Cagliari climbed out of the relegation zone after defeating Atalanta 2-1 in Serie A on Sunday, bringing the three points from Bergamo back to Sardinia.
Since the turn of the year, the Isolani have won three of their last five games as well as drawn against Fiorentina, displaying the type of form that should keep them away from relegation.
This victory against Atalanta in particular was impressive as it was remarkable. Although La Dea coach Gian Piero Gasperini did not select his best team available, he still had enough key components to lead his team to victory and, on paper, it seemed that the Bergamaschi were more than capable of defeating the Sardinians.
Meanwhile, Cagliari coach Walter Mazzarri went to Bergamo without one of his regular strikers. Joao Pedro was serving a suspension due to accumulating five yellow cards over the course of the season so far while Leonardo Pavoletti and Keita Balde were also unavailable.
The veteran tactician had to play Uruguayan attacking midfielder Gaston Pereiro as a lone striker, something that was more similar to how Francesco Totti played for Roma in the mid-2000s under Coach Luciano Spalletti than playing as an out-and-out striker or target man.
With midfielders Kevin Strootman and Nahitan Nandez missing due to injuries, Mazzarri had plenty of selection issues to deal with before a ball was kicked. However, he changed his formation and ensured that Atalanta had a difficult time trying to breach the Isolani defence.
Gasperini had left defenders Rafael Toloi and Merih Demiral as well as midfielder Marten De Roon on the bench, and he also ditched his preferred back three formations for the 4-2-3-1. Although switching to a back four has worked occasionally for La Dea, the change backfired this time.
Atalanta found chances at a premium in the first half while Cagliari barely ventured into the opposition half of the ground. That all changed at half-time. The Isolani started posing a threat on the counter-attack and Pereiro opened the scoring although there might have been suggestions of a handball in the build-up from the Uruguayan.
The Sardinians counter-attacked soon after and Pereiro could have netted his second, but Atalanta goalkeeper Juan Musso rushed off his line and obstructed his opponent. La Dea went down to 10 men, and although Jose Luis Palomino equalised with a terrific header, Pereiro scored the winner soon after by diverting Raoul Bellanova’s cross into the net.
Despite the Bergamaschi’s efforts to push for an equaliser, Cagliari looked the more likely to score again. Pereiro perhaps should have scored a hat-trick and Greek youngster Christos Kourfalidis also could have netted in just his second Serie A match.
Mazzarri did an incredible job to nullify such an attacking force like Atalanta and showed that he still has some tricks under his sleeve. The decision to play Pereiro as a striker at first seemed absurd but now it has proven to be an inspired move.
Although Venezia have a game in hand, Cagliari’s victory has nonetheless enabled them to jump out of the relegation zone. Quite incredible considering that the Isolani had one victory in Serie A before the Christmas break.
Cagliari’s form in 2022 has been impressive so far, and after defeating one of Serie A’s strongest teams on their turf, Mazzarri and squad have given themselves a platform to further secure their place in Italy’s top flight for at least one more season.