Italy started Euro 2020 in the best way imaginable by hitting Turkey with a 3-0 hammering on Friday night, with Ciro Immobile, Lorenzo Insigne and a Merih Demiral own goal seeing Gli Azzurri past their opponents at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico.
‘Fun’ would be an appropriate adjective to describe the show that Italy put on in the second half, and that won’t have come as a surprise to anyone familiar with the side Roberto Mancini has built there.
What might have, though, was that the XI chosen to start Italy’s first international tournament in five years included two players from Sassuolo.
The Neroverdi play their games in Reggio Emilia – known as the ‘città del tricolore’ for being where the Italian flag was drawn up and approved in 1797 – and are a club that too few outside of the country have even heard of. They’re from, however, and carry the name of an even smaller town in Emilia-Romagna of just 40,000 people.
Their move to Reggio Emilia’s Mapei Stadium came following promotion to the top flight and the realisation that their Stadio Enzo Ricci – which holds just 4,000 people – wouldn’t meet the required standards in Serie A. Even in Serie B, they had to play at Modena’s Stadio Alberto Braglia.
But Domenico Berardi and Manuel Locatelli, of that tiny provincial club, played and impressed as Italy put their demons from 2017 behind them and came out flying against Turkey.
Berardi was heavily involved in the first half, although not everything he tried to do came off. Much like Lorenzo Insigne, he frustrated on occasion as a deep and compact Turkey defence limited his options. In the second, though, he shone.
The De Zerbi influence
Much like he has throughout his Sassuolo career, and more specifically during the time he spent working under – now-departed – coach Roberto De Zerbi, Berardi just kept coming at Turkey, not letting his head drop with a failed pass or poor decision.
It was Berardi who forced the opening goal, wrong-footing a defender with some nice footwork before smashing across goal and leaving former Sassuolo teammate Merih Demiral helplessly turning into his own goal.
He then provided the pass for Player of the Match Leonardo Spinazzola’s shot, which Immobile scored on the rebound of, and he intercepted a poor Turkish pass to play the pass before the assist on Insigne’s goal as well. Just as he has been for the Neroverdi, Berardi was key for Gli Azzurri.
Behind him in midfield, Locatelli was one of three perfect Italian midfielders. Jorginho, Nicolo Barella, and he barely put a foot wrong or a pass out of place from the first to the last minute, and he staked a claim for his place in the XI in Marco Verratti’s absence.
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More to come
The Sassuolo ties don’t end there, though.
Had injuries been kinder to Ciccio Caputo throughout the 2021/22 season, the No.9 likely would have been involved this summer as well, though quite possibly at Giacomo Raspadori’s expense. Caputo, despite playing just 25 times in Serie A last season, managed 11 goals and eight assists.
Young forward Raspadori (21) was Mancini’s most surprising inclusion in his squad for the tournament, and he could yet feature as the group continues to play out.
The Azzurri have become Neroverdi! Sassuolo’s best are showing just how much quality there is in Serie A even away from the usual ‘big’ sides. Mancini’s Italy could benefit from mini pockets of club partnerships in his XI.
— Conor Clancy (@ConJClancy) November 19, 2020