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Sassuolo will be looking to continue their fairy tale, however the Europa League could prove a step too far, writes Ian Kerr.

Sassuolo march on

Sassuolo will look to build upon last term, where a 3-1 win over Inter on the last day added to Juve’s Coppa Italia success, saw the Neroverdi finish sixth (their best ever Serie A finish). The minnows beat Milan to qualify for the Europa League for the first time in the club’s history.

Star striker Domenico Berardi has stayed at the Mapei Stadium after turning down a move to champions Juventus, as well as interest from Inter and sides abroad.

Midfielder Alfred Duncan has been signed outright from Sampdoria after spending last season on loan with the Reggio-Emilia side. The same goes for forward Matteo Politano, who has been signed from Roma after a loan deal.

Unfortunately, Croatian Sime Vrsaljko has left for last season’s Champions League finalists Atletico Madrid and Nicola Sansone also moved to Spain for Villarreal. Sassuolo have brought in highly-rated Spanish right back Pol Lirola from Juve on a two-year-loan and Utrecht central defender Timo Letschert to plug the gap.

The Neroverdi have already made their debut in the third qualifying round of this season’s Europa League, beating Swiss side Luzern 4-1 on aggregate over the two legs. In the fourth and final qualifying round they will face Red Star Belgrade for a prestigious place in the group stage.

From the fans’ perspective they are in dreamland right now and will be hoping to take their Europa League adventure forward, however this competition (should they qualify) can be a double-edged sword in terms of having a small squad and may well prove to be a hindrance to their league form.

Coach - Eusebio Di Francesco

The 46-year-old has done a sterling job with the Neroverdi since joining ahead of the 2012-13 Serie B season. The former Roma midfielder took the minnows to the top flight and established them there, for this will be their fourth consecutive campaign in Serie A. He rejected big club interest to pen a new three-year contract.

Star player - Domenico Berardi

The 22-year-old forward is the undoubted star of the team, as his goals are so important. In the last three seasons he has scored 38 goals and assisted 23 times in 90 league matches. He also scored three of his side’s four goals against Luzern in the Europa League. Don’t be surprised to see Berardi receive a call-up by new Italy CT Giampiero Ventura.

Best buy - Alfred Duncan

Signing the Ghanaian permanently could prove to be an astute bit of business. He gives the midfield security and energy due to his athletic nature. He can also score, arriving late at the edge of the box. Who could forget that goal against Milan? Also weighed in with four assists last term.

Azzurri prospect - Francesco Acerbi

The central defender narrowly missed out on being a part of Antonio Conte’s Euro 2016 squad. Still a relative youngster in Italy’s defence at 28, he would be an ideal replacement for Andrea Barzagli. His discipline is highlighted by the fact he was booked only three times last season.

One who got away - Khouma Babacar

The Fiorentina forward was linked to Sassuolo as a target should Domenico Berardi leave the club. With the Italian staying, talk of the Senegalese youngster has disappeared. He has 13 league goals in 42 appearances. A partnership of Babacar and Gregoire Defrel could well be seen in the future if the team can’t hold onto Berardi.

Probable line-up

Consigli; LIROLA, Cannvaro, Acerbi, Peluso; DUNCAN, Magnanelli, Biondini; Berardi, Defrel, Politano

Prediction - Mid-table