as he was outshone on numerous occasions by his Livorno counterpart. Gabriele Perico had a similarly tough time on the other flank, with Alfred Duncan getting in some dangerous crosses from the left side.
Dario Del Fabro, who is one year younger than his more established teammate Murru, started alongside Luca Rossettini in the heart of the Isolani defence and put in a shaky performance to highlight the club’s lack of defensive depth in the absence of Italian international Davide Astori.
Of course the most telling contributions to this Mr. Hyde-esque performance came from two of the Rossoblu’s most senior players – goalkeeper Vlada Avramov, 34, brought Paulinho down clumsily in the box to concede the crucial penalty, and captain Daniele Conti, 35, got himself stupidly sent off for insulting the referee – earning a two match suspension in the process.
This meant that the Sardi would face a daunting trip to the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza in week 24 to play Inter without their leader, talisman, and the focal point of their midfield, making an already uphill task more difficult still.
With Conti unavailable for selection, Andrea Cossu was shifted from his usual position from behind the strikers into a deep-lying role just in front of the defence, as young Brazilian playmaker Adryan was handed his first start in Rossoblu colours as the side’s main creative outlet.
Cossu isn’t getting any younger, it must be said, and at the age of 33, it could be wise to save his legs in this way in subsequent seasons, as Juventus’ Andrea Pirlo and Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard have both enjoyed a new lease of life in this less advanced role.
The 33-year-old took Conti’s place admirably against the Beneamata and made sure that the captain wasn’t as badly missed as many had expected he would be.
22-year-old Matias Vecino made only his second appearance in the starting eleven, as Dessena became right-back for a day against the Nerazzurri, being preferred to regular terzino, Perico. Danilo Avelar also made a rare start on the left side of defence, with Murru serving a one match suspension.
Thankfully for the Isolani, Astori made his return from injury to renew the impressive centre-back pairing with Rossettini, and provide added experience and security at the back, which they had clearly lacked in the previous loss to Livorno.
Victor Ibarbo started in place of the out of form Marco Sau, and was partnered by Mauricio Pinilla upfront, with both playing a key part in the Sardi’s performance – Ibarbo was monstrous in the first half, and the Inter defence just couldn’t handle him, with Juan Jesus in particular falling foul of the intimidating Colombian more than once.
In fact, he was somewhat bullied by the Isolani striker, and conceded the penalty which led to Pinilla opening from the spot on 40 minutes, by hand-balling in the box.
Up to this point, the visitors had shocked the Giuseppe Meazza crowd by performing the better of the two sides, as they looked to bounce back from what had to be seen as a missed opportunity against the Amaranto the previous week.
Astori and Rossettini were the standout defenders, keeping Diego Milito and Rodrigo Palacio remarkably quiet in the Inter attack, as the Argentine pair struggled to muster a shot on target, troubling Vlada Avramov in the Sardi goal very little if at all.
Meanwhile, in spite of his lack of starts this term, Avelar also did very well to limit Jonathan’s effect on the wing, and the Brazilian put in a display full of personality and endeavour to nullify his compatriot’s threat.
Young Brazilian playmaker Adryan also showed signs of promise, and Matias Vecino, touted by sporting director Nicola Salerno as the man to replace Nainggolan, demonstrated that he could be the answer to the Sardi’s problems in midfield.
The result was a well-earned 1-1 draw, and although the home team rattled the crossbar late on as they went in search of the winner, it was probably the right outcome, and the Sardi can take great heart from taking a morale-boosting point on the road.
Having performed so well, and upped their game against Fiorentina, Inter and AC Milan in recent times, and played with much less conviction against smaller teams such as Livorno and Sampdoria, it’s clear that which Cagliari shows up to a game could depend on the stature of their opponents.
Claiming scalps is all well and good, but the Sardi had better start to produce some more Dr. Jekyll as opposed to Mr. Hyde performances against teams in the bottom half of the table if they hope to pull away from the relegation zone.
Follow Anthony Alborino on Twitter: @anthonyalborino