Coppa Italia: Fourth Round / Team rating: 7 / Top scorer: Berardi (16)
Only Livorno lost more games than Sassuolo, but Eusebio Di Francesco’s willingness to attack and field young Italian players was rewarded with another year in Serie A for the debutants, as Luca Persico reports.
It couldn’t have started much worse for Sassuolo. Memories of the pre-season Trofeo TIM victory over Juventus and Milan were wiped out by four consecutive defeats, which included 4-1 and 7-0 losses to Livorno and Inter respectively.
Sassuolo finally got off the mark with draws against Napoli and Lazio, before beating Bologna in Week 8. A notable win at Sampdoria followed, but a run of seven losses in eight matches cost Coach Eusebio Di Francesco his job. His replacement, Alberto Malesani, lost five matches in a row and Di Francesco was promptly recalled.
The tactician's desire to attack and willingness to use young Italians had yielded memorable wins against Milan and Sampdoria and promoted the exciting Domenico Berardi, amongst others, but reaped inconsistent results.
The January transfer window had seen a clutch of proven Serie A talent brought to Sassuolo and, upon his return, Di Francesco promptly put it to use. With Paolo Cannavaro in defence, midfielder Davide Biondini and forward Sergio Floccari, Sassuolo induced a stronger spine and results improved.
The Neroverdi importantly went on to win four of their last seven matches to secure survival. Di Francesco’s attacking philosophy had remained intact, but an improved structure had made this difference.
“I don’t know if this is unwise for an Italian team fighting for survival, but it’s the only style of football I know,” the 44 year-old insisted during the run-in. “I can’t park the bus.”
Di Francesco and Sassuolo’s bravery elevated a host of young players, the pick of which has been Berardi. The Juventus-owned 19-year-old ended the season with 16 goals, a haul that included three hat-tricks, one of which came in a four goal blitz against Milan. His knack for scoring in big games - 1-1 at Roma, 2-1 against Bologna and 1-0 win over Chievo - was vital for Sassuolo’s survival.
Alongside Simone Zaza - also Juventus-owned - Luca Antei and Nicola Sansone, Berardi is a glimpse of Italy’s future, one that looks brighter thanks to the innovation of Di Francesco, who has earned Sassuolo another year in Serie A.
The decision to replace Di Francesco with Malesani, who failed to secure a point, was misguided, but allowed the former to refocus. Di Francesco returned in Week 27 with his attacking philosophy reinforced by the failure of Malesani’s pragmatism and eventually steered Sassuolo to safety. His trust in young Italian players is particularly refreshing.
It’s been an incredible debut top flight campaign for the 19-year-old. His 16 goal return includes hat-tricks against Sampdoria and Fiorentina, as well as four goals in a memorable 4-3 win against Milan. Berardi’s not only scored with regularity, but done so in key matches. Juventus have invested in a gem.
- No side fielded more Italian players than Sassuolo this season.
- Only Livorno conceded more goals than Sassuolo.
- The Neroverdi used 38 different players this season.
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