Apart from Atalanta, Sassuolo is a dark horse team that plays the most exciting football in Serie A. I Neroverdi takes on the league bravely, is loyal to his possession-based play and build-up from behind against anyone. Until giornata 33, that approach took them to eighth place, three points adrift of the UEFA Conference League zone.
The coach, Roberto De Zerbi, is the brains behind Sassuolo’s expansive play. At the Mapei Stadium, he confirmed his status as an idealistic Italian talented coach. Since replacing Giuseppe Iachini in 2018, De Zerbi has restored Sassuolo’s status as a small, talkative team. After finishing 11th in the debut season, the 41-year-old coach brought I Neroverdi to eighth in 2019/20.
He has indeed not been able to match the achievements of Eusebio Di Francesco who brought Sassuolo to number six and qualify for the Europa League. However, De Zerbi received widespread praise for his coaching vision. His success in implementing attacking football and polishing the players’ abilities created a sensation of its own. Josep Guardiola even praised him. The Manchester City coach praised De Zerbi’s style of play. “If I see Sassuolo in Serie A, I feel they are a positive team who are very attack-minded,” Pep said in Okotber 2020.
Inviting and Short Pressing via short passes
In Serie A 2020/21, Sassuolo is the team with the highest ball possession record (60.5%). This record is a consequence of their patient play which relies on short passes and rotating positions. I Neroverdi also became the team with the second highest bait frequency in Serie A with an accuracy of 86.6%. Sassuolo recorded the highest number of short passes with an accuracy of 92%. They also recorded the second highest number of medium passes (passes passing 15-30 yards).
On the other hand, Sassuolo rarely tried long passes. In Serie A 2020/21, they are the team with the fewest long passes attempts. Sassuolo’s pass statistics were in stark contrast. This shows the idealism of Domenico Beradi et al and their expertise in executing it. I Neroverdi was loyal to gradually roll the ball and insisted on dodging long passes. This season, De Zerbi is still relying on a 4-2-3-1 formation to execute his tactics. Sometimes, he changes the formation to 3-4-3, depending on the availability of personnel.
At Sassuolo, De Zerbi instructed his team to build up attacks patiently from the back. The back four were actively involved in the build-up, circulating the ball between them. Two midfield pivots, usually Manuel Locatelli and Maxime Lopez, actively help the back line in this phase. Two midfielders are here to add bait options for the back line. They were also the key to progressing the ball into the final third.
This scheme is intended to invite opponents to press to the back line. If the opponent presses in a high area then a gap will be created behind the pressing line. The players try to exploit the open space with short passes combined with the movement of the players. The Sassuolo players also carried out this idea well. Defender I Neroverdi recorded a high frequency of passes. The Sassuolo defender, either cover or center-back, has averaged passes ranging from 53.4 to 82 per match.
When the pressing line has been cut short, Sassuolo will try to feed their front four. The former AC Milan player, Manuel Locatelli played an important role in this phase. He recorded the highest average passes to the final third (8.3 per game) in Sassuolo’s squad. Tandem Locatelli’s Maxime Lopez also averaged the second-highest final third (6.97 per game).
The four forwards, usually consisting of Francesco Caputo, Filip Djuricic, Domenico Berardi, and Jeremie Boga or Hamed Traore, are the mainstay of Sassuolo to score goals. I Neroverdi relies on these four players to roll the ball into the opponent’s penalty box. The role of the two wing attackers is very influential in Sassuolo’s game. When the team started the build-up, the two wing attackers were relied on to keep wide. However, when they entered the attacking phase, Berardi and Boga tended to act like inverted wingers. The Sassuolo winger tends to move to the center, combining with two other players to roll the ball into the penalty box.
The Sassuolo winger also has great individual qualities. Berardi, Boga or Traore are all explosive attackers. Their movements are agile and vulnerable to pulling defenders out of position. Despite frequently rolling the ball over the wings, Sassuolo does not rely on crosses to create opportunities. Their record for crosses is third lowest in Serie A 2020/21. I Neroverdi tends to try to open up space in the penalty box with short passes and active movements of the attackers.
In post no. 10, Filip Djuricic was able to become a deadly creative player. He averages 2.39 key passes per match. This season, the Serbian player has only provided four assists in Serie A. However, the statistical value of passes to the penalty box (2.07 per game) and action resulting in shots (4.79 per game) shows that he has been effective in Sassuolo’s efforts. create dangerous opportunities. This season, Sassuolo’s four forwards are the team’s mainstay for scoring goals. Berardi, Caputo, Boga and Djuricic have contributed 33 of Sassuolo’s 55 Serie A goals. Meanwhile, coating strikers such as Giacomo Raspadori, Hamed Traore, and Gregoire Defrel contributed 11 goals in total.
On the other hand, Sassuolo’s attacking approach left a hole behind. I Neroverdi is vulnerable to being exposed by counterattacks. When attacking, De Zerbi instructed two midfielders and full-backs to support the attack. They have to work hard to anticipate counter attacks if their team loses the ball. In the 2020/21 Serie A, Sassuolo recorded a defensive record that was not very good due to their attacking commitment. Up to giornata 33, they have conceded 50 goals or worst ninth. The value of xGA (expected goals against) Sassuolo also reached 48.7 or eighth worst.
However, the risk of a counterattack did not deter De Zerbi. He is loyal to his philosophy, keeps football entertaining while trying to take Sassuolo as high as possible. “If we play from behind and take the initiative, we will be rewarded in the long run,” he said.
Like most coaches, De Zerbi was a footballer. He had defended Napoli and the Romanian club, CFR Cluj. He spent most of his career in Serie B before retiring at Trento, a Serie D club. As a player, De Zerbi often played in the attacking midfield post. That experience has inspired De Zerbi’s philosophy of play. As an attacking midfielder, he tends to get involved in attack sequences and really enjoys them. “When I don’t have the ball, I get nervous and don’t enjoy the game. So, as a manager, I always remember that, “he was quoted as saying by The Guardian.
De Zerbi also tried to learn the tactics of attacking football maestros. According to him, he learned from the way Juergen Klopp coached Liverpool and Maurizio Sarri at Empoli. He even had the opportunity to learn directly from Marcelo Bielsa. When appointed to handle Palermo, De Zerbi wrote a letter to the Argentine coach. Tit for tat, he was invited to see for himself the training process for Bielsa’s team, LOSC Lille. “I didn’t even know him [at that time]. If he thinks he’s crazy, then I want to go the same way, ”said De Zerbi.
At the start of his coaching career at the top, De Zerbi had difficulties. With Palermo, he was sacked after 13 games. In 2017/18, he was appointed to handle Benevento, who tried to stay in Serie A. De Zerbi was unable to save Stregoni from the brink of relegation. Despite this, his tenure at Benevento was enough to make Sassuolo interested in recruiting him. De Zerbi failed to achieve maximum results. However, he did manage to get the team to play attacking football which caught the eye.
The added value that De Zerbi has is his ability to foster young players. CEO of Sassuolo, Giovanni Carnevali set a target to promote one academy player per season. De Zerbi is also seen as a suitable coach to carry out this policy. “De Zerbi is a coach of high quality, a smart man, who is always monitoring the young players in the squad. “Here at Sassuolo, there are all the components needed to get the young players developing in the right direction,” Carnevali told Sky Sports Italia.
For the affairs of young players, De Zerbi has proven his quality. Giacomo Raspadori brought to the senior team and displays a promising prospect. The former Milan youth player, Manuel Locatelli, has grown even further under his guidance. In Roberto De Zerbi, Sassuolo has a coach who can be trusted to oversee long-term projects. De Zerbi’s appointment continues I Neroverdi’s “tradition” of finding talented coaches. Before the Brescia-born coach, Sassuolo had hooked Massimiliano Allegri, Stefano Pioli and Eusebio Di Francesco.