Next season sees a first in Serie A with the debut of Sassuolo in the top flight following their promotion from Serie B. The tiny club from the north of Italy have spent the majority of their 72 years contesting in Italy’s lower leagues but a recent turn of events has seen them gradually climb up the leagues to Serie A. For head coach Eusebio Di Francesco and owner Carlo Rossi it is a dream come true after a hard fought campaign last year saw them pip the likes of Empoli, Brescia and Livorno to the post. It’s a testament to a team that features no familiar players yet went on to win thanks mostly to Di Francesco’s tactical tinkering and their strong squad determination.
Having scored 78 goals in 42 games in the league, you would have been forgiven for thinking that one player, likely a striker led the way in terms of overall goals scored but the truth is that it was a group effort, with goals from all areas of the park. Strikers Richmond Boakye, Leonardo Pavoletti and Domenico Berardi all finished the season on eleven goals each but it was the contribution of others that helped springboard Sassuolo into Italy’s top flight. Six goals from midfield maestro Simone Missiroli including vital strikes against Livorno and Bari ease their passage towards the top of the league but it was defender Emanuele Terranova, who remarkably contributed eleven goals that has grabbed the most attention. His goals, mostly from headers this season, has more than paid back the €400k that Sassuolo laid out to sign him back in July 2011 from Palermo. Now a permanent fixture at the heart of Di Francesco’s defence, Terranova will get his chance to pit himself against the likes of Mario Balotelli, Mario Gomez and Juventus new strike duo of Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente in what is likely to be one of many David vs. Goliath style clashes for Sassoulo next season.
The challenge for Sassuolo next season will be to avoid the drop and Di Francesco has wasted no time in strengthening his squad to do just that. No stranger to Serie A after spending a majority of his playing career in that league with Piacenza and Roma, the manager has brought in several new faces such as goalkeeper Antonio Roasti from Napoli, defenders Jonathan Rossini and Francesco Acerbi from Sampdoria and Genoa respectively as well as the impressive young Simone Zaza from Juventus on a co-ownership deal, who hit 18 goals in Serie B last season with Ascoli. But Di Francesco knows that too many new faces may result in a breakdown of the team spirit they developed so well last season on route to promotion. It will be a fine balance for the manager as he looks forward to his first crack at managing a Serie A team.
Early indications are that Sassoulo may surprise a few next season after several impressive pre-season friendlies including holding current champions Juventus to a 0-0 draw in 90 minutes on Tuesday before eventually suffering defeat during a penalty shoot-out. But Di Francesco has seen enough of his players in the pre-season to believe that it’s not a foregone conclusion that his team will drop back down again. In May 2014, we will all find out if Di Francesco and his players have provided another first by staying up in their debut season in Serie A.