This match saw both sides collect a red card each, neither of which were particularly controversial and both players deserved to be sent off. Verona, led by Ivan Jurić, looked to utilise the strength of their wing-backs and looked to create opportunities down the flanks to send balls directly the feet of their forwards in the box. These tactics have been present throughout the campaign, particularly the use of their wing-backs, as we have seen the likes of Davide Faraoni have a great season. Verona have had a very impressive return to Serie A, where they are sat in 7th place, only one point behind Napoli. Cagliari, managed by Walter Zenga, had a promising start to the season, but they were in a major decline before lockdown occurred. Before the global pandemic, Cagliari had collected four draws and seven defeats in their last eleven Serie A games, with the last time they went on a longer winless run in a single campaign taking place in 2010. This analysis will take a deeper dive into this game, and how one side managed to scrape past the other.
Verona lined up in a 3-4-2-1 formation which looked to hit Cagliari on the counterattack through the use of direct, long-balls towards their forwards from their midfield. Jurić’s side was fronted by Samuel Di Carmine as the central striker, with Valerio Verre and former Liverpool and Chelsea forward Fabio Borini either side of him, with Matteo Pessina losing his usual spot. No single forward has shone for Verona this season, instead, their goals have been shared across the starting XI.
Regarding the midfield behind the forwards, Jurić went for the central midfield combo of Sofyan Amrabat and Emmanuel Badu, with Amrabat acting as the more progressive of the two. This meant that Verona had to do without star-player Miguel Veloso at the start of the game, who has been their key source of creation this season, particularly from his set-piece deliveries. The two wing-backs were the same as they have been all season long, with Darko Lazović on the left and Davide Faraoni on the right, who have both been great at fulfilling the role set out for them this season. The back three consisted of Alan Empereur, Marash Kumbulla, and Amir Rrahmani, with Empereur coming in to replace the regular Koray Günter. Marco Silvestri retained his place as the first-choice goalkeeper.
Cagliari set out in a 5-3-2 formation with Zenga looking to dominate the midfield space with plenty of bodies in the centre of the pitch. Gastón Pereiro and Giovanni Simeone were the two forwards up front, who were supplemented by the three central midfielders, Nahitan Nández, Luca Cigarini, and Marko Rog. As we can see, Cagliari were missing two key players, Radja Nainggolan and João Pedro, which damaged their chances of winning this game from the offset. If we take a look at pure attacking contribution, both of these players have contributed to 29 of Cagliari’s 47 goals across all competitions this season, equating to 62% of their goals. The back five consisted of Artur Ioniță and Luca Pellegrini as the team’s wing-backs, and Fabio Pisacane, Luca Ceppitelli, and Fabrizio Cacciatore to make for a collection of experienced defenders, barring Pellegrini. Alessio Cragno came in to replace the regular starter, Robin Olsen.
Verona – promising start, poor finish
Verona have worked well as a collective this season in their return to Serie A, with no single individual particularly outshining another. Their strongest aspect this term has been their defensive solidarity, as they mainly excel in putting their bodies in front of the ball, which is seen in their 5.2 shots blocked per game, a league-high. Though, it should be worth noting that they have been fairly lucky in this regard, with their expected goals against (xGA) suggesting they should have conceded 36 goals this season, instead of the 27 actual goals they conceded. This has been the result of luck, poor finishing, and great goalkeeping combined across the season.
In this game, Jurić’s side were not tasked with much defending in the first half, as they dominated possession and were creating quality chances of their own. During this half, Verona were keen to utilise Amrabat’s dribbling ability to progress the ball down the centre of the pitch, and then layoff the ball towards a wing-back, usually Lazović. This can be seen in Amrabat’s statistics in this game where he completed six of his nine attempted dribbles (67% success rate) while also completing all nine of his progressive passes in the match as well. When the ball reached Lazović, he would often look to complete a one-two with a teammate or look to whip in a lofted ball into the box and towards the head of a striker.
In the above analysis, we can see Amrabat dribble into the 18-yard-box and draw interest to his location. This draws attention away from Lazović who is free to receive a pass.
Further on, Lazović receives the ball from Amrabat and then goes to immediately whip in a delivery. It is a perfectly weighted cross which Di Carmine outjumps the defender to direct towards goal and into the back of the net.
After another goal by Di Carmine to make for his second brace of the campaign, Verona collected a red card via Borini for a reckless challenge on Marko Rog. This is ultimately what turned the game in Cagliari’s favour for the rest of the match, that is until Cagliari received a red card of their own. From that moment, Cagliari favoured to attack down the right-wing, where Verona were now missing a player. This resulted in Verona’s players drifting towards the left-wing to protect the flanks, however, this left plenty of space for Cagliari to attack down the centre of the pitch. After the red card, Verona essentially stopped attacking and instead decided to bring men back and play all-out defence, inviting pressure to their goal.
Here, we can see Verona defending their left flank. They have drifted towards the ball on the left-wing, leaving space open for a couple of Cagliari players centrally. Notice the number of Verona players in the box.
Cagliari decide to send a ball into the box towards the far post. Despite the number of Verona players in the box, Simeone does manage to get the first touch of the ball but is crowded away from the goal before he can shoot.
Verona certainly had a game of two halves. In the first half, they managed a solid return of 0.73 xG, while in the second half they only managed a 0.15 xG value. They were happy to keep the lion’s share of possession in the first half and create chances with frequency, with 59% possession in the first half. Verona’s finishing in this game was strong, as they scored one more goal than xG would expect, but that is normal to see within a striker who was hungry to return to football and prove his worth to the manager.
Cagliari – poor start, promising finish
As mentioned, Cagliari had a poor first half overall, struggling to retain possession and battling to keep Verona at bay. When they were in possession in the first half, they struggled to break down Verona’s system as they were dispossessed consistently. Zenga’s side lost the ball 62 times in the final third, leaving them open for Verona to hit them on the counterattack, where they tend to find their greatest attacking actions typically. This is the reverse of how their season has gone overall, with a brilliant beginning to the season, but they have faltered towards the end of the campaign. In game week 15, Cagliari were as high as 4th in the league, opposed to where they are in the league now, sat in 12th place.
In this match, Zenga’s side struggles to defend down the flanks, particularly the right-wing. As mentioned before, Amrabat did very well for Verona in bypassing the Cagliari midfield through his dribbling and passing, and Cagliari generally struggled to contain him. This meant that Verona were constantly in the position to whip in a delivery towards the box and threaten Cagliari’s goal. Cagliari’s defenders struggled to defend against players who ran at them, often leaving them backpedalling towards their own goal.
In the above analysis, we see Amrabat begin to pass the ball towards Lazović. The Serbian would then go to exploit the open space left by the Cagliari defence.
Here, we can see Lazović run towards and past Cacciatore, and take a shot on goal, saved by the goalkeeper. Ceppitelli in the centre does little in the way of marking to prevent the goal.
In the second half, Cagliari managed to turn on the gas and started to create their attacks in volume. Between the 76-90 minutes period especially, they were creating 0.89 attacks per minute, which is better than the peak Verona reached in the first half, of 0.67 attacks per minute. They were effective at creating goalscoring opportunities from set-pieces and crossing the ball from the flanks. The young Italian Pellegrini was especially efficient in this regard while having a solid game overall. He completed two dribbles, two key passes, and two shot assists from his seven attempted crosses, while also completing four tackles and interceptions. This represents a good game for the 21-year-old who has shown his promise this season.
Here we see a cross-field pass is played by Nández towards Pellegrini who is making a run towards the box.
Above, we see Pellegrini head the ball into the feet of Simeone, who manages to half-volley the ball into the back of the net by hitting it into the turf, to put off the keeper with the bounce.
Put in simple terms, Cagliari had a better second half than Verona’s first half. Due to the numbers advantage, Zenga’s side were able to create chances with frequency but they were unable to finish their chances. More importantly, their defending in the first half was quite simply not good enough, and they should have prevented both of them. Both goals conceded were a case of a lack of basic man-marking which led to losing out on vital aerial duels. Besides, a large proportion of their shots did come from outside of the box, which suggests their shot locations can be improved upon in the future.
Overall, we can see that Verona were arguably fortunate to win this game, with a draw the fairer result. Expected goals would back up this statement, with Verona managing 0.87 across the match and Cagliari producing a 1.33 value. Jurić should continue to ride this wave of positive results that Verona have had come their way this campaign. Placing 7th in their first season back in Serie A would be a very impressive achievement, regardless of some of their performances this campaign. In this game, they were without Veloso for a good proportion of the match, and as he is their most prolific chance creator, it should be taken into consideration that they were not even full strength. His replacement, Badu, is a significant drop in quality, and Amrabat made up for this admirably in this game. Zenga should consider tweaking certain aspects of his tactics, as, without the 10-men advantage, Cagliari struggled to gain a foothold in this game. Barring that, their recent record in the league is abysmal and that should be enough for a reshape. He needs to centre his team around their best player, and that is Nainggolan. Utilising the best sides of his game will allow Cagliari to become more of an attacking threat, and able to score more goals than they are currently.