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’s Top Three Breakout Stars

Over the years, Serie A has acted as a home to some of the world’s best up and coming players. Whether it’s established talents like Matthijs de Ligt and Gigio Donnarumma or relatively new ones like Lautaro Martinez, Italy has proven to be a great platform for young players to earn their stripes. This season has been no different and a number of players have made the most of their opportunities and have taken their games to the next level.

Here are the Serie A’s three breakout stars from the 2019-2020 season.

Dejan Kulusevski – Parma: On loan from Atalanta, Kulusevski made the most of his temporary spell at Parma and was undoubtedly one of this season’s breakout stars. The Swedish international is capable of playing on the wing or centrally and has established himself as an elite creator with Parma. Playing in a counter-attacking system, Kulusevski’s pace, and spatial awareness have set him apart from the rest. His five goals and seven assists on the season indicate he’s been able to add end-product to his game, something his new employers, Juventus, will be hoping for. It will be interesting to see where Sarri sees the Atalanta youth product in his setup. Is it in the front three or in the midfield?

Whether he’s breaking the lines with an incisive pass or taking on his marker with speed, Kulusevski is one of the league’s trickiest customers. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Juventus dropped nearly 45 million euros for the 19-year-old. If he’s able to maintain his current form, there’s no reason why the Parma man won’t be able to make the transition to the big stage.

Jeremie Boga – Sassuolo: After countless loan spells, Boga made the move to Sassuolo from Chelsea and got the consistency he so desperately craved. With the neroverdi, Boga has been afforded freedom in the final third and often drifts centrally from a left-wing position. Much like Kulusevski, the former Chelsea youth product thrives in a free-roam role and has done so in De Zerbi’s free-flowing system. Many clubs are actively looking for a winger who can beat his man and Boga fits the bill perfectly.

Currently, Boga is averaging the most successful dribbles per game (4.3) in the league and represents a constant menace in the final third. While end-product was previously a concern, it seems Boga has put his finishing woes behind him, having scored five goals already on the season. If you needed any more proof of this, take a look at his curler against Torino from 25 yards out or his chip over Gianluigi Buffon. With many clubs after him, it’s time Boga seriously considers his future and continues his progression into an elite attacking midfielder.

Gaetano Castrovilli – Fiorentina: Moving away from the final third, Fiorentina’s Gaetano Castrovilli is one to watch and is arguably the biggest talent on this list. A natural mezz’ala by trade, Castrovilli combines an impressive range of passing with an uncanny ability to beat his man. Much like Boga, Castrovilli thrives with the ball at his feet and successfully completes 3.2 dribbles per game. In many ways, Castrovilli’s play is eerily reminiscent to that of a young Marchisio, albeit one that’s more comfortable taking on his man. Moving forward, he will need to add more end-product to his game, but his three goals and two assists on the season are a good start.

With a number of Italy’s clubs lining up for the young man, it seems Castrovilli’s days with Fiorentina are numbered. Simply put, Castrovilli has a lot to ponder going into the summer.

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Player Focus: Jeremie Boga

This season Serie A has seen a number of breakout stars make a name for themselves and attract interest from Europe’s elite. Sassuolo attacking midfielder Jeremie Boga is no different, and has established himself as one of the peninsula’s creative threats. Capable of beating the opposition with skill or finishing from range, Boga is a multi-faceted forward and is versatile enough to occupy multiple positions.

Under Roberto De Zerbi, the former Chelsea youth product has primarily featured from the left-wing but often drifts in centrally, interchanging positions with Juventus loanee Hamed Junior Traorè. Most recently, Sassuolo’s front-four combined to devastating effect against Torino, scoring two quick-fire goals and propelling them to victory over the Granata.

Boga would finish the game with a wonderfully taken goal and an assist on Berardi’s winner. Playing alongside Traorè and Berardi, Boga has really come into his own and has since been shortlisted by Italy’s elite, including Napoli and Milan among others.

While his end-product was a concern in the past, the Ivorian international has taken the step up this season and has already notched five goals for the neroverdi. Among those five goals is a carefully dispatched chip over the legendary Gianluigi Buffon in a draw against Juve and a perfectly-hit top corner effort against Torino’s Salvatore Sirigu most recently.

In addition to his increasing output, no player in Italy beats their man with as much ease as Boga does. Currently, the 23-year-old is averaging 4.3 successful dribbles per game and is proving to be a constant menace, be-it on the wing or through the middle. For context, Fiorentina Gaetano Castrovilli is the next player on the list with 3.1 successful dribbles per game. While his incredible turn of pace helps him on the counter, Boga’s main success with the ball at his feet comes from his innovation. Whether he has a tight angle or he’s given time and space, Boga is regularly scanning the field for the most dangerous option.

In the past, consistency has been an issue for the Sassuolo forward, but he has since hit his stride with Sassuolo. Playing under a progressive manager in De Zerbi, Boga has made the most of the freedom afforded to him and has filtered between the lines with regularity.

Francesco Caputo, Sassuolo’s number nine, is extremely mobile and often swaps positions with Boga, affording the winger further room in the eighteen-yard box. In this case, the player’s tactical versatility comes to the fore. Whether he’s stretching the opposition’s defence wide on the counter or finding a pocket of space in behind the midfield, Boga’s positional awareness is proving to be his ultimate asset.

Moving forward, many teams will be keeping tabs on Boga’s progress and will shortly be knocking at Sassuolo’s door with official bids. The important thing for the 23-year-old now is maintaining this level week in, week out and demonstrate he’s ready to take the next step in his career. Then it’s all about picking the right team to continue his development. While it’s still early days for Sassuolo and Boga, all the signs are pointing to a big-money move this summer.

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Transfer Watch: One Player For Each of Italy’s Big Six

With the transfer window set to re-open, Serie A clubs are taking to the mercato with differing objectives. While some will be looking for that one missing piece of the puzzle, others are in need of significant retooling. In any case, the January window tends to be quiet, but may present unique opportunities; opportunities clubs simply can’t turn down. Zlatan to Milan, for example.

Here’s one player for each of Italy’s big six.

Juventus - Arturo Vidal: The Italian champions are off to a relatively good start in the Maurizio Sarri era and are looking primed for a deep European run. Despite this, their midfield options leave a lot to be desired and are in dire need of reinforcement. Sami Khedira will spend most of the season sidelined while his stunt-double Emre Can appears to be on his way out.

New signings Adrien Rabiot and Aaron Ramsey haven’t exactly hit the ground running and will need more time to adapt to their new surroundings. As a result, the Chilean midfielder is an ideal target as he is already familiar with the club and will add some much-needed industry in the middle of the park. Juventus, however, will have to stave off significant interest from Inter. After all, it was Giuseppe Marotta who initially brought Vidal to Italy in the first place.

Inter – Dejan Kulusevski: The Atalanta loanee has been in great form this season and has emerged as a significant creative threat in the final third. While Parma will be reluctant to terminate his loan and Atalanta will be looking for an inflated fee, the Swedish international is everything Antonio Conte needs. Industrious off the ball and creative on it.

Currently, the nerazzurri are running with Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez, but will need to add depth if they want to compete with Juve’s deep squad. If he’s available, Inter should be all over it.

Roma – Andrea Petagna: Roma go into the New Year in a comfortable position, four points ahead of fifth-place Atalanta and into the knockouts of the Europa League. While Paulo Fonseca has done an incredible job with the tools at his disposal, the giallorossi could use some reinforcements in the January mercato, most notably at backup striker.

Nikola Kalinic frankly has not worked as Roma need someone more reliable in Dzeko’s absence. SPAL’s Andrea Petagna has demonstrated he’s worthy of a shot and has an abundance of experience in Serie A. Other options are Premier League newcomers Patrick Cutrone and Moise Kean. Both have struggled to adjust to life in England, but the latter is unlikely to move now with Ancelotti’s hiring. Cutrone, however, may be worth a punt.

Napoli – Sandro Tonali: While the Brescia midfielder is arguably on everyone’s Christmas wish-list, Napoli should do whatever it takes to acquire Tonali. Whether they secure him and loan him back directly to his parent club for the rest of the season, or slightly overpay to acquire him immediately, Tonali is exactly the type of player the partenopei need.

He is equally capable of dictating play as he is breaking it up and is a self-proclaimed Gattuso fan-boy. Many may liken him to Andrea Pirlo, but Tonali himself admits his style of play is closer to that of the Napoli tactician. Who knows if that plays into his decision? Regardless, it’s worth a shot.

Milan – Jeremie Boga: Milan have been crying out for a creative force down the left for years now and have yet to see anyone of note arrive. The Sassuolo midfielder is a constant menace in the final third and is regularly beating his man with ease, averaging 4.1 successful dribbles per game. At just 22, Boga would fit in with Milan’s supposed youth movement and should be available for a decent price.

In addition to playing on the left, he can also slot in as a trequartista should a new manager arrive in the summer and shake up the system. Boga to Milan is a no-brainer.

Lazio – Daniele Rugani: This seems like a long-shot, but Lazio could use another defender, especially if they want to compete with Juve and Inter for the Scudetto. Rugani desperately needs a change of scenery and could benefit from playing under the inspiring Simone Inzaghi. The biancocelesti could use another ball-playing centre-back alongside Francesco Acerbi, something Rugani proved to be at Empoli.

The Juventus man is currently out-of-favour in Turin and could be available on a short-term loan with an option to buy. Under the right conditions, Rugani to Lazio may just make enough sense.

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Sassuolo vs Napoli: Team news, stats and prediction

After spoiling AC Milan’s 120th birthday festivities last weekend at the San Siro, and winning midweek vs Brescia, Sassuolo return home to host Gennaro Gattuso’s Napoli where they hope to continue feeding the coin in the Azzurri’s rollarcoaster season. 

Life in Naples did not get off to a roaring start for new boss Gennaro Gattuso last weekend. Gervinho and Dejan Kulusevski sawed the Partenopei open for two goals, with the Ivorian delivering a gut wrenching blow in the dying embers of the match to pick up the 2-1 win for Parma. Certainly, the Calabrese will look to rebound quickly and please his new boss Aurelio De Laurentiis with a positive result this Sunday against a Sassuolo side on the rise.

TEAM NEWS

As Gattuso enters week two on the job, he is without question still feeling out the roster and trying to determine who fits best in his system. Though the 4-3-3 should remain largely unchanged, it will see at least one personnel switch at the back with Kalidou Koulibaly out for projected starter 23-year old Sebastiano Luperto.

The world class Senegalese defender has not enjoyed a strong season, uncharacteristically prone to errors and out of the form that stirred quite the debate on who was the best central defender in Europe today. After coming off with a hamstring injury, Koulibaly will need to be picked up by Luperto or Maksimovic and help restore some order to matters in the back where Napoli have leaked in far too many goals this season.

In the midfield, we can expect the same three of Piotr Zielinski, Allan and Fabian Ruiz to get starting nods, with perhaps the possibility of the Spaniard occupying the deeper role. Ruiz registered four shots last weekend vs Parma, two of which tested Luigi Sepe’s net. Spraying the ball around at 95% clip, expect the success of Napoli’s performance to rest on the shoulder of Ruiz.

Up front, Hirving Lozano is projected to replace José Callejon on the right wing, with Arkadiusz Milik and Lorenzo Insigne maintaining their starting positions from last weekend. Regardless of who spearheads Napoli’s attacking assault, they simply must improve their finishing and efficiency, concerns that have persisted for much of the campaign. In defeat to Parma, the San Paolo outfit launched 33 shots, only 8 of which found the target and 1 the back of the net. Napoli are getting in the right positions, but lack cutting edge and end product to make it all count.

Projected Sassuolo XI (4-2-3-1): Pegolo; Muldur, Romagna, Ferrari, Kyriakopoulos; Magnanelli, Locatelli; Berardi, Djuricic, Boga; Caputo.

Projected Napoli XI (4-3-3): Meret; Di Lorenzo, Manolas, Luperto, Rui; Allan, Ruiz, Zielinski; Lozano, Milik, Insigne.

STATS

In previous years, Napoli would have been the heavy favorite in this fixture, but both times and performances have surely changed. As for Sassuolo, Roberto De Zerbi’s young side is hitting quite the patch of form, even if they have not been picking up wins. During these previous four matches, the Neroverdi earned draws against the following sides: Juventus (A, 2-2), Cagliari (H, 2-2) and AC Milan (A, 0-0). They also enter this challenge having won midweek 2-0 over Brescia.

Here are a few more key facts below:

  • Napoli are unbeaten in their previous 6 meetings with Sassuolo, winning 3 and drawing 3.
  • The Partenopei have failed to pick up a win in their last 8 Serie A matches.
  • Sassuolo have conceded at least 2 goals in 5 of their last 6 home matches in Serie A.

PREDICTION

It is becoming increasingly difficult to read what type of Napoli will show up each weekend. There is a certain sharpness they have lacked the entire season under Carlo Ancelotti and the one match Gattuso has been in charge. If it is not the defence committing costly errors, it is the midfield or attacking letting them down. Collectively however, Napoli simply have left much to be desired and until they turn in a performance more in line with previous seasons, it is hard to expect them to handle matters at Mapei Stadium in convincing fashion. Having said all this, there is belief in Gattuso getting a reaction from his men after losing at the death last Saturday, which is why this has the potential to be a scrappy fight and one with plenty of goals. Napoli’s back four will have their hands full with Jeremie Boga, Domenico Berardi and Francesco Caputo, but this will be where the winless streak is snapped.

Sassuolo 2-3 Napoli

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From scapegoat to super-sub: How Felipe Caicedo became an unlikely Lazio talisman

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In Italy, it’s called the ‘Zona Cesarini’. In Rome, it’s fast becoming known as the ‘Zona Caicedo’.

The expression refers to the dying moments of a game, and derives from former Juventus midfielder Renato Cesarini’s knack for scoring very late goals back in the 1930s.

Ninety years later, Lazio striker Felipe Caicedo is becoming comparably synonymous with a special ability to put the ball in the net when all seems lost.

The Ecuadorian has three goals in his last three Serie A games. That’s good form for a striker by any standards, but it becomes an exceptional return when you consider that the earliest he entered any of those matches was the 79th minute.

Continue reading

AC Milan 0-0 Sassuolo: Tops and flops for the Rossoneri

Despite several chances and 12 shots on target, AC Milan failed to beat Sassuolo in front of a big crowd at the San Siro, as the club was celebrating 120 years of existence. Considering how the game panned out, the Rossoneri will be disappointed that they didn’t claim all three points. 

Tops

Hernandez: The Frenchman continued his good form on Sunday afternoon, running up and down the left flank as per usual. Unlike against Bologna, his positioning looked very good in the defensive phase as well, which really has been his weakness this season. As a result of this, he was able to win back the ball a lot. Continue reading

AC Milan 0-0 Sassuolo: Rossoneri held to draw as Leao hits woodwork twice

AC Milan failed to make it three consecutive wins as they were held to a 0-0 draw against Sassuolo this afternoon. The Rossoneri had several good chances to secure the three points, but just didn’t have enough composure and luck as they struck the woodwork twice. 

The first 30 minutes of the game offered very scrappy play, as neither side managed to establish themselves at both ends of the pitch. This resulted in lots of space for both teams, in attack as well as in defence. However, the lack of composure was evident as nothing big came out of it in terms of chances.  Continue reading

AC Milan vs. Sassuolo: Team news, stats and prediction

Following two consecutive wins, for only the second time this season, AC Milan seem to be on the up. Certainly, the performances have improved over the last few weeks and on Sunday, they will be hoping to make it three consecutive wins for the first time this season. 

The Rossoneri will take on Sassuolo at San Siro in front of 60K fans, celebrating the club’s 120th anniversary. Hopefully, as it will be a special occasion, they can make it even better with three points, which would further see them climb the standings after a tough start. Continue reading

Serie A Game of the Round – Juventus vs Sassuolo

Juventus’ first faux pas at home came at the hands of Sassuolo in a great match, which had the proper amount of fun and signifcance, with no disrepect to the fantastic Cagliari-Sampdoria thriller.

The Bianconeri came into the fixture having won four in a row, the most recent out thanks to a late surge against Atalanta, while the Emiliani were pipped at the post by Lazio last week and in general had showed improvements over the last four rounds.

Maurizio Sarri picked Gonzalo Higuain and Federico Bernardeschi over Paulo Dybala and Aaron Ramsey up front, with Cristiano Ronaldo made the XI for the second game in a row after knee injury. Continue reading