Coppa Italia: Round of 16 / Team rating: 7 / Top scorer: Berardi (15)
After a topsy-turvy first season, Serie A’s surprise package stuck to their guns the second time round, entertaining everyone to the end, writes Edo Dalmonte.
For comparison’s sake, a quick 18-month jump back into the past should help us understand how far Sassuolo have come.
Back then, the Neroverdi had a lot in common with Chievo, only without the success. Coming off a 7-0 mauling at the hands of Inter, Sassuolo didn’t look up to it, a sentiment reinforced when Eusebio di Francesco was replaced by Alberto Malesani after the winter break.
Now, every Serie A fan’s pet team is coasting, ending the season just three points short of Milan and comfortably distant from the relegation battle. It was far from a foregone conclusion, however, especially with how things began: a second 7-0 mauling at the hands of the Nerazzurri. A miserable one goal in five games seemed to indicate that Sassuolo weren’t up to the task this term.
However, the Neroverdi held Fiorentina and Juventus and forced both Lazio and Napoli to play tight games before going on a roll in October, not losing for two months and pulling away from troubled waters.
Among the positives, Sassuolo discovered Sime Vrsaljko, a very useful addition to their defence and a dangerous attacking threat. The midfield pair of Francesco Magnanelli and Simone Missiroli kept things ticking in the middle, allowing Di Francesco to apply the passing game he has always believed in.
After some teething problems early in the season, Di Francesco remained faithful to Simone Zaza and Domenico Berardi, who hit a hot streak in 2015. They rewarded him with 26 goals, the kind of tally that is likely to see them move on to bigger things next season, with Juventus having options on both.
What now for the Neroverdi? Some away form would be a start. Sassuolo didn’t win a single game on the road from January to May, relying on their (admittedly very good) home record to pull through. The defence could so with further reinforcement, too: bringing in Andrea Consigli proved to be useless early on in the season, when Sassulo couldn’t keep out a troop of boy scouts.
He may still have some developing to do, but keeping a team up in its second season at the top is impressive enough, actually improving to the point where relegation is not a concern is something else entirely. Having been sacked and brought back the previous season, Di Francesco could have panicked when his team lost its first seven games to kick off the season. Instead, he stayed faithful to the 4-3-3, and to the ambitious, open style which is his calling card. His reward was a sometimes rocky, generally comfortable season and an extension. There was also the occasional thriller along the way, like the 4-3 win over Milan at home.
Controversial? Definitely. Undeserved? Not at all. Sassuolo were struggling early on in the season, a lack of goalscoring prowess one of the contributing factors. Seeing as it took Simone Zaza and Domenico Berardi a while to find top gear (the latter had only scored three times by Christmas), we need to look for the winner elsewhere. Simone Missiroli has, in his words, improve immeasurably under Di Francesco’s tenure- contributing four goals and five assists, and boasting one of the team’s highest average Gazzetta marks.
- Sassuolo have only 10 different scorers in League play, the second-lowest total in Serie A.
- Sassuolo have won three Serie A games out of four against Milan. They’ve not been as successful against anyone else in their short experience in the top flight.
- With 35 goals, Sassuolo have the joint-third worst away defence in the League.
|1||GK||Alberto Pomini||3 (1)||-||-|
|3||D||Alessandro Longhi||17 (2)||0||1|
|5||D||Luca Antei||5 (3)||0||0|
|20||D||Paolo Bianco||1 (2)||0||0|
|23||D||Marcello Gazzola||14 (4)||0||0|
|31||D||Federico Peluso||26 (2)||0||1|
|32||D||Cesare Natali||0 (3)||0||0|
|4||M||Francesco Magnanelli||28 (1)||1||3|
|6||M||Raman Chibsah||3 (5)||0||0|
|7||M||Simone Missiroli||30 (4)||4||4|
|8||M||Davide Biondini||17 (11)||0||0|
|11||M||Sime Vrsaljko||19 (2)||0||3|
|19||M||Saphir Taider||19 (8)||3||3|
|30||M||Dejan Lazarevic||4 (6)||0||0|
|33||M||Matteo Brighi||14 (9)||0||0|
|10||A||Simone Zaza||29 (2)||11||2|
|*||A||Leonardo Pavoletti||0 (9)||0||9|
|17||A||Nicola Sansone||30 (5)||5||4|
|83||A||Antonio Floro Flores||11 (18)||2||1|
|99||A||Sergio Floccari||10 (17)||2||0|