What was the best-ever defensive record in a single Serie A season?

For a long time, Italian football had a reputation for having mastered the art of defending, but Serie A's greatest-ever defensive record isn't held by AC Milan, Juventus or Inter. Which club boasts Italy's best-ever defensive record?

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For many years, Italians and Serie A sides were considered by many in the football world to be the masters of defence, and non-Italian teams would have great difficulty breaking down resolute Italian backlines at club and international level.

Catenaccio is undoubtedly the most famous – or infamous, depending on your stance – defensive tactic in football history, and Italian teams were known for many years to be content with a scoreless draw or 1-0 victory. Over the years, Italy produced great defenders like Giacinto Facchetti, Gaetano Scirea, Franco Baresi, Paolo Maldini, Fabio Cannavaro, and Alessandro Nesta.

It would be easy to assume that one of the Italian giants like Juventus, AC Milan, or Inter would have the greatest defence in calcio history, but the answer would be a surprise to many, especially younger football fans.

Cagliari and Serie A’s best-ever defensive record

Giuseppe Tomasini. (@CagliariCalcio)

Cagliari won their first and only Serie A title to date in the 1969/70 season, and it was the first time when a club outside of the mainland of Italy became Italian champions, taking the scudetto to the island of Sardinia.

The star of that Isolani squad was striker Gigi Riva, who remains to this day the leading goalscorer of the Sardinian club with 208 competitive goals. He finished the season with the most goals in the 1969/70 Serie A campaign, finding the back of the net 21 times.

Despite the potent attacking threat Riva possessed, Cagliari coach Manlio Scopigno created a squad that had great balance, and their defence was extremely hard to break down. In fact, it is Cagliari who have the best-ever defensive record in the 1969/70 Serie A season.

Who formed the Cagliari defence?

Cagliari celebrate a goal. (Photo: Cagliari Calcio)

Enrico Albertosi played in goal, Giuseppe Tomasini operated in the sweeper role, Mario Martiradonna was a right-back that focused on man-marking, Comunardo Niccolai was a centre-back that was given a man-marking role too, and Giulio Zignoli was given the license to go forward.

Fiorentina were the first team to have the outright lead in that season on Matchday 4, but the Isolani gained control from Matchday 5 and never relinquished it. An injury to Tomasini in the middle of the season prompted a tactical rethink, resulting in defensive midfielder Pierluigi Cera moving into the sweeper role, and it proved to be an inspired move. Cera orchestrated attacking moves from the back and he was known to make many long and accurate passes.

Cagliari sealed the scudetto with three rounds to go after defeating Bari 2-0. In an era in which two points were earned for a victory, the Isolani finished the season with 45 points, four more than second-place Inter. Cagliari’s heroics certainly did not go unnoticed by Italy coach Ferruccio Valcareggi, who selected Albertosi, Cera, Niccolai, Angelo Domenghini, Sergio Gori, and Riva for the 1970 World Cup, and the Azzurri eventually finished runners-up to Brazil.

Claudio Ranieri. (@CagliariCalcio)

Serie A’s best-ever defensive record: How many goals did Cagliari concede?

Cagliari conceded just 11 goals in 30 matches throughout the 1969/70 Serie A season and they only suffered two defeats. Unfortunately, the highest the Isolani have finished since that historical triumph was fourth in 1971/72, and sixth in 1992/93.

Claudio Ranieri, who masterminded Leicester City’s miraculous 2015/16 Premier League triumph, returned to the Sardinian club for a second spell in 2022/23, earning promotion from Serie B to Serie A. A second Cagliari scudetto might be out of the realms of reality but one never knows. Who expected the Foxes to become champions of England?

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