MAPEI STADIUM (Reggio Emilia) – There wasn’t much that could be seen clearly from the press box at the Mapei on Friday evening as Sassuolo mounted another spirited comeback to draw 3-3 with Torino on a typically foggy Emiliano Autumn night.
But one thing that had already been apparent for some time before the game was just reinforced, which is that Roberto Mancini and his Azzurri could do a lot worse than looking to the Neroverdi’s exciting Italians ahead of next summer’s scheduled European Championship.
It perhaps helps their cause that a thick cloud of fog prevented onlookers in the stadium and at home from seeing what was happening in the first half and for much of the second, but by the time that lifted for the final 15 minutes, Roberto De Zerbi’s side put on a show that regular viewers have come to expect of them.
Domenico Berardi might have had some moments in the first have. If he did, they were lost in the fog and witnessed by only the couple of hundred people in the far stand at the Mapei. The same goes for forward Ciccio Caputo, who has had the tough task of trying to make a case to replace 2019/20’s European Golden Shoe winner Ciro Immobile as Italy’s No.9.
Ousting Immobile isn’t something that many players could realistically aim to achieve, but if anyone could stake a claim to do exactly that it’s Caputo. Despite having never played in Serie A until 2018/19 with Empoli when he scored 16 goals, after 27 in Serie B the season before, for the Tuscan side as they suffered relegation, he’s spent his three seasons in Italy’s top flight looking very much like a seasoned international striker.
He scored 21 in 2019/20, assisting seven more, and he already has five goals and three assists in just five outings this term, meaning he has been directly involved in a goal every 56 minutes on average in 2020/21.
Since lockdown, in fact, Ciccio has scored more goals than anyone in Serie A. Not Immobile, Duvan Zapata nor Zlatan Ibrahimovic can match his 13 goals. Only five-time Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo has as many.
Fellow Azzurri hopeful, and opposite No.9 on Friday, Andrea Belotti has been directly involved in six goals (five goals and one assist) in his last three appearances for Toro, but not even he could expect to be ahead of Caputo in the pecking order for the national team.
What helps argues Ciccio’s case is whom he plays alongside in Emilia-Romagna. Both Domenico Berardi and Manuel Locatelli are as integral to Sassuolo’s best-ever start to a Serie A campaign as Caputo is, and they all lined up together under Mancini in October’s 6-0 win over Moldova, in which the 33-year-old and Berardi both scored.
Berardi has been known to blow hot and cold during his time with the Neroverdi, but Caputo’s arrival has seen the winger find a consistency that he had never managed previously. With Filip Djuricic and Jeremie Boga alongside them, they’ve become quite the attacking force.
Locatelli too has thrived since joining from AC Milan in 2018 and he’s now one of the finest in his position in Serie A.
The Sassuolo three aren’t likely to start together for Italy, but each of them has the quality to play at one of the traditional ‘big’ clubs and, if they were donning another side’s shirt it would be hard to argue against them making the XI for the November fixtures.
Whether it’s from the start or from the bench, Locatelli has shown time and again that he is able to set the tempo and control a game at a high level, Berardi is someone who can change a result by creating chances and scoring himself, while Caputo doesn’t need too many chances to find the back of the net.
With Italy lacking forwards who regularly deliver wearing that Azzurri shirt, Ciccio could prove to be the man to lead them next summer.