Juventus
    Juventus
      17.10.2014 10:26 - in: Serie A S

      Neroverdi in the spotlight

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      Founded in 1922 and currently under the tutelage of Eusebio Di Francesco, Sassuolo are enjoying their second season in the top flight after staving off relegation last time out

      Club

      Founded in 1922, Sassuolo originally wore the yellow and red colours of the town’s crest, competing in amateur leagues around the Emilia-Romagna region where they are based.

      The club first entered the arena of professional football for their 1968/69 Serie D campaign, a season in which they held their own and avoided relegation.

      1974 was the year the Reggio Emilia-based outfit’s current name of U.S. Sassuolo Calcio was established, though at that point they were playing in a red and blue striped strip as opposed to their current black and green.

      They were unfortunate that it was goal difference which sent them back down to amateur level the following season, but in 1984 they went on to reach Serie C2 for the first time thanks to the support of Mapei businessman Giorgio Squinzi.

      For many years the team struggled to find their feet and experienced another return to amateur football soon afterwards, but the arrival of current Bianconeri boss Massimiliano Allegri in the dugout in 2007 sparked a momentous rise.

      The ex-Milan manager led them to Serie B for the first time in his debut season with the Neroverdi, but then moved on to a new challenge with Serie A club Cagliari and was replaced by current Hellas Verona coach Andrea Mandorlini.

      Sassuolo finished in a very respectable seventh position in their first Serie B adventure, and yet another current premier division manager, Lazio’s Stefano Pioli, was appointed in June 2009 to lead them to new heights.

      The side experienced two near promotion misses in 2010 and 2012, but during the 2012/13 season they managed it, lifting the Scudetto title to secure their first ever promotion to the top flight.

      Sassuolo, the smallest town ever to have a team competing in Serie A, escaped relegation by the narrowest of margins last time out as they finished two points above the drop zone in 17th position.

      Stadium

      While Sassuolo’s official home has historically been the town’s 4,008-capacity Stadio Enzo Ricci, their swift rise to the upper tiers of Italian football has called for different venues.

      Following promotion to Serie B in 2008, the Neroverdi lined up for their home games at Modena’s Stadio Alberto Braglia.

      And on reaching Serie A for the first time in their history this season, a ground-sharing agreement was struck up with Reggiana to allow the Neroverdi to play at the Mapei Stadium.

      Their home, which is able to hold 23,717 spectators, was inaugurated in 1995 by a Reggiana v Juventus fixture which the Bianconeri won and is an English-style stadium, with stands very close to the field of play.

      Transfer Activity

      The Neroverdi have brought in a set of fresh and seasoned faces to help keep afloat an outfit dining at the top table of Italian football for the second successive season.

      Shotstopper Andrea Consigli arrived from Atalanta on the final day of this year’s transfer window to take up the number one mantle. The 27-year-old made 193 appearances for the Bergamo-based side, flitting between both Serie A and Serie B in that time. He was also called up by ex-national manager Cesare Prandelli for a friendly against England in Bern during August 2012 but has never made a senior appearance for the Azzurri to date.

      Twenty-two-year-old Sime Vrsaljko has signed for Sassuolo after spending his first year in Serie A with Genoa. A full Croatian international, the versatile defender who normally plays right-back but can also fill in at left-back as well as in midfield, won seven titles (including four league triumphs) with Dinamo Zagreb from 2009 to 2013.

      Having initially joined the Neroverdi on loan in January, veteran centre-back Paolo Cannavaro made his transfer permanent from Napoli after the conclusion of the 2013/14 season. Brother of former Bianconeri defender and World Cup winner Fabio, the 33-year-old captained the Partenopei to Coppa Italia glory over Juventus in 2012.  

      Ex-Juventus left-back Federico Peluso swapped Turin for Reggio Emilia during the summer transfer window after 18 months with the club. The 30-year-old will be unable to face his former employers on Saturday due to suspension, however,  after he was sent off in Sassuolo’s 3-2 defeat to Lazio last time out.

      French-born Algerian international Saphir Taider had initially joined Premier League side Southampton on loan from Inter Milan at the start of the transfer window. But the 21-year-old was unable to settle and quickly saw his contract terminated before joining the Neroverdi on a temporary basis for this season. Normally deployed in central midfield, Taider is adept with either foot and is strong in the tackle.

      Ex-Genoa duo midfielder Davide Biondini and forward Antonio Floro Flores both spent last season on loan at the Mapei Stadium and decided to join on a permanent basis earlier on in the summer.

      In terms of departures, Luca Marrone has rejoined Juventus on a five-year contract as part of the transfer which took Peluso to Reggio Emilia. Having been sold to the Neroverdi on a co-ownership deal in September 2013, the Bianconeri youth academy graduate would go on to make 15 appearances before his hometown club bought out the remaining 50 per cent of his contract in the summer. 

      Portuguese defender Pedro Mendes saw his loan deal with Sassuolo expire and has returned to parent club Parma after only featuring a handful of times during his six months at the Mapei Stadium.   

      After over 200 appearances and 40 goals, winger Gaetano Masucci brought down the curtain on his second spell with the Neroverdi by leaving for Frosinone on a free transfer whilst exciting Paraguayan forward Tonny Sanabria returned to Roma after only making two appearances in a short loan spell that began in January.

      Current Team

      The team’s captain is Francesco Magnanelli, a midfielder who has been on the full journey with Sassuolo since joining in 2005. Having climbed from the lower ebbs of Italian football up to the top tier during his nine-year stint with the Neroverdi, the 29-year-old led his squad to Serie B glory in 2013 and has made over 300 appearances in all competitions, scoring six times. 

      Goalkeeper Gianluca Pegolo had to pick the ball out of the net on seven occasions against the Bianconeri last season but it could have been so much more. Pulling off a number of saves in the two encounters, the 33-year-old certainly earned the plaudits for his fine performances. Now second choice to new arrival Consigli, Pegolo will be hoping to win over his boss and retake his place between the sticks for Saturday evening’s encounter. 

      Alessandro Longhi will most probably deputise for the suspended Peluso at left-back on Saturday evening. The 25-year-old has made over a centenary of appearances for the Neroverdi since joining in 2011 and netted his inaugural Serie A strike in a 2-1 home defeat to Sampdoria in March 2014.

      Ex-Genoa defender Francesco Acerbi, who joined Sassuolo back in July 2013, twice had to overcome testicular cancer during his debut season. The 26-year-old warrior is now back playing and he’ll be hoping to kick on this season and push for a place among Antonio Conte’s Azzurri squad for the next round of Euro 2016 qualifiers in a month’s time. 

      German-born Italian Nicola Sansone normally fills in on the left flank of an exciting attacking Neroverdi trident. The 23-year-old, who came through the youth ranks at Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich, already has seven goals in 19 appearances having transferred to the Reggio Emilia-based outfit from Parma in January 2014. 

      Out on the right-side of this trio is Sassuolo’s star performer Domenico Berardi. His 16 strikes were pivotal in the Neroverdi surviving the dreaded drop to Serie B last year and the 20-year-old has begun this season in the same vein, notching twice in a 3-2 loss to Lazio. Berardi is co-owned by Juventus and the Bianconeri backline will have to be wary of the young striker who is a dead-eye in front of goal. 

      Talented striker Simone Zaza joined Sassuolo in 2013 after being purchased on a co-ownership basis with Juventus from Sampdoria. The 23-year-old has established himself as the spearhead of the Neroverdi attack and his impressive performances have not gone unnoticed as he received a call-up to the Italian national side for September’s international matches. After making his debut in a 2-0 friendly victory over the Netherlands in Bari, Zaza scored the team’s first goal in a 2-0 Euro 2016 qualifier win away at Norway. 

      Manager

      After returning to guide Sassuolo to safety in their inaugural Serie A campaign, Eusebio Di Francesco was confirmed as Neroverdi boss by signing an extension to his contract prior to this 2014/15 season.

      An ex-midfielder, he developed in the Empoli youth academy and made his Serie A debut for the Tuscan side in the 1987/88 season. He went on to win the Scudetto with Roma in 2001 and also made 12 appearances for the Azzurri under ex-Bianconeri shotstopper Dino Zoff.

      After his retirement in 2005, he became the Giallorossi’s team manager. And following a brief stint as sporting director of Serie C2 club Val di Sangro, Di Francesco took on his first coaching role at Virtus Lanciano in 2008. 

      At Pescara the following year, his men played attacking football and challenged for a play-off place for the majority of the season, but he was unable to transfer that success to Serie A with Lecce, who he left at the bottom of the table when he was relieved of his duties in December 2011. 

      He became Sassuolo manager in June 2012, leading them to the Serie B title in his first season but was dismissed in January of this year (halfway through the 2013/14 Serie A campaign) with results not going the Neroverdi’s way.

      Following a brief spell out of the game, Di Francesco was reappointed at the helm in March and an upturn in performances on the pitch saw Sassuolo ensure top flight football for another year. 

      The 45-year-old already has his hands full for the new campaign with the Neroverdi sitting bottom of Serie A, having picked up only three points from six matches. 

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