Sassuolo has been a disappointment this season after high hopes going into the campaign. A huge injury crisis hasn’t helped the club, of course, but prior to Sunday’s 3-1 win at Pescara Sassuolo was really in the mix of the relegation battle. A big change for a club that finished sixth last season and competed in the Europa League only a few months ago. Coach Eusebio Di Francesco has changed the system in recent weeks, which has seen Sassuolo claim back to back wins and climb away from the relegation zone thanks to other results at the bottom. Here we take a look at their tactical template away at Pescara.

The home side lined up in a 3-4-3 which at times turned into a 3-5-2. To counter this, Di Francesco utilised a similar 4-2-3-1/4-2-1-3 formation to the one he fielded last weekend. Andrea Consigli started in goal as always, the back four was Pol Lirola, Paulo Cannavaro, Francesco Acerbi and Federico Peluso, in midfield the duo of Luca Mazzitelli and Alberto Aquilani balanced the midfield behind the excellent Lorenzo Pellegrini while the front three was Domenico Berardi, Alessandro Matri and Matteo Politano.

Combination play between the front four

Above is Sassuolo’s starting shape when attacking. The back four sees both full-backs push on, and the midfield triangle sees Pellegrini at the top of it. Due to Pescara’s back-three, Politano started wide on the left and Berardi wide on the right to pull them apart.

As play progressed though, Berardi and Politano would move centrally into either half-space or even into the central zone. Here we see Berardi leaving the wing to move into the right half-space. Also note Pellegrini’s position next to the referee, in behind Pescara’s midfield.

Here we see the three attacking players behind Matri, with Politano and Pellegrini in central positions with Berardi on his way into the right half-space.

Matri pushes the defence down with Berardi, Pellegrini and Politano creating a central overload of players to pick up. Liorla and Peluso (marked in blue) provide the width with Aquilani and Mazzitelli directing play centrally.

Again, look at the proximity of the supporting trio behind Matri. Lirola and Peluso wide again.

The reason behind this centred positioning of the front four is to create combinations between Berardi, Pellegrini and Politano in particular in order to overload the central areas and open up space down the sides for the full-backs to exploit and from there feed Matri. This sequence highlights the positive effects of the setup. Mazzitelli is on the ball in the centre circle and sees Berardi’s run to meet the ball.
The ball is played in and Berardi instantly lays it off for Pellegrini with one touch.
Berardi continues his run and Pellegrini can give it back to the Italian international.
Berardi then tries to use the position of Politano to connect with him too. This pass was now intercepted, but if not Politano could have turned and attacked from the left half-space and could easily have used the run of Peluso on the outside to create a 2 vs 1 with the right wing-back Crescenzi. The quick passing combination on this occasion didn’t bring any results, but it attracted a lot of defenders to the central area and with just a bit more quality it could have created a goalscoring opportunity.

On this occasion, Pescara close off the middle for Aquilani who plays the ball wide to Lirola.Berardi will quickly leave the centre to support the right-back.
Lirola uses the support of Berardi to play a wall pass to beat his marker.
Lirola finds himself in a great position with Sassuolo 3 vs 2 in the centre of the penalty area. Pellegrini (yellow) is in a fantastic position and Lirola tries to find him, but the pass isn’t good enough but still reaches Mazzitelli just outside the box whose effort curled just wide. Great combination play again by Sassuolo, and this time it created a chance too.

With veteran Alessandro Matri playing up front as a true prima punta, Sassuolo also have the option of using his physicality in their play. Here, Cannavaro has played a brilliant pass through Pescara to Matri who pins the defender. Berardi has turned and supports Matri who lays the ball off to Berardi.
Berardi now finds himself in a terrific position from where he has plenty of options. He can shoot, slip in Matri to his right, possibly find Pellegrini in the middle or run a few yards further and set up Politano. He decided to shoot, unleashing over the bar, but another testament to Sassuolo’s clever combination play and the highly fluid movement of the front four.

Lorenzo Pellegrini – superstar in the making

Pellegrini is an academy product of Roma and has been sensational this season. When Berardi’s been out injured, most of the creative burden has fallen on his 20-year-old shoulders and he has truly delivered. Four goals and three assists from centre midfield coupled with aggressive pressing and ball recovering and we see a truly talented player at the heart of the side. Normally fielded as a mezzala (the wider centre midfielders in a 4-3-3) he now was moved into the number 10 role and was highly impressive with his creativity and technique.

Here he makes himself available for a pass from Cannavaro which would split Pescara’s midfield and put in him in a dangerous position.

His creative style fitted well with the setup in midfield where the elegant Aquilani was the man responsible for initiating attacks alongside the hard-working and tenacious Mazzitelli. The classy Pellegrini was terrific as the playmaker further up the field, with Di Francesco saying “I put him behind Matri and I really liked him in that position”.

This sequence highlights his intelligence as you can see his head not looking at the ball carrier Mazzitelli, instead already a step ahead to see what he should do when he gets the ball.
The pass is played in and Pellegrini lays it off with a classy backheel to Matri, before being clattered from behind by Andrea Coda.

Front two when pressing

When stopping goal kicks, Sassuolo would move their front three up against the three centre-backs, forcing Pescara to go long.

When in play though, Pellegrini would push on to join Matri in the first line of pressing with Politano and Berardi dropping in to make a midfield four behind them, thus creating a 4-4-2. When deeper, this changed into a 4-4-1-1 with Pellegrini now supporting the midfield.

Here we see Pellegrini pressing the left centre-back with Matri marking the central one. Midfield four behind the front two.

Pellegrini highlighted when moving alongside Matri to press.


Sassuolo’s tough season seems a bit brighter now after two straight wins. Matri has really found form with four goals in those two games and Berardi’s return is incredibly important for Sassuolo’s attacking play. Di Francesco change in shape after the signing of Aquilani has seen Sassuolo win two in a row with 4-2-3-1 replacing their 4-3-3 but there’s an increasing flexibility with Sassuolo able to make it a 4-3-3, 4-4-2 or 4-2-1-3 only with by moving one or two players. The central combination play will only improve too by allowing Politano, Pellegrini and Berardi to play together and Matri’s form and qualities makes him the perfect striker for these three to roam around. The distance to the relegation zone now looks comfortable, and Sassuolo can spend the rest of the season to build for the future. With talents like Pellegrini, Berardi, Lirola, Sensi and Mazzitelli, the future looks really bright.

Giro d’Italia

Inter’s form is extremely impressive right now and they earned a seventh straight win at Palermo thanks to Joao Mario’s second Serie A goal. Inter are fifth, and chase Napoli for the final Champions League spot. Tremendous work by Piolo.

Luciano Spalletti is also doing tremendous work after his Roma won again, this time against Cagliari and once again by only a one goal margin. Edin Dzeko proved the hero after his recent slump in form as Spalletti’s men keep the pressure up on Juventus.

Juventus had a point to prove after their loss at Fiorentina, and boy did they prove it. Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain gave Juve a comfortable lead after a seventeen-minute blitz at the beginning of the game to make sure Lazio went home well-beaten from the Juventus Stadium. Max Allegri has been heavily criticized lately, but he keeps coming up with responses to his critics.

Bologna surprised many by producing a solid display to beat Torino 2-0 at Renato Dall’Ara despite losing the reverse fixture 5-0 in Turin. Torino are in free fall at the moment, and it will be interesting to see how long Sinisa Mihajlovic is still there if this continues.

Ivan Juric is also under pressure after his Genoa, on the back of four successive losses, failed to beat his former club Crotone at Marassi on Sunday. Genoa twice took the lead, but Crotone fought back and scored via two set-pieces. Genoa has dropped to 16th, but the margin to 18th is still big. They need an improvement rapidly.

It’s not going much better for Sampdoria and Marco Giampaolo. After the unfortunate loss at Napoli in their last away game, they now lost again to Gian Piero Gasperini’s incredible Atalanta. This time Gasp fielded two 17-year-old debutante, Alessandro Bastioni and Filippo Melegoni. Bastioni played the full 90 minutes in the back-three while Melegoni only played the first half in centre midfield but still managed to produce an impressive display. Despite the sale of Roberto Gagliardini and Mattia Caldara’s departure next year, the future is safe. Oh, the goal was scored by ‘Papu’ Gomez. Again.

Napoli produced one of the best first half’s of the season when they raced to an early 2-0 lead at San Siro against Milan in a game that eventually finished 2-1 for the visitors. Napoli are four points behind Juventus after goals from Lorenzo Insigne and José Callejon, and are in great form. Watch out.

Fiorentina were still riding high on the wave of their famous win vs Juventus when they dismantled Chievo at the Bentegodi. Goals from Cristian Tello, Khouma Babacar and Federico Chiesa sealed an important win against a terribly out of form Chievo. Another positive bit of news for La Viola, Nikola Kalinic says he stays in Florence.

Empoli’s form has gone largely unnoticed, but they won again at the weekend, beating Udinese 1-0 in Tuscany. The only goal of the game was scored by Levan Mchedlidze, a man on a great run of form. Empoli should be more than safe now.

Player of the week

Dries Mertens set up both goals in Napoli’s impressive win at Milan.

Coach of the week

Maurizio Sarri’s work at Napoli is well documented, but he continues to impress and his side blitzed Milan at San Siro and then battled hard in the second half when Milan pressed.

Goal of the week

I love sliced volleys, so Paulo Dybala sliced “half-volley” was special.

Chievo-Fiorentina 0-3
AC Milan-Napoli 1-2
Juventus-Lazio 2-0
Bologna-Torino 2-0
Atalanta-Sampdoria 1-0
Genoa-Crotone 2-2
Empoli-Udinese 1-0
Roma-Cagliari 1-0
Pescara-Sassuolo 1-3
Palermo-Inter 0-1