Cagliari secured Serie A status for a third consecutive season in what will most likely be considered mission accomplished on the island, but an anticlimactic finish tarnished an astonishing start to the 2019/20 season.
In the end, 14th place was obtained, much to the dismay of diehard Casteddu fans who had dreamt of a European spot after seeing their side get off to a flier.
The Isolani were still occupying the fourth Champions League spot after round 15 of Serie A and were as high as sixth until round 22 before they began to fall away in a season which still had some very memorable moments, including beating champions Juventus as the season drew to a close.
Player of the Season: Joao Pedro
Nobody expected the Brazilian forward to bag as many as he did – an impressive 18 Serie A strikes – and most likely not even the man himself as he amassed more goals than ever before in a single season. A couple of match-winning braces against Bologna and Sampdoria led his side’s early push and a potential goal-of-the-season contender in Cagliari’s home defeat to Roma were just a few of the reasons he will be highly sought after this summer. Marko Rog and Nahitan Nandez are close contenders but Pedro’s goals alone see him pip his teammates for this one.
Best Signing: Radja Nainggolan
‘The Ninja’ arrived from Inter in a somewhat unexpected loan deal for well-documented personal reasons and immediately began to show exactly why the Nerazzuri had splashed out almost €40million the season before. The Belgian’s dominating displays included exceptional goals – most notably his top-bins screamer against SPAL – as well as incredibly important assists and vital tackles. His all-round game was on point, especially when he single-handedly dismantled Fiorentina in November with a goal and a hat-trick of assists.
Not only was captain Nainggolan missed sorely when out through injury, but his off-field behaviour was nothing short of outstanding, often seen interacting with fans in the street and much-loved throughout Sardinia despite what was happening in other areas of his life. ForzaItalianFootball’s very own Ben Hughes had the privilege of several conversations with the midfielder and has nothing but good things to say about Cagliari’s talisman. Fans of the Rossoblu will be hoping to have the privilege to see him pull on their shirt again in the near future.
The Coaches: Rolando Maran and Walter Zenga
Rolando Maran took charge of the Rossoblu at the end of the 2017/2018 season, leading them out at the start of this campaign before finally meeting his end after a 4-3 home loss to Roma in March. Maran’s marvellous midfield of Nainggolan, Rog and Nandez worked their magic and his 4-4-2 diamond formation saw the full-backs bombing on and registering assist after assist, but when his set-up was worked out by opposition managers and the magic wore off, Maran’s system was picked apart time-after-time and Cagliari began to slip further and further down the Serie A standings, leading to his eventual dismissal, which just so happened to be the Casteddu’s last game before the lockdown.
As for Zenga, he took the reins and was immediately stopped in his tracks by the COVID-19 pandemic, finally taking charge of a game on June 20 after restrictions were slightly eased – a 2-1 defeat away to Hellas Verona – before going on to coach the Isolani in a further 12 Serie A matches, winning only three of his 13 before being relieved of his duties early August after an epic season that nobody could have foreseen.
The much-maligned Alberto Cerri’s 96th minute winner in a 4-3 win at the Sardegna Arena against Sampdoria was the moment Cagliari fans started to think that this was the season they would go from mid-table mediocrity to European football. Round 14 saw the Casteddu host the side from Genoa while on an 11-game unbeaten run. However, Maran’s side found themselves 3-1 down after 70 minutes after a Fabio Quagliarella brace before Joao Pedro netted a brace of his own to level the game. Then came Cerri, thrown into the action in stoppage-time only to bag the winner on the 96th minute to extend their unbeaten run to 13 games and to trigger shouts of ‘what if’ amongst the Casteddu faithful.
Basically, everything after the Sampdoria game was rubbish compared to what had gone before, a 13-game unbeaten run soon became an 11-match winless run as the Euro dream faded and the fears of relegation crept in. Throw in a pandemic and the stats show that Cagliari failed to win a Serie A game for over six months after beating the Blucerchiati at the very beginning of December. What went wrong? A combination of poor choices, injuries and being downright predictable led to the demise but Casteddu fans will now put it all behind them as they head on their August jollies knowing that Eusebio Di Francesco has been named their new coach for next season when it’ll be a case of ‘we go again’.