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Spezia VS Cagliari - Italian Serie A, Match Preview
Match Time：3/21/2021 01:00 Sunday (GMT+8)
Italian Serie A -- Spezia VS Cagliari
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A crucial clash near the bottom of the table sees Spezia welcome 18th-placed Cagliari to Stadio Alberto Picco on Saturday, with the hosts possessing a precarious four-point lead over their Sardinian rivals in the standings.
Without a win in five, the Aquilotti are in danger of being sucked into the dogfight for Serie A survival, while their visitors have experienced a clear benefit from the 'new manager effect' but are still inside the drop zone.
After two consecutive successes against Sassuolo and then-leaders Milan in early February, there seemed little in the way of Spezia cruising to an unexpectedly comfortable mid-table finish in their first-ever stab at Serie A. However, since - perhaps even as a consequence of such headline-grabbing feats - the plucky Ligurian outfit have stumbled into a series of underwhelming performances and disappointing results. In fact, in their last five league games, Vincenzo Italiano's team have picked up only two points to sink perilously close to the trapdoor back to Serie B. The Aquilotti's most recent outing saw them beaten 3-1 by high-flying Atalanta at the Gewiss Stadium last Friday night - extending a winless run dating back to that historic defeat of Milan on home soil. Now occupying 15th place in the standings, only three above Torino - who still have a game in hand due to their COVID-19 outbreak earlier this month - and four ahead of this week's opponents Cagliari, who fill the final relegation place going into the weekend, Spezia are undoubtedly glancing nervously over their shoulder.
With fixtures against Crotone and Bologna also to come after the international break, Italiano's men could effectively seal their stay in the top flight with a positive run of results or, alternatively, be drawn further into the murky morass at the basement. To avoid the latter, the Aquilotti must improve their defensive resolve, as they have one of the leakiest back lines in the league - shipping 50 goals so far, at a rate of nearly two per game. Under the management of Leonardo Semplici, struggling Cagliari have at least tasted victory for the first time in months, but remain deeply enmeshed in the battle for survival nonetheless. Since replacing Eusebio Di Francesco at the helm, the Tuscan coach has led his new charges to seven points in four games, though their progress came to an abrupt halt last weekend. Following two wins in succession - against Crotone and Bologna - and an away draw with Sampdoria, the Sardinian outfit lost 3-1 at the Sardegna Arena to Juventus - a result which, though expected, leaves them a point adrift of safety.
The scorer of the Isolani's consolation goal in the second half, Giovanni Simeone, has suffered a long barren spell since returning from a bout of COVID-19 late last year, so will have been relieved to re-establish his claim on the centre-forward's role against the champions. With one of the weakest goals tallies in the league since Simeone's form nosedived late last year, the only shining light in a below-par front line has been club captain Joao Pedro, who has recorded 12 or more goals at this stage of the campaign for a second season in a row and has 13 in all this term. Finally re-finding their touch as an attacking unit in recent weeks, Cagliari have scored six goals in their last four league games, having managed only one from their previous seven. As a result, the Rossoblu have managed to pick up four points from their two most recent away trips in Serie A and can now travel to the mainland with a growing measure of confidence in the final third. With his longer-term future and that of his new club still in the balance, Semplici will be aware that Inter, Roma, Napoli and Verona all await within the six matches following their trip to La Spezia this weekend. Just a third away win of the season would not only boost morale and their points tally ahead of that tough run of fixtures, it would have the added benefit of drawing their opponents back within striking range.
Spezia Serie A form: WLDLDL
Cagliari Serie A form: LLWWDL
Spezia's top scorer M'Bala Nzola is a major doubt for Saturday's game, having come off with a calf injury against Atalanta, not long since his comeback from several weeks on the sidelines. Bulgarian forward Andrey Galabinov and young Roberto Piccoli - a scorer from the bench last week - are both in contention to replace the unexpected star of the hosts' campaign, joining Emmanuel Gyasi and one of Daniele Verde or Kevin Agudelo up front. Nahuel Estevez (COVID-19), Lucien Agoume, January signing Riccardo Saponara and first-choice goalkeeper Ivan Provedel are all expected to miss out, with Dutch stopper Jeroen Zoet continuing to deputise as the Bianconeri's last line of defence. Cagliari have Charalampos Lykogiannis and Leonardo Pavoletti available again, after the pair served suspensions against Juventus, and both could make the starting lineup. The Greek full-back is set to replace Gabriele Zappa out wide in Leonardo Semplici's 3-5-2, while Pavoletti will contend with Gio Simeone for a place in the front pair. However, long-term injury victim Marko Rog and Riccardo Sottil (thigh) are still out of commission, with defender Sebastian Walukiewicz also a doubt for the journey to Liguria.
Spezia possible starting lineup:
Zoet; Vignali, Erlic, Ismajili, Bastoni; Sena, Ricci, Maggiore; Verde, Agudelo, Gyasi
Cagliari possible starting lineup:
Cragno; Ceppitelli, Godin, Rugani; Nandez, Marin, Nainggolan, Duncan, Lykogiannis; Pedro, Simeone
Prediction：Spezia 1-1 Cagliari
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