Second season blues are hitting Sassuolo hard this term. A stunning final month or so in their debut campaign last year meant the Neroverdi, against the odds, survived to continue the club’s Serie A fairytale adventure. The enthusiasm from that miracle survival has now dissipated and the Emilia-Romagna outfit are now thrust into an early season fight for survival second time around.
Although the season has entered just the second month, Sassuolo are ominously propping up the table and have just three points, all from draws, have scored only three goals and shipped 12 at the other end, including a humiliating 7-0 drubbing at the hands of Inter.
However, all isn’t entirely doom and gloom, as Eusebio Di Francesco’s men were given a huge morale booster in welcoming back Domenico Berardi to the first team on Sunday in the 3-2 defeat to Lazio. The 20-year-old finished serving a three-match ban for elbowing Inter’s Juan Jesus and jump-started the Neroverdi’s attacking play with two goals, albeit in a losing effort.
The two goals on Sunday were on other ends of the spectrum, in terms of technique and execution, but nevertheless both typified the youngster’s strengths. The first showcased the striker’s acceleration and finishing. Berardi tore through the middle from his right wing position, latched on to a perfect through-ball, before slotting calmly past Federico Marchetti. His second showed his nerve to dispatch a penalty with ease.
The fact Berardi has now scored two of his club’s three goals this season underlines how pivotal he is to Sassuolo’s chances of making it a third Serie A campaign in 2015-16. It’s no coincidence that Simone Zaza’s loss of form, coupled with Berardi’s suspension has seen the Neroverdi struggle for goals. Last season the pair’s link-up play and understanding resulted in a combined 25 of the club’s 43 goals, with Berardi netting an astonishing 16 in his debut campaign in Serie A. The Sassuolo supporters will be praying the pair can return to last season’s fearsome duo and help the team stay in the top flight.
The man himself believes the club can turn the season around: “We changed our attitude after the 7-0 loss to Inter. I’m happy with the second half performance [against Lazio] and happy for the goals I scored, but I’m sorry for the defeat.” The Italian went on to add: “I feel we deserved something more, but now we must continue our work and fight for salvation.”
Club football now takes a back seat for the next week, with Berardi keen to help the Italy Under-21s progress to the Euro 2015 Championships. The Azzurrini face Slovakia this Friday away before a homecoming in the second leg in Berardi’s home stadium in Sassuolo. The 20-year-old forms an exciting trident with Fiorentina’s Federico Bernardeschi and the talk of Italian football’s new generation of strikers - Palermo’s Andrea Belotti.
The youngster targets not only U-21 success but a potential call to the senior squad in the future: “We want to conquer the European Championship. We will go to Slovakia to do well and achieve qualification. As for the senior national team, I’d be delighted if Conte were to call me up. All kids dream of the national team, I hope to fulfil my dream.”
The mercurial, sometimes volatile forward remains an exciting prospect, and couldn’t have returned at a better time. The onus is now on Sassuolo’s ace-in-the-hole to come up trumps again and turn his side’s season around.