Since they were promoted in Serie A in 2013, Sassuolo have always been a very interesting team to watch because of the tantalizing talent of Domenico Berardi and the tactical brilliancy of Eusebio Di Francesco. The coach was deservedly hired by Roma this summer, while the forward has struggled to come back to full form after a knee sprain last season and spent time on the shelf this year as well.
Under Di Francesco, the Neroverdi have always had a big-team flair: their playing style was proactive, a little daring, with a high defensive line and and an emphasis on quick passing and ball possession. It did not immediately work, and the coach was briefly fired in the first season in Serie A, but once they avoided relegation, they managed to assert themselves in the top half of the table, even earning a Europa League spot two seasons ago, always staying true to their identity.
They have hired Cristian Bucchi this summer, who was coming off an excellent stint at Perugia. At first, the new manager maintained Di Francesco’s typical 4-3-3: they drew with Genoa and lost three-nothing against Torino. It turns out that such scheme is highly automated and it is tough to make it work without its creator at the helm. Roma had a little trouble incorporating it, but then things clicked.
Without Berardi, Bucchi moved on to a 3-5-2, which is more natural to him. They had a good outing against Atalanta and Juventus, but were defeated both times because right now those teams are clearly above Sassuolo’s level. They collected three precious points in Cagliari, but then lost to Bologna at home due to a late goal, but the performance was uninspiring, and then they were battered by Lazio despite finding the opening score: it ended with a 6-1 at Olimpico.
No tactic guarantees you success: the players and the attitude play the biggest part in succeeding in football. But with the three-man defence, Bucchi not only moved away from Di Francesco’s formation, but also from the whole mentality his squad had. Right now, the Emiliani are no different from other low-table teams, who rely heavily on defending and counter-attacks. It might be enough to avoid relegation because they have some above average players, but it certainly takes away the shine they had in previous seasons. The most noble part of the table is a mirage at this point.
Misfortunes always pile up in rough times, so they have lost Timo Letschert for a good chunck of the season due to a torn ACL and they will have to hope Edoardo Goldaniga manages to come back quickly from a sports hernia surgery, otherwise they do not have three natural centre-backs in the roster. Other than some decent showings by Stefano Sensi, Pol Lirola and Claud Adjapong, most players have underperformed. Domenico Berardi has scored only once in five games and does not look at ease in his new position as second-striker, while Diego Falcinelli is in a slump. Alessandro Matri can not be the one carrying them. Some of the leaders of the locker room spoke very highly of Bucchi and his coaching acumen, but now they need to help him on the pitch because he is walking on thin ice: the next three fixtures against Chievo, Spal and Udinese will decide his future.
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