Ever since coming up to the top flight, Sassuolo have been one of Serie A’s most sustainable clubs. They’ve gone from a meagre third division side to continental football in a short span of time. In the process, the club have acquired their own stadium and provided lots of quality to the Italian top flight. Under the tutelage of ex-Roma player Eusebio Di Francesco and the smart ownership of Giorgio Squinzi, the club have been efficient both on and off the pitch, and that looks likely to be the case for some time.
Last summer, Di Francesco departed back to AS Roma, where he has shown his managerial credentials and done a fine job in the Italian capital. The Neroverdi have stuttered since then, flirting with relegation for most of the season, but when its all put into perspective, it looks as if they should have enough to stay up. The club have gained most of their recognition through record-goal scorer Domenico Berardi, and while his form has been inconsistent over the last few years, there are a few others who have been improving significantly, and could be on the radar of some other top sides soon.
The Players Who Could Have a Move on the Cards Soon
A player that has played in Serie A all his career, Alfred Duncan has enjoyed a starring role at Sassuolo. Although, just like most of his team-mates, his form has dwindled amidst their inconsistencies this season, he still has the potential to grow, and was even touted by Tottenham and Inter Milan.
Duncan’s best attributes are his strength and control on the ball. A player that is able to carry the ball forward and breeze past challenges from opposition defenders. He would be ideal for any side that looks to build from deep in midfield. What adds to his game is his versatility. Often regarded as a central midfielder, he is decent in a defensive set-up as well. He adds astuteness to the midfield against a solid attacking side as seen frequently under former coach Di Francesco.
It seems likely that this is his last season in Sassuolo’s appealing green and black colours. Inter Milan were seemingly close to an agreement in the January transfer window, but any move failed to materialise. He won’t be a permanent fixture in the starting setup at any top side. A move to Roma to reunite with his former manager may seem possible as well. The Giallorossi have already done business with the Neroverdi already following the recent transfers of Lorenzo Pellegrini and Grégoire Defrel.
The player who has overtaken Domenico Berardi as the club’s star commodity, Politano has increased his value significantly. Similar to Duncan, who was rejected by a powerhouse of Italian football, Inter Milan, Roma was the one that devalued Politano’s talent. He has enjoyed the lesser pressures of the Neroverdi atmosphere and has thrived for the Modena-based club.
With the ability to play down both wings and even as a support striker, Politano would form a great asset to any side. That would explain why Napoli were willing to pay big money for him in January to bolster their squad. Politano adds life to any attack, and his dribbling ability is what makes him so valuable. His versatility in attack is aided by his equal strength on both feet, and the former Pescara man could fetch a big fee when Sassuolo do eventually decide it is right for him to leave.
Strong on the Ball
For Sassuolo this season, Politano has by far and away been the most effective attacking player. He ranks highest in dribbles per game (2.0), most key passes per game (1.9) and the second most shots per game (2.3). But while those statistics are appealing to a team that is looking for an additional attacking outlet, they must be vary of some other key numbers, as he has racked up the highest number of dispossessions per game (2.2), which in some cases would be rather expected looking at the fact that he’s such a free dribbler.
Stats are a reductionist way of measuring a player’s quality, but they do support what he has in his locker. Politano would be perfect for a team that prefers high-intensity counter-attacking football. It is easy to see why Maurizio Sarri was adamant on adding him to his Scudetto-chasing Napoli team. A move for him seems likely this summer too. His skills would be better utilised at a club fighting in the top half of the table rather than the bottom half.
Full-backs are an important commodity to attacking outfits in the modern game, and Lirola is one that is brimming with potential, slowly becoming one of the most exciting full-backs in Serie A. The Spanish U21 international joined Juventus in 2016 and was part of the pre-season preparations, but was sent out on loan to Sassuolo, and that has since become his permanent home after a move was confirmed at the end of the January transfer window.
A player that complements his current team well, Lirola is the ideal modern-day attacking full-back and his dynamism has come in handy for the club. He completed more take-ons than some of Serie A’s best full-backs, including Andrea Conti and Dani Alves last season while his smart transitional play, as Sassuolo evolve from their defensive to offensive side have always been vital to the side. This season, he’s been as good as Politano while on the ball, ranking second-highest in dribbles per game (1.4), and that has given the team another option down the right-wing.
Defensively is where his game is still lacking. But, it must be noted that he is still only 20-years-old, and it’s an area he can continue to improve upon. Perhaps his attacking sense comes from his idol,Dani Alves. Lirola almost shared the dressing room with at one point with Juventus, and regards him highly.
“I grew up with the legend of Philipp Lahm, but I see more of myself in Dani Alves – it’s a shame I couldn’t train with him.”
And while he was at Juventus, it was Stephan Lichsteiner who was constantly spending time with him. The Swissman focused on training him on both halves of the pitch and developing him into the complete full-back.
Of all the players on this list, it would seem ideal that Lirola is the one with the highest ceiling. The right-back has been under the keen eye of the likes of Barcelona, while there have been rumours of Juventus inserting a buyback clause in Lirola’s contract when they sold him last month, implying that they are still interested in investing in his future. He’s got all the tools to be a top full-back. In time, he has the potential to become a constant for a top club and also the Spanish national team.
Best of the Rest
Several others have gone under the radar in this talented, albeit largely under-performing Sassuolo team. From midfield, there is Stefano Sensi, a player who is incredibly comfortable on the ball while also having a large amount of dominance while on the defensive side of the pitch. Still only 22, he has a huge future in the Italian game. Just like several others playing for the Neroverdi, he could be of interest to Eusebio Di Francesco’s Roma team.
Another one from the midfield could be 31-year-old Simone Missiroli, an engine in midfield and a tough tackler. Despite being in the twilight years of his career, Missiroli could still be effective for a mid-table Serie A team. Although, it would seem unlikely that a move would go through. He has been at Sassuolo since their Serie B days in 2012, and his legend continues to grow. Missiroli has gone through the promotion blips, successes and grandeur of European qualification.
At the back, the likes of Francesco Acerbi and Andrea Consigli have been at the core of Sassuolo’s growth. The former has overcome cancer to become one of Italy’s most esteemed defenders, while the latter has been a mainstay in Serie A for several years. They bring experience and assurance which that has been vital to Sassuolo, and their status can only improve.
Sassuolo – Developers and Sellers
Sassuolo have grown into one of Serie A’s finest development factories. In order to maintain their sustainability, it seems unlikely that’ll change anytime soon. They’ve formed an unofficial pact with Juventus, picking up their younger outcasts and making them of relative quality with Simone Zaza, Domenico Berardi and more recently, Pol Lirola being examples, while they’ve also claimed rejects from other clubs and given them a future in the Italian top flight.
The likes of Nicola Sansone and Šime Vrsaljko have been examples of Sassuolo’s selling strategy. That has helped immensely and made Sassuolo a permanent side in Serie A in recent times. They’ve had a patchy season and still have a fight against relegation, but it must be noted that they have the talent to win the race to survival and continue their progress in the league.