A star is born, as Domenico Berardi scored all four for Sassuolo to fight back from 2-0 down and humiliate Milan 4-3.
Mario Balotelli and Robinho were back in the starting XI and 18-year-old Bryan Cristante had his second start in as many games, as Riccardo Montolivo was not 100 per cent fit. Stephan El Shaarawy, Valter Birsa, Ignazio Abate, Kevin Constant and the suspended Sulley Muntari were still out. Sassuolo were third from bottom and opted for a 4-3-3 system with Domenico Berardi, Simone Zaza and Reto Ziegler in a more advanced role. Yussie Chibsah was a surprise midfield choice in place of Luca Marrone.
Over 70 Japanese journalists were in the stands of the Mapei Stadium awaiting the Serie A debut of Keisuke Honda, who was on the bench. They were greeted by typical Reggio Emilia weather in winter, as a thick fog hovered over the arena. The Curva Sud ultras did not make the trip, boycotting this game due to the ticket prices.
Nigel De Jong forced the first save from outside the box after 83 seconds, while Domenico Berardi tested Christian Abbiati after shaking off Daniele Bonera.
Milan took the lead after nine minutes when De Jong and Cristante robbed Chibsah in midfield, threading through for Robinho’s angled drive across the goalkeeper. Sassuolo complained, as they wanted a free kick for the challenge that sparked the move.
The hosts fought back and Zaza acrobatically just failed to get on the end of an Alessandro Gazzola cross to the back post.
However, the Rossoneri were clinical and doubled their advantage. Cristante burst down the right, rode a tackle and pulled back for Balotelli’s powerful finish from 12 yards.
It was a wide open encounter in Reggio Emilia and Domenico Berardi got Sassuolo straight back into it. He sprung the offside trap and dribbled round Abbiati to slide it into the net from the tightest of angles. This was his eighth goal of the season.
Juventus-owned 19-year-old Berardi completed the comeback and his brace in real style. He pounced on Daniele Bonera’s error and seemed to be blocked off, but allowed the ball to bounce and half-volleyed it around the defender’s body to surprise Abbiati at the near post from a tight angle.
Sassuolo even tried to turn the game around completely moments later, but Abbiati flew to punch a Zaza free kick out from under the bar.
Berardi incredibly completed his hat-trick before half-time to stun Milan, who had been 2-0 up after 13 minutes. The teenager got between the centre-backs to score on the half-volley from eight yards on an Alessandro Longhi cross from the left.
The magical night still wasn’t over, as Berardi scored his fourth goal straight after the restart. It was a well-worked team move, as he combined with Jasmin Kurtic and the finish took a slight deflection to wrong-foot Abbiati.
Balotelli’s angled drive flashed across the face of goal to skim the back post and Massimiliano Allegri gave Keisuke Honda his Serie A debut. The Japanese international’s introduction seemed to wake the Rossoneri up a little.
Kaka threatened on a Mattia De Sciglio pull-back, but his shot was deflected over the bar. Gianluca Pegolo beat away a Montolivo snapshot, then as the move continued Honda’s header was turned wide by Giampaolo Pazzini from close range.
Honda came so close to marking his debut with a goal, as his well-taken strike cracked against the base of the upright. It bounced back out to Kaka and Pazzini forced Pegolo into a save from six-yards on the follow-up.
The pressure eventually paid off when Montolivo’s daisy-cutter dribbled past Pegolo’s fingertips into the far bottom corner. Suddenly Milan had hope of their own remarkable comeback at the Mapei Stadium.
Montolivo floated in a cross for Balotelli’s header, bringing a great reaction save out of Pegolo, but on the follow-up Pazzini incredibly nodded on to the bar from point-blank range.
Balotelli had timid penalty appeals, as he leaned into Luca Antei and fell when he moved out of the way. It was a siege in stoppages and Pegolo flew to punch Honda's cross off the head of Pazzini.