Relegation-threatened Cagliari host league-leading AC Milan in Serie A on Saturday evening.
One of the three league matches Leonardo Semplici oversaw this season before getting the boot in September was a 4-1 stuffing at the hands of Milan. His replacement Walter Mazzarri has presided over a mini-turnaround this calendar year, though Cagliari are only three points above the drop zone.
Milan started 2022 four points behind Inter but go into the weekend’s action top of the table, with the title in their own hands as the season enters its final stages.
Here’s everything you need to know about a meeting between two teams with wildly contrasting ambitions.
When is kick off? Saturday 19 March, 19:45 (GMT)
Where is the match being played? Unipol Domus
TV channel/live stream? BT Sport ESPN (UK), Paramount+ (US)
Highlights? BT Sport & Serie A YouTube
Successive ACL ruptures has prevented the luckless Marko Rog from making an appearance since December 2020. Fellow midfielders Nahitan Nandez and Kevin Strootman have also been lumbered with knee injuries (though less severe).
The only appearance Damir Ceter has made this season was against Milan in August but the 24-year-old isn’t expected to feature again this weekend.
The Poland under-21 international Sebastian Walukiewicz adds to the well-stocked injury inventory having been sidelined since September with a hip problem.
Milan’s renewed title tilt this season has been underpinned by a more well-rounded squad compared to previous campaigns. Stefano Pioli has a near full compliment to select from this weekend, with Tiemoue Bakayoko not quite back from a muscular injury.
At 40 years young, Zlatan Ibrahimovic may be in line for his first start since January after shaking off an Achilles tendon problem. The marauding left-back Theo Hernandez is expected to return after serving a suspension last weekend.
Cagliari have a consistently abysmal record against Milan. Since 1998 – a year before Milan’s current top scorer Rafael Leao was born – the Sardinian outfit have won just one Serie A match against the Rossoneri (D8 L27).
That solitary victory came as recently as May 2017 – via a 90th-minute winner scored by Fabio Pisacane. Mazzarri will become the sixth different Cagliari incumbent to face Milan since Diego Lopez oversaw that win.
Cagliari have endured a bit of bad luck at both ends of the pitch this season – they rank 14th for non-penalty expected goals for and against (per FBref) but sit in the perilous position of 17th.
As recently as February Milan dropped points against one of the three sides below Cagliari in the table (2-2 against Salernitana). The Rossoneri have gone seven Serie A games unbeaten but only one goal – at most – has separated themselves and their opponents in this run.
In what could be another tight contest, Milan may have the edge.
Prediction: Cagliari 0-1 Milan