The 2020/21 season will always be remembered fondly by all involved at Sassuolo, as they saw their men’s and women’s sides reach unprecedented heights in record-breaking campaigns for both.
Sassuolo’s women’s team hit 50 points in Serie A Femminile for the first time, 17 points more than their previous best return in the top flight. Their men’s side, meanwhile, hit 62 points, breaking their previous best total of 61 from 2016/15.
That 2015/16 season did see them qualify for the Europe League though, whereas they missed out on European football due to their goal difference – Serie A’s second tiebreaker – after 0-0 and 2-2 draws with Roma saw them inseparable, meaning Roma’s goal difference of 10 bettered Sassuolo’s eight.
Player of the Season: Domenico Berardi
It couldn’t have been anyone else. The Calabrian has been in unstoppable form for Sassuolo over the last year and deservedly booked his place at the European Championship with Italy, alongside Neroverdi teammates Manuel Locatelli and Giacomo Raspadori.
With 17 goals and seven assists, Berardi’s total for goal involvements comes in at 37.5 percent of those I Neroverdi scored over the course of the campaign, and Gli Azzurri will be hoping to see similarly impressive numbers from him once the European Championship gets underway.
Best Signing: Maxime Lopez
It’s not easy for any player to move from one country another, even less so to a team and a coach with such a clearly defined philosophy that they live and die by. For Maxime Lopez, though, his settling-in period in Emilia-Romagna was seamless and he slotted perfectly into life under Roberto De Zerbi.
The Frenchman is diminutive and gorgeous to watch on the ball, making him a perfect player for Sassuolo’s set-up. Without possession, though, he’s more than willing to do the dirty work.
The Coach: Roberto De Zerbi
De Zerbi’s decision to leave Sassuolo at the end of the season is one that will come as disappointing news not only to Neroverdi supporters but also anyone who has as much as a passing interest in Serie A.
The Brescia-born boss, alongside Gian Piero Gasperini at Atalanta, has more commitment to his style than anyone else in the Italian top flight, and that made Sassuolo a joy to watch under his tutelage.
“He’s more than a coach,” Sassuolo’s Pedro Obiang told Forza Italian Football in an exclusive interview in April. “He tries to be a teacher and that’s why we change formation a lot.
“He always says that ‘I don’t like to just give you guys one possibility, I want to give you more and then, on the pitch, you can decide how we play’. Other players study us, so we know we have to change.
“We know that we don’t have top top players who can decide things, but if we’re ready for any situation then we can probably do well.
“The difference [between De Zerbi and other coaches] is that, at Sassuolo, we always play with the ball. That hasn’t always happened in my career but De Zerbi doesn’t care who you play against – it could be Real Madrid or Inter. Obviously, we can’t always get the result we want with the ball, but we always have the courage to do more and, when the result is good, he’s happy.”
An eight-game unbeaten run to start the 2020/21 season was something that nobody could have anticipated, particularly with a 2-0 defeat of Napoli coming in that streak, as well as a win by the same scoreline over high-flying Hellas Verona as well, also coming away from a derby at Bologna with a 4-3 win.
Another memorable night in that run came as Sassuolo drew 3-3 at home to Torino in a chaotic game on a typically foggy Emilian autumnal evening in October.
Forza Italian Football were in place in the press box that evening, and this snippet from the match report describes what was an eventful night:
“Though most of what happened in the first half was lost in the cloud that covered the pitch, onlookers can be thankful that most of the drama arrived towards the end when the fog had lifted in time to see five goals scored in 15 minutes, including two from the hosts within a minute that drew them level from being two behind.”
While the end of that unbeaten run came as a painful blow, losing 3-0 to Inter in November, Ciccio Caputo’s injury troubles really hung over the season like a dark cloud and was likely the only thing that kept him out of the European Championship squad.
Managing just 25 Serie A appearances – by no means a total to turn your nose up to – the No.9 still hit an impressive total of 11 goals and eight assists, which was enough to earn him a new contract.
Sassuolo will hope that Caputo can stay fit in 2021/22 and get back to his very best in front of goal.