Over the past 2-3 seasons, Sassuolo also fondly known as Dionisi have emerged as one of Italy’s most exciting young teams with a good blend of talent and attacking football and the likes of Raspadori have already gone on to represent the Azzurri, and some have even been a part of their Euro 2020 glory.
Roberto de Zerbi’s appointment back in 2018 proved to be pivotal for the Dionisi, as they went on to finish 8th in two consecutive seasons – 2019-20 and 2020-21 (finishing on-level with Roma in the latter).
Just when all things were pointing towards a potential European qualification going into the 2021/22 season, the club was dealt a massive blow. It was announced that de Zerbi would be joining Shakhtar Donetsk during the summer of 2021, meaning Sassuolo had to begin their search for a new manager. The club eventually zeroed in on Alessio Dionisi, the man who guided Empoli to Serie A qualification by winning the 2020-21 Serie B and came with a reputation of playing an exciting brand of attacking football.
Just when supporters started to feel optimistic about the squad the new boss had at disposal, Euro winning star midfielder – Manuel Locatelli sealed a deal with Juventus. Being at the very heart of the Neroverdi midfield for quite a good amount of time, it was always going to be difficult to replicate what he offered to the team. His move was followed by experienced star striker – Francesco Caputo sealing a loan move to Sampdoria just after the season began, leaving the new boss another problem to deal with.
Irrespective of this, the Italian stepped up to the plate and fought in a manner that deserves plaudits. Although, the current league position at the time of writing, doesn’t look as promising, Dionisi with a bunch of heavily talented young individuals taking up the responsibility of those who had departed, could only gain confidence in his fight for improving the club’s fortunes and making notable progress.
In this article we’ll assess the performances of the four important young players, who have been at the core of Dionisi’s exciting attack-minded setup.
Raspadori is bound to be one of the stars for the country in the near future and one who is rated highly by many, including Azzurri boss Roberto Mancini. The diminutive forward had his breakout season last year for the Dionisi, under de Zerbi where he was used as a Number 10 initially. He eventually got his opportunity to lead the line for Sassuolo after Francesco Caputo’s injury. Raspadori ended the campaign with 6 goals and received an unexpected call up to the Azzurri’s EURO squad ahead of a couple of big names.
This season, given the coach’s demand for a much more physical presence up front, Raspadori has been used more as a Number 10 once again and has developed into that role, improving on last season’s performances at Sassuolo.
As shown in the illustration below, Raspadori likes to drop deep to receive the ball and link up play with wider players. His ability to effectively occupy spaces in between defenders also creates space and allows his teammates to exploit the opposition.
Moreover, Raspadori also possesses a brilliant ability to dribble past players, have good close control of the ball and cut inside to create crisp crossing angles and at times angles to shoot on goal. Due to this valuable trait of his, Raspadori has also been deployed on the wings for Sassuolo this season. The lack of good wide options was a major reason why Dionisi had to make the call, but Raspadori has adapted very well in both these roles and has had an increase in goal involvements as compared to last season (6 Goals and 4 Assists so far this season in 22 appearances, compared to 6 Goals and no assists in 27 appearances last season).
Another very observable trait of Raspadori’s game at Sassuolo (both in an advanced role as a forward and when he is deployed on the wings or behind the striker) is his incredible ability to take the ball on the half turn with an exquisite first touch that virtually takes multiple defenders out of the equation.
With his versatility and ability to take set-pieces when needed, Raspadori at such a young age has a bright future ahead of him, regardless of if he stays at Sassuolo or not.
After multiple loan spells at different clubs, Scamacca is finally making the starting spot as Sassuolo’s main man his very own. He seems to have found form at the right time, as he has scored 9 goals in just 22 appearances so far, the 2nd highest scorer for the Dionisi behind the club’s most important player Domenico Berardi. As of Gameweek 21, he was leading the division with a 0.60 Non-Penalty Expected Goal Metric per 90 minutes (npxG) as per FBRef, along with Inter’s Lautaro Martinez, showing his incredible contribution for the club up front.
A strong physical presence upfront with an incredible aerial ability and mid-air control of the ball, makes him a nightmare to defend in the box.
His linkup play has significantly improved over the course of his career , allowing Dionisi to involve him more during build-up phases as well.
There have been games where his holdup play and ability to shield the ball from the defenders has changed the course of the whole game. If only luck was a thing, the Neroverdi would have witnessed a famous win at the capital on Jose Mourinho’s 1000th game in charge of his managerial career.
Scamacca has been one of Dionisi’s most in-form players this season, and could soon expect a callup from Mancini for the Azzurri squad given the form and goal drought of the likes of Immobile and Belotti for the national side.
A young midfielder stepping up into the senior setup this season after Locatelli’s departure meant that he had a huge responsibility in terms of providing the balance required in the middle of the park. After initial struggles, he has grown and matured as the season has progressed and has a better understanding of his role in the team’s setup.
He played a much deeper and reserved role initially with very limited involvement going forward. But as the season went on, he adapted to his position brilliantly and started adventuring forward more often, especially during attacking transitions. This led to his goal involvement figures improving. Goals against Juventus, Udinese, and Fiorentina – away from home and against Venezia at home have all been delightful goals to watch (nearly all of them coming through late-arriving runs into the box).
Another skill he has showcased during transitions is the way he curls passes with the inside of his left foot towards one of the front men. It has been one of the factors in increasing the side’s pace in switching play instantly and increasing the tempo if it felt like dipping at any point. Like every player, there are areas he could develop in the future, one of them being dealing with cutbacks from opposition inside his own box.
The 24-year-old French midfielder joined the Neroverdi on loan last season but wasn’t a regular starter for the side due to the availability of multiple options in the midfield. But after securing a permanent move to the Italian side this season, the youngster has come into prominence and become the most fundamental piece of the midfield.
Initially, he liked operating in a double pivot setup alongside Frattesi but like his partner, he evolved in terms of his role too. Lopez started developing his trait as a lone DM which let Dionisi venture into more of a 4-3-3 setup from a 4-2-3-1. His absence (due to a suspension), as evidently seen in that 3-2 defeat to Udinese away, has seen the side struggle heavily through central areas in terms of tracking runners and also when they try to play their way out of an opposition press. Francesco Magnanelli, the 37-year-old veteran Italian midfielder, who was deputizing for Lopez in a three man midfield along with Frattesi and Hamed Junior, didn’t have the best of games. Not only did the side get stretched apart by a widely set up Udinese outlet but they were also able to penetrate through the middle using midfield runners. Such instances were minimised by the invaluable work rate of Lopez, whose defensive work rate and chemistry with Frattesi made up for a steadier midfield duo overall.
Lopez has been an able progressor of the ball and has portrayed his ability to secure it very well. On a 19-game week sample (As shown in the visualization below), the Frenchman has averaged about 12.83 progressive actions (A combination of progressive passes and progressive carries) & 7.62 turnovers (A combination of failed dribbles, failed passes, miscontrols of the ball and, dispossessions) per 90 minutes.
When compared with players who operate in similar positions across the division, He quite comfortably places himself into a category of midfielders, who secure the ball well along with progressing it forward with good ball progression abilities.
His spatial awareness while receiving passes in a crowd of players is impressive and he thrives playing the ball out of the opposition press by playing quick passing interchanges with his teammates in a triangular shape.
He isn’t an extensive tackler or one who over commits himself into tackles very often, but he covers a lot of ground through his work rate and intercepts the ball quite well in dire situations. He has slowly been developing his trait to drop in as the left-sided centre-back along with his centre-backs during build-ups and help ball progression from deeper areas in quite an able manner. This could come to good use for him in the future should he secure a move to a bigger club.
His goal against Juventus away at Turin, right at the death to win the game, will be a moment the Neroverdi fans would cherish and remember for a long time to come.
The Road ahead
These players are bound to end up in one of the so-called “bigger clubs” across Europe soon. Frattesi looks set for a move to Inter Milan in the summer. There were also rumors of Juventus negotiating a deal for Gianluca Scamacca. And sooner or later, clubs will surely come knocking on Sassuolo’s door for Lopez and Raspadori.
Given their talent, there is no doubt that if the move is right, at the right time, Raspadori and co will surely go on to have an amazing career after their stints at Sassuolo.
Written by Hemanth Tiruvuri | Feature Image taken by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images
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