Serie A Fantasy Recap – Round Four

Standings implications: Milan is atop of the table after convincingly besting Inter in the Derby della Madonnina. They are followed by Sassuolo, who staged an furious comeback against Bologna. Napoli made a statement by trouncing Atalanta, while Juventus could not get past Crotone. Lazio got stunned by Sampdoria on the road. Fiorentina wasted an early two-notching lead versus Spezia, while Cagliari outlasted Torino. Udinese nabbed their first points in dramatic fashion and Roma outgunned a fiery Benevento.  Continue reading

Sassuolo demonstrating European credentials early on

Since Roberto De Zerbi’s appointment, Sassuolo has played a scintillating brand of football, predicated on heavy possession and the intricate movement of their front three. The veteran tactician has successfully imparted his footballing philosophy on the Neroverdi in recent years and have since emerged as legitimate contenders for Europa League football. Sassuolo has already picked up seven out of a possible nine points to start the season, recording consecutive 4-1 wins in league play, indicating their European credentials.

While Jeremie Boga has missed his side’s first three games through injury, Sassuolo have not missed a beat. Last season’s standouts – Domenico Berardi and Francesco Caputo – have picked up from where they left off, scoring goals in their last two games. The latter most recently recorded a brace against Crotone, fresh off receiving yet another Azzurri callup.

Caputo joined Sassuolo last season from a relegated Empoli side for a mere 7.5 million euros and is proving to be the bargain of the summer. The veteran hitman notched a record 21 goals last season, trailing only Romelu Lukaku, Cristiano Ronaldo and Ciro Immobile. Caputo has carved out an important role for himself in De Zerbi’s system, regularly interchanging with Sassuolo’s wingers both in and out of possession.

Caputo has demonstrated his keen eye for goal and has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. Most recently, Caputo’s deadly finishing was on display after being played through on goal against Crotone. The 33-year-old made no mistake, lobbing the keeper with great aplomb and bringing his tally to three on the season already.

Berardi, on the other hand, opened the scoring against the newly-promoted outfit on Saturday and was dominant throughout. The Sassuolo winger has emerged as one of the league’s most consistent creators from out wide and is coming off a career year, in which he scored 14 goals and registered 10 assists. Berardi is on pace for a similar season already and will surely begin attracting interest from Italy’s top sides.

The 26-year-old has been courted by Italy’s traditional giants in the past but has regularly rejected them in favor of staying with Sassuolo. As De Zerbi’s men look to return to Europe, Berardi may just remain for the long run and establish himself as a club legend.

Beyond Sassuolo’s dynamic frontline, Manuel Locatelli has stood out in the early goings of the season. The former Milan midfielder was heavily linked with a move to Juventus earlier in the summer but has since decided to remain with Sassuolo. Locatelli’s passing range was on display once again against Crotone, delivering an inch-perfect switch of play on the Neroverdi’s first goal. Locatelli was later rewarded for his dominant performance, notching Sassuolo’s fourth and final goal.

De Zerbi relies on Locatelli to dictate the tempo in the middle of the park and supply his front three regularly. The Italian international has demonstrated he’s more than ready to take the next step in his career and dominate the proceedings in the middle of the park, week in, week out. As the season wears on, expect Locatelli’s name to emerge atop many sides’s mercato wishlists.

While Sassuolo’s start is encouraging, it’s important to exhibit caution. After all, they’ve beaten the two newly promoted sides and played out to a draw against Cagliari. Regardless, there is no reason why De Zerbi’s men shouldn’t be aiming for Europa League football at the very minimum and have a talented foundation in place for years to come. It may be early days, but Sassuolo are establishing themselves as the Serie A’s latest darlings and have shown no signs of slowing down.

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Scouting Report: Manuel Locatelli

Manuel Locatelli has adapted wonderfully to life under Roberto De Zerbi at Sassuolo and has since attracted interest from Italy’s giants, including Juventus. According to recent reports, however, the Neroverdi are reluctant to part ways with their midfield maestro and have slapped a 40 million euros price-tag on Locatelli. But who exactly is the Sassuolo man?

Player profile:

Age: 22

Position: Centre midfielder

Height: 185 cm

Nationality: Italy

Locatelli has emerged as one of Italy’s premier talents this season, dominating the proceedings in the middle of the park. Despite his imposing physique, the former Milan man is extremely technical and thrives with the ball at his feet. Locatelli combines a wide range of passing with impressive vision and has since established himself as one of Serie A’s finest registas. The 22-year-old has regularly proven to be a willing runner in the midfield and is unafraid to jump into a tackle.

In fact, Locatelli was recently called up by Roberto Mancini to Italy’s senior national team setup, rewarding his good season at Sassuolo. Locatelli initially came through Milan’s youth ranks, breaking into the first team in 2016. The 22-year-old spent three years with the Rossoneri, making 48 appearances before being loaned out to Sassuolo.

His move to Sassuolo helped Locatelli get his career back on track and develop into one of Italy’s finest midfielders. Roberto De Zerbi’s possession-based system has undoubtedly helped him in this respect and makes the most of Locatelli’s qualities. The former Milan man averaged an impressive 88% pass completion percentage last season and registered five assists, indicating he’s slowly adding end product to his game. In addition, Locatelli averaged 1.5 key passes per game last season and combined wonderfully with Sassuolo’s dynamic front three.

Jeremie Boga, Francesco Caputo, and Domenico Berardi formed one of the league’s deadliest frontlines last season, interchanging dangerously at will in the final third. With Locatelli and Pedro Obiang behind them, the Neroverdi emerged as one of Italy’s most intriguing sides, imposing their style of play wherever they went. As next season approaches, Sassuolo will be eager to retain their star men, especially Locatelli.

Locatelli has played an integral role in their recent rise, acting as the anchor in midfield. While the links to Italy’s giants persist, it will be interesting to see if the former Milan man will take the leap. If his recent form is anything to go by, however, Locatelli has proven he has all the qualities to do so and carve an important role out for himself at his future club.

Juventus have reportedly been keeping tabs on the 22-year-old and have had several meetings with Sassuolo. The Bianconeri are currently in the midst of rejuvenating their midfield, adding the likes of Weston McKennie and Arthur. Locatelli’s arrival would represent a continued shift in transfer policy for the Italian champions, highlighting their desire to revolutionize their ageing roster and reduce the wage bill.

While Locatelli may not be ready for a starting role with Andrea Pirlo’s men, the Sassuolo man is more than ready to play significant minutes and offer some much-needed quality in the midfield. Juventus struggled last season in the middle of the park and could use a midfielder of Locatelli’s ilk.

Locatelli’s recent call-up indicates he’s ready to take the next step in his career and become a regular with Gli Azzurri. The midfielder has represented Italy across all youth levels and has demonstrated he can cut it at the highest level. As a move to Juventus beckons, Locatelli will be eager to translate his recent form with Sassuolo to a bigger club and keep establishing himself as one of Italy’s most promising young midfielders.

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De Zerbi’s Sassuolo Starting to take Shape

When Roberto De Zerbi was hired by Sassuolo, much was expected from the veteran Italian tactician. After all, like Maurizio Sarri, De Zerbi emphasizes the importance of positional play and attractive football above all else. In his first season with the club, the neroverdi finished in mid-table and showed glimpses of the football De Zerbi was hoping to implement. This season, Sassuolo are once again safe from the drop, and appear to be slowly hitting form.

Sassuolo are unbeaten in their last three and most recently dispatched Roma, scoring four past the giallorossi. While De Zerbi’s men have a well-rounded roster filled with young talents across the board, it’s the exploits of their front-four that has made the difference.

The Domenico Berardi and Jeremie Boga partnership is one of the league’s most devastating one-two punches out wide and both are comfortable taking up central positions, much to the dismay of their markers. Filip Djuricic and Hamed Junior Traore have taken turns playing as the side’s trequartista and have done an excellent job linking the midfield to attack.

In recent times, Djuricic has taken his game to the next level as evidenced by his goal and assist and overall impressive outing against Roma. When the Serbian is not on his game, Juventus loanee Traore duly steps in and is already up to three goals on the season. The 19-year-old made a name for himself at Empoli last season and is one of the league’s most promising young talents.

Veteran striker Ciccio’ Caputo leads the line to devastating effect and has built off last season, where he made a name for himself, netting 16 goals for the relegated Empoli. This season, the 32-year-old has already registered 10 goals and is well on his way to besting last year’s tally. If he can continue his goalscoring exploits, he may just be an outside bet for Mancini’s Euro 2020 roster. After all, beyond Immobile, Italy lack true goalscorers and Caputo could come in handy despite being on the wrong side of thirty.

When Sassuolo’s front four are on form, they’re difficult to stop and interchange positions wonderfully in De Zerbi’s free-flowing system. Behind them, Manuel Locatelli and Pedro Obiang, two well-rounded registas, provide the platform and passing range the side needs to stretch the opposition. Both players are tidy in possession and are unafraid to jump into the tackle when need be. If Sassuolo can keep this core together and De Zerbi can keep implementing his ideas, the neroverdi may just make a European push as of next season.

While their defence remains error-prone, it features young players with high upside like Jeremie Toljan, Marlon Santos, Fillippo Romagna and Georgios Kyriakopoulos. Turkish defender Mert Müldür is another young defender worth keeping an eye on as the season progresses even if he hasn’t featured much as of yet. Given their inexperience at the back, Sassuolo most recently added Vlad Chiriches to their rearguard, in hopes of adding stability and leadership to an overall impressive core.

As the season draws to a close and with safety from the drop no longer a concern, De Zerbi can freely introduce his ideals and set a solid foundation for years to come. While they are far from achieving what Atalanta have done under Gian Piero Gasperini, gli Orobici have provided a blueprint Sassuolo can follow. In many ways, De Zerbi’s men have what it takes as they possess a host of budding young talents ready to take the next step in their careers.

With De Zerbi at the helm, the neroverdi have one of the league’s most progressive managers and are primed to take the leap from the mid-table to contending for European places. Whether they can keep hold of their manager and young players is another story altogether. But one thing’s for sure: Sassuolo are on the right track and remain one of the peninsula’s most interesting young sides.

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Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round 22

Sassuolo-Roma: an early red card took the Neroverdi out of the Sampdoria game pretty early, but they still came away with a decent point, even though they were understandably unable to do much on offense. In the previous round, Domenico Berardi and Jeremie Boga propelled them past Torino the previous week and they have an intriguing front-line when everybody is healthy and on his day, since they are quite moody, the concerns are more on the other end and the suspension of Federico Peluso adds to those. Francesco Caputo has not scored since mid-December after a fast start, while their duo of no.10s Hamed Traore and Filip Djuricic, who generally alternate, have been able to do a decent amount of damage. Manuel Locatelli and Pedro Obiang/Francesco Magnanelli rarely attack due to their defensive position, they have combined for just one goal, while Jeremy Toljan and Grigoris Kyriakopoulos are decent fullbacks, but the match-up is pretty hard. Continue reading

Serie A Injury and Suspension Report – Round 19

Atalanta: a clean bill of health for the Goddess, but Musa Barrow and Roger Ibanez have not been called up because they are about to transfer.

Bologna: Blerin Dzemaili will be back after missing one with the flu, Ladislav Krejci is inching closer to recovering from a knee bruise. Gary Medel suffered a hamstring strain and will miss three weeks. Stefano Denswil has been ruled out. 

Brescia: Andrea Cistana and Sandro Tonali are suspended. Alfredo Donnarumma and Emanuele Ndoj are expected to return after skipping one with muscular ailments. Daniele Dessena is almost ready after a malleolous fracture.

Cagliari: Fabrizio Cacciatore picked up a thigh problem that will force him to sit out the upcoming game, likewise Federico Mattiello. Luca Ceppitelli (foot) has yet to be cleared, while Alessio Cragno, even if he is not ready to play yet, has been called up for the first time since offseason shoulder surgery.  Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round 17

Fiorentina-Roma: with Federico Chiesa and Gaetano Castrovilli at half service due to physical problems, Dusan Vlahovic stepped up and saved the day against Inter. The Serbian prospect had gotten some decent run before but without doing much with it and instead delivered off the bench. Chiesa and Castrovilli are considered day-to-day and they are their two most best contributors, so their level of competitiveness will hinge on their recoveries. Kevin-Prince Boateng got the start after a while and had only minor chances, but they might have to rely him a lot in this one and he is listed as a midfielder, which makes him a bit intriguing depending on their injury situation. The other okay elements like Marco Benassi and Erick Pulgar have been silent for a long while. Dalbert has outplayed Pol Lirola as far as fullbacks are concerned. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round 15

Inter-Roma: the Nerazzurri keep riding their elite striking duo and Lautaro Martinez has been balling out over the last few matches, as he is coming off two braces in a row. Romelu Lukaku did not score last week, but he has already reached the double-digit threshold in the domestic league. Antonio Candreva and Marcelo Brozovic both dished an assist in the last game and they are the two members of the supporting cast who are more likely to pick up bonus points. Matias Vecino has an history of scoring in big games and he has done some damage recently. Their back-line, instead, has not been airtight in the past couple of months, but Stefan De Vrij showed up big on the other end. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round 14

Juventus-Sassuolo: Cristiano Ronaldo came back midweek and now it will be interesting to see whether or not he will be load managed in Serie A player after the knee injury. Nevertheless, Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala have been excellent in relief and have been able to contribute also when coming off the bench in their standard configuration. Douglas Costa got hurt again, which takes away their most explosive option at no.10, so it will Federico Bernardeschi and Aaron Ramsey running the show there for a while, but they both have not done damage in a while. Ramsey has the most upside in the duo. Khedira is fading and, while Rodrigo Bentancur and Blaise Matuidi are serviceable contributors, they are not strong fantasy options. It could be instead the right kind of match-up for Miralem Pjanic to have a meaningful offensive role, while Juan Cuadrado has been a pretty good fullback for a while now. Continue reading

Serie A Fantasy Preview – Round 13

Atalanta-Juventus: after producing at an historic pace through the first ten weeks, the Goddess failed to score in their last two matches against Sampdoria and Cagliari. Josip Ilicic and Ruslan Malinovskyi are suspended, but the Slovenian attacker has appealed, but they will get a boost from the return of Duvan Zapata, who is expected to feature at least in limited capacity. He notched six goals in seven appearances before getting hurt. Luis Muriel is no longer red-hot, as he has not found the target in the last three rounds, but he will be again their main scoring option from the jump. Alejandro Gomez is going through something similar, but he always has loads of potential as an assist-man. Mario Pasalic is likely to move to the hole and he can pretty sneaky there. Robin Gosens has been their best wing-back so far, but also Timothy Castagne has hit the net once. Continue reading