Coppa Italia: Round of 16 / Team rating: [6/10] / Top scorer: Domenico Berardi (8) / Europe: N/A
Sassuolo had a sensational start to the season that had some suggesting they could challenge for Europe, but enthusiasm and victories quickly waned, writes Richard Gyasi.
There is no better start to a season than to get a win over of one the prospective title contenders and Sassuolo made their campaign debut with a bang, beating Inter 1-0 at the Mapei Stadium. It was a sign of things to come, as in those opening months they had a 5-3 thriller with Genoa, only narrowly lost 2-1 to Juventus, sweeping Empoli and SPAL aside.
The arrival of Kevin-Prince Boateng had a profound impact on the team in attack. Despite spending his prime years at other clubs, the Ghana international is a strong character who gives you presence upfront. His hold-up play and ability to create opportunities helped earlier in the campaign, but when the call surprisingly came from Barcelona in January, he had to take it.
Sassuolo never quite recovered after that and their season rather petered out. Impressive ideas like bringing in Khouma Babacar from Fiorentina, Barcelona defender Marlon and Italy Under-20 international Gianluca Scamacca never really made the impact people expected.
A quick glance at the statistics would suggest the Neroverdi made no progress at all under Roberto De Zerbi, as they once again finished on 43 points. However, the biggest transformation was in their approach to the game, as highlighted by 53 goals scored compared to just 29 last season. It’s true, they conceded 60 goals, but that was only one more than last term, so at least they gave as good as they got. It was also more entertaining for the fans and for a few months Sassuolo were the hipster’s team of choice, at least until Atalanta took flight.
The Coach: Roberto De Zerbi
De Zerbi is a proponent of positive attacking football, dominating possession, creating chances and above all being organised off the ball. His preferred formation is 4-3-3, earning comparisons with Maurizio Sarri and Pep Guardiola. Occasionally he switches to 3-4-3 to have more numbers in midfield.
Player of the Year: Domenico Berardi
It was thought he had finally reached maturity at the age of 24, as he contributed eight Serie A goals and four assists. There were more consistent performances from Berardi than we’ve ever seen, but the old problems reappeared in the final round with his red card for a brawl against Atalanta. The potential is still there and so are question marks over his temperament.
Highlight: Sassuolo 5-3 Genoa
An eight-goal thriller. It wasn’t just excitement of seeing the goals rain in, but the manner in which they reacted when Genoa took the lead. This match probably showed that this Sassuolo team have got goals in them. Khouma Babacar's back-heel assist to Boateng was incredible.
Nightmare: Sassuolo 2-2 Bologna
The worst miss of Sassuolo’s campaign and probably the entire league happened in their 2-2 draw at home to Bologna. Federico Di Francesco and Domenico Berardi broke from a counter after Bologna narrowly missed a goal from a corner kick. Both players had only ‘keeper Lukasz Skorupski to beat, but failed to find the net.
Did You Know?
- Sassuolo found the net with 19 different players in Serie A this season, more than any other side in Europe’s top five leagues.
- Despite conceding 60 goals, the Neroverdi kept four clean sheets in their last nine rounds.
- Domenico Berardi played 177 Serie A games for Sassuolo, with 55 goals, 39 assists, 52 yellow cards and five straight reds.