Replacing Eusebio Di Francesco, Cristian Bucchi steps into the Sassuolo role after a misfiring season, writes Matthew Santangelo
The 2016-17 season had promised to be a memorable one, as Sassuolo were welcomed into European competition for the first time through the Europa League. Unfortunately, the over-achieving Neroverdi’s luck fizzled out, failing to escape the Group Stages and finishing 12th in the league table.
This past June, Sassuolo replaced popular Roman tactician Eusebio Di Francesco with Cristian Bucchi who, off a successful fourth place finish in Serie B last season as Perugia boss, takes to the post for his maiden top flight campaign.
The losses of two key men, though expected, leave voids in the starting XI. Top scorer Gregoire Defrel and Italy Under-21 starlet Lorenzo Pellegrini followed Di Francesco to the Capital, placing the Mapei club in a bind. However, to say the Reggio-Emilia outfit is devoid of talent is simply false, as several fresh faces work their way into the fold.
Up front for Sassuolo is returnee striker Diego Falcinelli, who erupted in a big way last season on loan with Crotone, an inspiring side who narrowly avoided relegation back to Serie B. Crotone rode Falcinelli’s impressive 13 goals over 3,000 total minutes of action through the final matchday and ensured the Calabrese club’s survival. Now, he returns to Sassuolo where Bucchi can work off a rotation between Falcinelli and veteran Alessandro Matri to anchor the attack.
Out wide, Federico Ricci made his move from Roma permanent, bolstering the flanks with added prowess and life to relieve some of the pressure on star man Domenico Berardi. With a limited budget, Sassuolo elected to further invest in youth, signing 20-year old midfielder Francesco Cassata from Juventus and the highly-rated central defender Riccardo Marchizza, who heads over from the Giallorossi. The former could slide into a midfield searching for creativity in the wake of Pellegrini’s departure, while the latter bolsters the backline with the expectation to play an important role this season alongside the experienced duo of Paolo Cannavaro and Francesco Acerbi.
Bucchi intends to limit the changes – tactically speaking - by implementing a similar 4-3-3 formation that’s been ingrained in the club for years under Di Francesco. Mixing veteran experience with budding youth, Sassuolo’s approach to a successful season will require a collective effort from each and every individual. Captain Francesco Magnanelli and defender Acerbi shoulder the brunt of leadership responsibilities. Bucchi will lean on the two to maintain order and ensure the side can effectively carry on without Di Francesco.
As always, much depends on Berardi and whether or not he remains at the club amid transfer interest abroad. Matri confessed it’s a delicate situation. “As a friend, I hope he joins a big club. As a teammate, I hope he remains with us.”
Provided Berardi continues with Sassuolo and harnesses his temper, the 23-year-old’s offensive outputs could ultimately decide their fate this upcoming season.
Lack of depth and the inability to properly rotate ultimately brought more harm than good last year for Sassuolo. Although supporters would have loved to watch their club play meaningful European matches, in the end they will benefit from its absence on the schedule, as their efforts can be fully directed towards getting the project back on track with a comfortable mid-table finish.
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