Enzo Misuraca Date: 26th December 2013 at 11:59am
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It has been the proverbial roller coaster ride for Serie A’s debut boys.  Sassuolo see out 2013 and their ever season in the flight sitting, unfortunately, in the relegation drop zone.

However, do not be fooled as that certainly does not paint an accurate picture of how they have performed throughout their inaugural 17 matches in Italy’s premier division.

Refreshingly, Sassuolo did not arrive in Serie A with the mentality of a side that would defend its way to survival.  They decided to trust in attack and to hell with the consequences!

This strategy has seen moments of difficulty as well as glimpses of a team that has never look overawed by its new found status.  From the evidence so far, here at Club Focus we have no doubt the Neroverdi can survive this campaign and below we will outline why as we the season so far.

Tactical Evolution

Tactically, Eusebio di Francesco’s men have evolved probably more than any other team in the league.  A pupil of Zdenek Zeman, the 4-3-3 system favoured by the coach failed to deliver any early results.  Despite the team playing well and creating scoring chances, the midfield lacked the steel and energy to cover opposition counter attacks and Sassuolo found themselves losing games when clearly the performance deserved better.

Added to the early injury of Juventus loanee, Luca , who would have been at the heart of the three man midfield, EDF had no choice but to make a switch.

He opted for a 3-4-3 which has, on occasions, evolved into a or even a 3-5-1-1 depending on the confrontation.  The switch brought instant dividends and the team began picking up points and wins as they climbed up the table.  The extra man in midfield has made them a much more balanced side when out of possession whilst still maintaining their attacking threat.

The change also helped them overcome the lack of quality in the full back position which was most evident in their opening games.

gianluca pegolo sassuoloStand out performer: Gianluca Pegolo

Apart from tactics, the side from Reggio Emilia have some undoubted quality players.  We have often written about the performances of Domenico Berardi and Simone Zaza as future stars as well as the aforementioned Marrone.  However, one player has stood out consistently since he was brought in at the end of the summer transfer window.

keeper Gianluca Pegolo has played magnificently as di Francesco’s last line of defence and has been by far the most important player in his side.  After some very shaky efforts by the likes of Alberto Pomini and Antonio Rosati, the former Siena custodian has been a guarantee of safety which any team needs if it is to achieve its season objectives.

With regular Serie A experience already under his belt, the 32 year-old keeper will be key if Sassuolo are not to make an instant return to Italy’s second tier of football.

Disappointing performer: Ezequiel Schelotto

In contrast, we are yet to see the best of Ezequiel Schelotto who arrived from Inter at the start of the campaign.  A player who has failed to live up to his early promise, the Italian international could have kick started his career at the newly promoted side.

But his efforts have made little impact and, hampered by injuries, it is difficult to see what the Argentine born winger brings to the side.

Schelotto will be hoping for a much better 2014 or he may find himself seeing out the rest of his career in the lower leagues if he fails to make an impression at the Mapei Stadium.

Best signing: Gianluca Pegolo

In terms of transfers, the limited resources at the disposal of the club did mean that loan players where ‘de riguer’ for di Francesco.  Some have worked out well and some, as in the case of Schelotto, are still yet to pay off.  Marrone has been a crucial addition, as well as the experience of much-travelled striker Antonio Floro .

But without a doubt, the purchase of their star performer so far, Gianluca Pegolo, has been the transfer coup of their campaign.

The acquisition of a consistently effective goalkeeper can never be understated and Pegolo has proved himself to be one of the safest hands in Serie A.

Milestone Moment

Undoubtedly, the 7-0 thrashing that was handed to them by Inter on the fourth weekend of the season was the turning point for the team.  After this embarrassment, Sassuolo went on an unbeaten run of five matches, picking up two wins in the process and relieving some of their relegation worries.

The saying ‘being cruel to be kind’ has never been more appropriate as the battering from the Nerazzurri helped to re-focus the side and put in context just how difficult it would be for them to remain a Serie A football club.

What needs to happen next

As our title suggests, the Neroverdi have played remarkably well all season.  They have exciting youngsters blended with experienced campaigners and an astute coach.  However, if they are to remain in the top flight they will need to convert these performances into regular points.

They will need to be more decisive in and around the opponent’s penalty area and finish a higher percentage of the myriad of chances they create.

But more importantly, the second half of the season will be about taking maximum points from their direct relegation rivals.  Having already failed to beat Livorno, Catania and Chievo it is imperative they win in the reverse fixtures.

If they can also grind out at least a draw with those they have beaten who are in and around the drop zone (Sampdoria, Atalanta and Bologna) they will have a fighting chance of a second bite of the Serie A cherry next season.