The representatives of the smallest town to appear in Serie A have lofty ambitions ahead of the new season, as Livio Caferoglu charts Sassuolo’s pre-season progress.
Sassuolo’s rapid rise to the promised land of Serie A has divided opinion. Backed by chemical magnate Giorgio Squinzi, the Neroverdi were keen to establish themselves amongst the country’s top 20 clubs, but as seen in recent times, these stories nearly always end in tears.
Fortunately for them, the Sassuolo board saw sense before it was too late. Eusebio Di Francesco, who led the side to the Serie B title before being sacked following a poor run of form, came back fully revitalised and guided the Neroverdi to safety with four wins in their last seven matches of last season.
As such, the fickle nature of football has made the former Roma midfielder a hero. Once criticised for being too stubborn with his tactics, he has been heralded for his efforts in sticking to philosophy, which entails the promotion of young players and attractive football.
His emphasis on attack did just enough to conceal Sassuolo’s frail defence, which shipped an alarming 72 goals last season, but they have gone some way towards addressing those woes at the back, thanks to arrivals of full-backs Sime Vrsaljko and Federico Peluso, both of whom will slot in seamlessly.
Elsewhere, striker Leonardo Pavoletti – third top goalscorer in Serie B last term – and industrious Slovenian midfielder Jasmin Kurtic have returned from their respective loan spells at Varese and Torino, although it remains to be seen whether they will be used as leverage for other signings.
Sassuolo kicked off their pre-season strongly, with big wins against local opposition, but against esteemed opposition, they came unstuck. A shock 2-0 defeat to Carpi was followed up with a narrow win against Bologna, before losses to Empoli and Villarreal rounded off the Neroverdi’s series of friendlies.
Training has been intensive, with double sessions a regular feature, but efforts have been overshadowed by the lengthy injury to goalkeeper Gianluca Pegolo, who suffered a fracture in his left tibia. Acquiring a new shot-stopper has subsequently entered Sassuolo’s agenda.
They may not be ready to launch an assault on the top-half just yet, but the squad’s mix of youth and experience, which is far more polished following a surplus of deadwood exiting the club, should see them settle for a spot in mid-table.
The Neroverdi displayed a refreshing show of loyalty to the former Roma midfielder by rewarding him with a two-year contract, following his sterling efforts upon returning to keep the side afloat, and the club will be hoping that the 44-year-old’s philosophy of promoting youth and attacking football yields more positive results in the upcoming term.
It may well be his last season at the Mapei Stadium before joining Juventus, but whatever happens, the 20-year-old will be desperate to prove to naysayers that his maiden Serie A campaign was no flash in the pan. It’s unlikely that he will be able to net another four goals against Milan, but if he manages to grow in tandem with Sassuolo’s rise up the table, it will be mission accomplished.
The Croatian made a surprise €4m switch to Sassuolo in the close-season, and at only 22, the right-back, who possesses Champions League and World Cup experience, has been presented with the perfect stepping stone towards a bigger move in the future. The Emilia-Romagna outfit are also aware that such a transfer would result in a healthy profit on their initial outlay.
Domenico Berardi had been touted as a potential World Cup 2014 wildcard, but his selection never came to fruition. Hindsight has taught us that he may have been useful in breaking down stubborn Costa Rican and Uruguayan defences, but with La Nazionale undergoing significant changes after their Brazilian horror show, the attacker could be set for a long and prosperous Azzurri career under Antonio Conte.
Pomini; VRSALJKO; Cannavaro, Manfredini, PELUSO; Biondini, Magnanelli, Missiroli; Berardi, Zaza, Floro Flores
The Neroverdi may not be ready to launch an assault on the top half just yet, but they have shown enough promise to compete for a spot in mid-table.
|Benedetti (Torres)||D||Perilli (Pro Patria)||A|
|D'Orsi (Pavia)||D||Pedro Mendes (Parma)||D|
|Peluso (Juventus)||D||Pucino (Pescara)||D|
|Vrsajko (Genoa)||D||Rosi (Genoa)||D|
|Kurtic (Torino)||M||Rossini (Bari)||D|
|Lari (Correggese)||M||Ziegler (Juventus)||D|
|Pavoletti (Varese)||A||Aladje (Pro Vercelli)||M|
|Alexe (Dinamo Bucharest)||M|
|Gomez (Juve Stabia)||A|