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 Fantasy Recap – Round 18

Standings implications: Inter got the better of Napoli away, while Juventus tore apart Cagliari and so the duo remains attached to the hip atop of the table. Lazio mounted another late comeback, this time at the expense of Brescia, pushing their winning streak to nine matches. They gained ground on Roma, which instead were toppled at home by Torino, who got closer to the Europa League zone. Atalanta are now breathing down the Giallorossi’s neck after the second five-nothing rout in a row, with Parma being their latest victim. Milan and Sampdoria shared the spoils in a nil-nil bout. Verona outplayed SPAL, confirming their superior stature, while Genoa somehow defeated Sassuolo, abandoning the last position to the Estensi. Udinese eked out a very valuable W in Lecce, leaving the red area in the rearview mirrow.

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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 Injury and Suspension Report – Round 12

Atalanta: Josip Ilicic was handed a two-game suspension for kicking an opponent from behind. Duvan Zapata is not ready to come back from his thigh strain. Robin Gosens is dealing with sciatica. Ruslan Malinovskyi has a sore glute. Remo Freuler is bang up as well and the trio is legitimately questionable. 

Bologna: Roberto Soriano has been ruled out due to a knee bruise, Federico Santander because of a calf one. Takehiro Tomiyasu (thigh), Mitchell Dijks (toe contusion) and Mattia Destro (knee soreness) stay on the shelf. Continue reading

Serie A Weekly Tranfer Market Recap

A pretty quiet week, as it is usual in the final one of July and the trend will likely continue in the first one of August as well. The biggest acquisition was made by Napoli, which signed Eljif Elmas from Fenerbahce to add another talented youngster to their midfield.

Inter parted ways with Joao Miranda, who was solid for a pair of seasons, but faded once they brought in Stefan De Vrij last season and would have been further buried in the depth chart because of Diego Godin joining, so he opted to move to Jiangsu Suning. The Beneamata has Andrea Ranocchia as back-up and could decide to keep Alessandro Bastoni, who showed decently at Parma last season. Continue reading

Declan Rice shows he’s the midfielder West Ham need

Declan Rice

Before the Everton match last Sunday, West Ham’s midfield had looked lost on several occasions. With three points desperately needed, most Hammers supporters were wondering what Manuel Pellegrini would do to solve this issue, especially following the news that Jack Wilshere would be out injured. The Chilean’s answer was to go with three in the midfield with Mark Noble and Pedro Obiang deployed with Declan Rice just behind them.

With three defensively minded players in the centre of the pitch, many supporters were left wondering how things would work going forward. However, the team looked incredibly balanced, with Rice being the central cog which kept the team’s machine ticking over for the full 90 minutes. He screened the defence brilliantly throughout the match, covered his midfield partners if they were caught in possession and distributed the ball well whenever he had it at his feet.

With Rice playing such a disciplined and protective role, it allowed others around him to thrive. Noble and especially Obiang created a lot more than they normally would do going forward. However, with them still being defensively aware players they were also able to fill in when needed. When looking at the shape of the midfield when Everton were in possession, they were always a unit; close enough to support each other and double up but far enough to ensure that if the point of play was switched they could go out and cut out the opposition’s options. One thing that was always clear though is that everything centred around Rice.

This also helped Felipe Anderson, Marko Arnautovic and Andriy Yarmolenko to wreak havoc on the Everton defence. There have been games since his £42 million summer move where Anserson has looked ineffective, playing too deep so that he could help Arthur Masuaku defensively. This is partly because the number of attacking minded players Pellegrini had been using also forced them to focus on defensive duties. However, with Rice covering his team mates all the time, it gave the Brazilian and his team mates in the front three more freedom to focus on threatening the opposition. It is clear that this paid dividends, with Yarmolenko getting two goals, Arnautovic getting a goal and assist, while Anderson had Jonjoe Kenny pinned back for the majority of the game.

Rice got a lot of praise after the game, but what makes his mature performance even more impressive is the turbulent start to the season he had before this. He had started the first game of the season, but with the midfield being overrun by Liverpool’s, the 19-year-old was the man hauled off at half time with the side 2-0 down. Things didn’t improve after the substitution as the team ended up losing 4-0. He then didn’t even make the bench against AFC Bournemouth and was an unused substitute against Arsenal and Wolves. The only match he played in during that period was the 3-1 Carabao Cup victory against AFC Wimbledon.

Added to his lack of game time, he was at the centre of a media storm, which was whipped up after he decided to take time over deciding his international future. With three Republic of Ireland caps under his belt, the London-born player took the opportunity to mull over whether he wanted to represent the men in green or England. However, this is something which many including James McClean and Kevin Kilbane took exception to. For the teenager to recover from his early season disappointment and block those criticisms from his head, putting in such an assured performance in the first game since the international break, is testament to his attitude.

The next test for Rice and his team mates is Chelsea, the club that the youngster was released by when he was 14-years-old. With the Blues still maintaining a perfect record in the league, it is clearly going to be a big challenge for the Hammers. However, having impressed so much against another side in blue, Rice will see this as another opportunity to show the slot in midfield he occupied at Goodison Park should be his on a permanent basis.

 

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Game of the Weekend: Hammers Batter the Toffees

everton-fc-v-west-ham-united-premier-league-5b9e8aa514451e77c4000001

Matchweek 5 was a forward’s feast as the English Premier League roared back into action following the end of the first international break. Defending proved too complex a task for back lines around England, with the likes of Leicester, Everton, Cardiff, and Fulham all conceding 3 or more.

My match of the weekend though comes brought to you courtesy of the Hammers of East London who beat Everton 3-1 away at Goodison Park. Highlighting both midfield effort and clinical finishing, West Ham win their first win and points of the season, while earning likely no one other than die hard Hammers fans boatloads of fantasy points.
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