Fewer matches but still plenty of action in Serie A and Cagliari-Roma was clearly the most balanced match-up of the slate, as the home teams kept clawing back but still came up short.
The Sardinian approached the match having failed to win in the past 11 rounds, lastly versus Napoli and Genoa. The guests instead were coming off a slump-busting win over Lecce, which allowed them to bounce back from a three-game losing streak.
Rolando Maran applied some surprise modifications to the XI, re-inserting Robin Olsen over Alessio Cragno on goal and then picking Christian Oliva and Alberto Paloschi over Luca Cigarini and Giovanni Simeone, while Marko Rog returned from a month on the shelf and filled in for the suspended Nahitan Nandez. Paulo Fonseca did not have Lorenzo Pellegrini and Gianluca Mancini at his disposal, spared Jordan Veretout due to a sore ankle and rested Edin Dzeko, so Federico Fazio, Gonzalo Villar and Nikola Kalinic made it to the XI.
The Giallorossi had the upper-hand at the beginning of the hostilities but could not cash in on their early chances, also thanks to a pair of clutch saves by the goalie. Cengiz Under rattled the crossbar on their best effort, then Kalinic somehow failed to punch in the rebound.
Therefore, Cagliari drew first blood out of the blue, as Oliva found Joao Pedro with a long ball and the attacker brilliantly dinked it over Pau Lopez, who was slightly too advanced. The lead lasted only one minute though, because Luca Pellegrini had a poor clearance on a cross by Aleksandar Kolarov, setting up a point-blank header for Kalinic, who could not miss this time.
The Giallorossi completed the comeback three minutes before the break as Under and Mkhitaryan combined on the right wing, the Armenian forward picked his way to the base line and teed up Kalinic with a paso de la muerte.
Kluivert rocked the woodwork as well at the beginning of the second half, but then managed to put his name in the stat-sheet at the 64th minute. La Lupa took advantage of Cagliari going on the offense to bust out some fast-breaks and the Dutch youngster finished with aplomb in front of the goalie after a 20-meter run on a feed by Kalinic.
However, the Casteddu refused to go down and re-opened the contest with Gaston Pereiro, who had just subbed in and was allowed to charge forward unabatedly through the middle and slotted it home with a lefty strike from outside the box.
Roma re-gained a two-goal lead with a sharp free kick from the right-hand portion of the pitch by Kolarov that was slightly grazed by Mkhitaryan in the middle of the box. Cagliari continued to go at it and were awarded a penalty kick for a handball by Chris Smalling: Lopez saved on Pedro, but the striker headed home the rebound, making it 3-4 with just the stoppage time left. However, the opponents expertly held on without any risk.
La Lupa garnered his second W in a row to keep the Champions League race interesting, although Atalanta still have the lead and will have a make-up game later on. Cagliari showed some fight and generally fared better than some of their recent outing, but were handed another L and they therefore keep sliding in the standings, where they are 11th.
In the fantasy game, Kalic accrued ten points for the brace plus an assist, Mkhitaryan six for scoring and setting up a teammate, Pedro five for the multi-layered performance, Pereiro four for finding the target, one fewer for Kluivert because he was booked, while Oliva and Radja Nainggolan snatched two for their helpers.
Are you a Serie A expert? Can you defeat the top Serie A Fantasy Managers? If you think so, play www.fantasyseriea.com now!