On the surface alone, that statement will be purely shocking; indeed, for those who do not follow calcio, they will be forgiven for thinking that Sassuolo have long been one of Serie A’s more established sides. Well, as any Serie A fan obviously knows, the Neroverdi are still the new boys in town, having only made their first appearance in Italian football’s top flight for the first time in the 2013/2014 season.
But despite only just avoiding the drop during their debut campaign, Eusebio Di Francesco’s troops have quickly made it clear that their success as of late, which saw them climb from the third tier to Serie B to the upper echelon in just a few seasons was not just a fluke. They have pulled off some impressive results over the past three terms, including frustrating and outright defeating Italian powerhouses like Inter, AC Milan, Juventus, Napoli, and Roma. And although they have had their rough patches, the Neroverdi, who boast promising Italian youngster Domenico Berardi in their ranks, have managed to turn things around as of late.
Having won their past two matches against Empoli, and more impressive, Lazio, Sassuolo will be coming into this match currently sitting in seventh place. Although there is quite a distance between the ambitious club and a Europa League spot, the hosts will be certainly fancying their chances at picking up three points against the Rossoneri, especially given that they presently boast a 100 per cent win record versus their upcoming opponents on home turf.
Berardi in particular is a name that will make Milan fans shudder, as the first time the two sides met, the young striker wrote his name into the history books. A poker was enough to down the Diavolo, end Massimiliano Allegri’s reign, and to date, he is still the only player to have scored four against AC Milan in a single game. Not even some of the world’s best like Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Robert Lewandowski, or Sergio Aguero have achieved this.
All in all, Berardi has become Milan’s Kryptonite and a player who surely must make the Rossoneri shudder at the thought of facing him; to date, he has scored eight goals against Milan, including a hat-trick in the team’s last 3-2 win in this same fixture last season. So given his knack of scoring versus the Diavolo, Sassuolo fans will hope that he will be able to shake off an ankle problem that has troubled him as of late in order to feature in Sunday’s fixture.
Meanwhile, Sinisa Mihajlovic’s side have won three out of their past five league games are inching ever so closer towards a Europa League spot. Thanks to a comfortable 5-0 second leg win over second-tier Alessandria, Milan are also in their first ever Coppa Italia finals for 13 years, which will give them a chance to finally end their wait for silverware and more important – should they manage to beat Juventus – guarantee them European football after a two-season long hiatus. Still, they have never won at Sassuolo’s home ground and will need to overcome their hoodoo if they want to keep on making a push to overtake cross-town rivals Inter into fifth place.
The visitors will be missing a few key players, with M’Baye Niang likely out for the rest of the season and Ignazio Abate sitting out due to a ban, so the Frenchman’s absence will likely pave the way for his countryman Jeremy Menez to get some game-time up front alongside either Carlos Bacca or Mario Balotelli.
Both Mihajlovic and Di Francesco will hope that their men will be able to keep cool heads in this fixture. In three out of their past five Serie A matches, either AC Milan or Sassuolo – or in some cases both – have finished the match with less than 11 men on the pitch.
Will the Rossoneri finally overcome their bad luck on the road against Sassuolo? Or will the Neroverdi manage to find a way to frustrate their opponents yet again – courtesy of another brilliant showing from Berardi?
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