Thursday September 20 2018
De Zerbi: 'Di Francesco exemplary'

Sassuolo Coach Roberto De Zerbi warned Empoli will be “more difficult” than Juventus and stood up for “exemplary” Federico Di Francesco.

It kicks off on Friday at 19.30 UK time (18.30 GMT), click here for a match preview.

“The real test is tomorrow, as that’ll be even more difficult than last week against Juventus, in many respects,” insisted the Coach in his Press conference.

“We played very well against the Bianconeri, but the tests never end and it’s important to get the points against Empoli for our position in the table and to get a hold of our motivation.

“There are margins for improvement and we have to recognise that straight away so we can build on what we’ve done so far and get stronger a lot quicker.

“Empoli are a team that play good football and have impressive players, so we are not taking it for granted. Only those who don’t really know football expect this to be easier than Juventus.”

Kevin-Prince Boateng has been the False 9 so far, but Khouma Babacar impressed when coming off the bench.

“I’ve always known Babacar to be important, even when some underestimated him in pre-season training. I could’ve put him on earlier against Juve, but I didn’t because using four strikers with 25 minutes to go at the Juventus Stadium would’ve been a little presumptuous.

“Babacar will certainly play tomorrow, but we’ll see if it’s from the start or off the bench. Once we have more guarantees throughout the team, then we can start to use Boateng and Babacar together.

“The squad has strengthened and that means there are very strong players, for example Boga, who aren’t getting playing time yet. Some might forget Djuricic, Brignola and Matri, but I haven’t.”

The 2-1 defeat to Juventus was overshadowed by Douglas Costa’s red card for spitting at Federico Di Francesco, especially after some tried to accuse the Sassuolo winger of racially abusing the Brazilian.

“It really troubled me,” noted De Zerbi. “Di Francesco is an exemplary young man and I saw he was hurt over the last few days. It hurts to have words he never said put into his mouth, especially as he assured me he didn’t say that and I believe him.

“I tried not to make too much of a drama out of it after the final whistle, because these things are between players, but I will not sit here and all my player to be called a provoker or even worse.

“Di Francesco was exemplary in his behaviour and if I was in his shoes during that situation, I probably wouldn’t have been as well-behaved and I would’ve reacted.

“It’s not right to treat the victim as the one to blame, he is owed respect. Unfortunately, in this world now you are put through the meat-grinder and have to live with it. This incident won’t make my decision on whether he plays tomorrow.”

Douglas Costa received a four-match Serie A ban and Juventus will not appeal.

Watch Serie A live in the UK on Premier Sports and get your first month free. £5.99 thereafter until September with promo code: ITALIA