The sale of Martin Erlic (€4.6m to Blackburn) kick started the winter transfer window for me. I’m always sceptical of mid-season overhauls but there is definitely a need to address a few things that I’ve seen over the course of the first half of the season. Whilst I love youth development, I admit to have been very poor with giving them minutes so far this season:
These youngsters simply need football to kick-start/restart their development but that is really difficult when I’m trying to build, analyse and then develop the style that we are playing with as I need every player to be able to contribute effectively to then prove that they either are or are not. Once the setup is more settled, I will absolutely give opportunities to youngsters.
What it does do though is create gaps within the first team, and that is what my transfer business has been aimed at resolving. Thumbnails are all clickable to lead to player profiles.
The diminutive Argentine is a player I really enjoyed watching, in real life, during his spell in the MLS with Atlanta. In game, he’s lost his way a little – a move to Feyenoord just led to a rotational option before heading home to Argentina, showing quite a severe disloyalty, playing for Independiente, River Plate and then Boca Juniors. However, he’s the perfect kind of player for what I want in terms of my wide midfielders and his little spell in Holland produced some really strong results in terms of dribbles completed and key passes last season. I’ve agreed a deal paying €13k (50%) of his wages with an optional future fee of just €3.7m should he achieve what I want him to in the six months he’s initially here for.
I’m really excited to get to use him, pairing him with another loan signing:
The Italian playmaker joins on loan from Genoa for a fee that will cost us about €700k this season and allow me to sign him, if I wish, for just over €6m in the summer. The ex-Juventus midfielder has had a tough season at Genoa, playing just seven times this season but has been a regular for the past five years. He stats, taken from last season, show that he’s got a track record of creating chances, progressing the ball well from the midfield.
I’m really excited to see how these two can kind of morph into the wide playmakers that I want in this shape. As a Villa fan, I’ve been blessed to watch Jack Grealish in his prime and know that, if I can get the ball to creative wide men, I will be able to get one-on-one with their full backs, as my brief spell in Italy has taught me that their wingers rarely defend in a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 shape.
However, I don’t want to use the WP(s) role as they are more likely to slow down the speed in which we break – therefore want to use the most vanilla role in order to allow them to their traits ( Barco left, Portanova right) to impact our play). I think that this really gives us a strong front five, although, going forward, I would like more physicality from the dual 8s – especially as their role can leave us open defensively.
That front five has further been strengthened with the additional of a very experienced player:
He may not quite be good enough for us these days and may have already decided to retire at the end of the season but Belotti brings bags of top flight experience: Ajax, Leicester, Nottm Forest and Sporting Gijon all sit on his CV and he has scored there, too. Christian Kouame is away at the AFCON with Ivory Coast so we are down a striker and I’m entertaining loan-to-buy bids for the disappointing and highly-paid Simeone, so the cheapness and short-term-ness of this deal is perfect for me.
Three players – 28, 29 and 35 year old – replacing a host of youngsters at the club isn’t my ideal setup and not something I’m hugely accustomed to do but I think that, in the long run, this is the sensible approach. We are still in debt, despite the previous sale and these moves as well as agreeing new deals of the same length but cheaper wage and bonus outlays (Berardi: €80k p/w to €62k, Trossard: €64k to €50k and Martinez Quarta: €52k to €35.5k) and effectively replacing Simeone (€51k p/w salary commitments and a loan fee of around €50k pcm) with Belotti (€16.75k p/w salary commitment) make sense. This is all happening whilst I still work on creating an effective recruitment system and put time and effort into developing what we already have at the club.
Serie A: Lecce vs Sassuolo.
Goalscorer: Gedson Fernandes.
The pre-match report suggested that the base shape with inverted wing backs would suffice here and, largely, it did. I didn’t risk any of the three new signings, giving them a short amount of time off the bench and also allowing Andrea Pinamonti some minutes as he makes his comeback from injury: at the perfect time, too, as Kouame missed the tie and Giuliano Simeone looked awful, as per usual.
Almost immediately, I was able to see the impact of the wide midfielders, operating a little deeper in transition that a natural winger allowing us an out ball and more potential options to overload. I don’t think it’s any surprise that this little tweak led to Gedson’s strongest performance of the season as he was able to use his physical stature to get up and down and cause problems with doubling up on defenders. An upgrade for Ritsu Doan is, however, almost certainly required and, even in the short cameo, Portanova looked better – creating 0.11xA and creating a key pass, a dribble and two progressive passes.
Happy to get back to winning ways!
Probably the last signing signing of the window is a real utility player, again with the idea that a short term position will help us in the long run. The two centre backs – Martinez Quarta and Valenti – are pretty settled and I’ve been battling with average rating issues between Sampsted and Cacace, but haven’t found a suitable, both financially and ability-wise, replacement for the Icelandic so have opted for another player who can cover those roles, if nothing else but to just haul them off when they are playing badly and be able to live up to the threats that I give them in team talks and shouts. I also believe that his personality will be a strong influence in the dressing room.
Serie A: Fiorentina vs Sassuolo.
Goalscorer: Ritsu Doan
The new signings were still not quite ready but I did take in an u18 tie that I’d given them permission to play in to build up some more fitness. The pre-match report showed me the team that I’d had eyes on taking over before coming to Sassuolo but I did feel that the 4-2-3-1 shape and the incredible-offensiveness of wing back Livramento could play into our hands; however, I did opt for Pierozzi in our normal 4-1-4-1 shape in order to provide a little bit more defensive protection.
I think we executed our game plan really well, being comfortably the more threatening team throughout, despite giving Fiorentina a fair bit of the ball in offensive areas. Ritsu Doan opened the scoring and, overall, played really well. I have plans for him to be upgraded with Portanova but, if he can up his game and consistently play like this, it’ll be a nice headache to have. Their goal was annoying – I don’t think it’s a particularly realistic finish, with the keeper – Naumov – and his 6’2″ frame being lobbed whilst inside his own six yard box, with little actual attempt to get the ball.However, we responded well and gave them little to work with in the second half. Both Barco and Portanova got some more minutes and, again, performed well even though our intentions shifted from going for the winner to saving the point pretty early on.
It also marked my twentieth game as Sassuolo boss:
An average cost of €1m per new signing, most of whom have played a fair number of minutes, in a division of this level, is the kind of bargain hunting that I really like to do. We’re in a nice little battle with Napoli and Atalanta for the seventh, eighth and ninth spots and it feels like we’re there on merit, too.
Serie A: Sassuolo vs Monza.
Goalscorers: Domenico Berardi x2, Andrea Pinamonti, Liberato Cacace, Aldo Florenzi.
The pre-match told a tale of woe for bottom side Monza and we lined up in a way where I felt we could add to that: both new wide men and a start for Torres as a DM, marking his new-found versatility, utilising the aggression and playmaking ability he has, but removing the issue that he’s tiny. From the off, things went well and the positioning of Barco, allowing Berardi a free run to open up. Barco’s starting position made it very tough for Yan Valery to decide where to press, especially as the winger ahead is doing little to no defending. Berardi’s intelligence got him that half yard and he finished superbly. The game also marked a scoring return, after thirteen games without a goal, for Andrea Pinamonti in his first start after a torrid six months in injuries. Cacace’s thunderbolt before half time signified just how well things were going to two second half goals from a much improved Monza side did tarnish a little bit of the hard work we’d put in and made the game look a lot more even than in actually was.
This is the last one! I was not in the market for another midfielder but was unable to turn down the offer to bring Jakub Moder back to Europe after a strange choice of move to Xolos Tijuana, in Mexico. The Pole has excelled and his stats compare him with the top professional leagues across North America – showing that he’s, continent wide, playing well and creating chances. Coming in on a free, I have also avoided transfer fees and got him for a wage which, I believe, is a fraction of what he could have got elsewhere. The press conference alerted me to this:
Clearly an issue that they had at Brighton but one that I’m sure will be forgotten almost five years later!
This now gives me some really strong squad depth across most areas of the pitch now. I must say that I’m happy with how I’ve been able to shape the squad in the short term – although the average age of these new recruits is 28.9 years old and moves need to be made to replace some in the very short term as we currently sit as the oldest team in the league. However, the model is quite clear to see: Italian players (board culture) and Argentinian players (manager culture), who – in this case, are undervalued by their previous clubs or have performed really well in previous seasons and need a fresh start. This model will grow to include the recruitment of young, exciting prospects from Italy and South America but those deals require a lot more risk, and, with -€7m in the bank, we cannot gamble on the deals right now. These players are (hopefully) safe options who may not be able to bring me profit in terms of future sales, may be able to secure success on the pitch, which will bring profitable opportunities.
Serie A: Parma vs Sassuolo.
Goalscorers: Domenico Berardi, Andrea Pinamonti, Aldo Florenzi, Jakub Moder, Leandro Trossard.
My real life interest of late has been ways to evade the press: Brighton doing it excellently against West Ham and this incredible goal from Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa are just two good examples. I think that this kind of play is more about the individual and the opposition rather than my own style but I wanted to look for it, and, therefore, lined up in our standard 4-1-4-1 shape, giving Moder a debut after a strong ninety minutes for the u20 in the week, whilst Barco dropped to the bench in a sign of the depth I am starting to create. The one tactical tweak was to instruct Naumov to distribute to the DM in the hope that this causes a press and a rush of players to the centre of the pitch which will give my wide creators even more space to transition and progress the ball.
The last pre-match briefing of the month told me that Parma, like many of the teams below us, haven’t yet won when conceding first, so I – naturally – opted to up the risk in the first ten minutes of the game, and it paid off as Berardi slotted home for his fifth of the season. From there on in, it was quite a controlled performance as we looked really assured on the ball and, with Gedson a little deeper now to accommodate Moder, we have a bit more firepower going forward, allowing for the slightly more ten-styled Berardi to fit into the role of the eight. A little disappointed at the subs, who were all complacent and couldn’t be shifted from that mindset, which, probably, allowed the spell that Parma did dominate, ruining our clean sheet and almost doubling their xG tally for the game.
Ten goals in the last two games – although three silly concessions does dampen that – and a nice bit of form being built:
We are still in a really commanding position and, given our little bit of form, have pulled away from Atalanta, creating a two-horse race with ourselves and Napoli – a club we have no real rights of being on par with at present. With a defence stronger than Juve’s and an attack better than Inter’s – the pieces are there and I am working on getting them to create a coherent style that works against all teams.
February could be fruitful for us – I can see us picking up points in the Sampdoria, Bologna and Empoli ties and the visits to the San Siro and the Stadio Olimpico will be really good tests for us.
Serie A: Inter vs Sassuolo.
Goalscorer: Andrea Pinamonti.
Disclaimer – I have no idea what has happened to the Clear Cut Chances there. Inter had 0 but, for some reason, it has recorded as 255. We were actually very good defensively but not quite that good.
The pre-match report instructed that I’d need to operate with the 4-1-4-1 cum 3-2-4-1 shape that I’ve used against back fives and front twos before. The game started in the worst possible way as Rambo netted from 30-yards, in a move where I think we did nothing wrong. My reaction to this was to pull Pinamonti back to mark him, which is something I often do but – for some reason – was missing from his standard instructions. I then also forgot that I hadn’t asked my wingers to mark their wingbacks, leaving it on full backs (and, of course, a role that isn’t occupied in Inter’s tactic). It got worse minutes later and, at 2-0 down inside the first five minutes, I feared the worst. However, the shape did exactly what I wanted – creating an overload down the left and getting Cacace into bags of space as their wing back was committed. His cross was turned in by Pinamonito and we were back in the game. The second half was quite uneventful but one highlight did capture the essence of my high-risk build up as we looked to evade the press and play vertically, quickly. Mistakes like this happen and we weren’t punished but it’s a strong sign of what I’m trying to achieve.
I’m also using the post match to really tighten up on my player discussion, as seen here – in my discussion with Martinez Quarta over his poor showing. Rather than just fining, I’m giving specific examples of what I want improving and will look to monitor this. Sadly, when talking to Naumov, I couldn’t actually tell him that I wanted him to hold more of the shots instead of parrying them away, as a couple ended back in the danger zone.
All in all, a strong performance as we are tactically looking better every game. Our unbeaten run is over but most teams go to the San Siro and get battered.
Serie A: Sassuolo vs Sampdoria.
The pre-match report gave me the solace that I could go back to my usual shape and hopefully return to winning ways, but I was infuriated/confused by a stupid question in the media that then alerted me to the fact that Samp were coming in fresh from a 6-0 triumph and would not roll over easily. On the bench, I decided to give Federico Musto a chance following his performances in the U20 squad as well as the fact that there could potentially be a revolt if my own manager promises are not met. Aside from that, my line-up was normal and quite strong – bar a debut for Adessa, in for the injured Naumov.
The game itself was poor – devoid of a lot of quality and it was a pretty horrendous mistake from Valenti that led to their goal – where he just decided to not jump and contest a cross, allowing a free header for their forward Colombo, hardly a giant. Sampdoria offered nothing else aside from one frantic moment, adjudged to be around 0.8xG, where they hit the post twice in the same move from within four yards of the (open) goal. A poor loss and, given the competitive nature of the fight for seventh, we have lost ground to both teams around us.
Serie A: Roma vs Sassuolo.
The pre-match report confirmed my worst fears: Roma are flying in the league, haven’t conceded in two and are unbeaten at the Olimpico this season as well as having an abundance of talent that will absolutely make it tough for us to not record three successive losses. The line up was pretty standard with just De Sciglio coming in for the injured Cacace.
A really tough tie and one that we did well to get anything from. A lot of pretty resolute defending but an important clean sheet, given the fact that, before this game, we’d gone five games without being able to do that, and a good point against a strong team with Tammy Abraham, who was absolutely unplayable for most of the game – yet couldn’t find the back of the net. Very happy to escape with the point.
Serie A: Bologna vs Sassuolo.
Goalscorers: Esequiel Barco, Andrea Pinamonti.
I was greeted by a familiar face in the pre-match report but hoped that Simeone wouldn’t come back to haunt me. Neither of us came into the tie in particularly great form and I was wary of Bologna’s speed out of the traps but also interested in the fact that they lost in twelve of the thirteen matches where they’ve conceded first. I decided to ensure that we got through the first fifteen unscathed by becoming very cautious with the tactical decisions: lowering the tempo, reducing the attacking need of some of the roles and actually wasting a bit of time. I also thought that, with the less than great form we’re in, that it’d give us chance to get into the game a little more.
Esequiel Barco capitalised on an error just after that magical fifteen minute mark to give us the lead but we were quickly, and annoyingly pegged back as we sometimes just seem completely incapable of defending properly. I don’t know whether this is an issue with the players or still they aren’t used to my tactical style, or, in fact, that my tactical style is leaving us susceptible. This time, a long ball from their defensive midfielder found its way between the lines of defence and keeper and we just watched as they ran on and scored. The rest of the game went that way – Bologna looking the most likely to score until Pinamonti produced a moment of (ridiculously high xG given the type of ball through and shot it was) magic to slot home the winner.
Absolutely undeserved three points but there have been occasions earlier in the season when we didn’t get what we deserved, so I will take this and run!
Serie A: Sassuolo vs Empoli.
Goalscorers: Andrea Pinamonti x3, Aldo Florenzi.
No wins in eight was the key message I took from the pre-match report in a game I really needed to win, in order to end the month on a high. To do that, I opted for the 4-1-4-1/3-2-4-1 shape that I use against two striker shapes and that worked so well against Inter. That message was well delivered with a rampant performance: a Pinamonti thunderbolt and a Florenzi finish after we scythed through their defence were the highlights for me. A top way to end the month with Andrea moving to seven in his last ten. It’s like a new signing for us.
In really big club news, Fabien Debecq, ex RSC Charleroi chairman has thrown his hat into the ring to take over the club. Looking back, he has a track record of giving managers time and has seemingly backed them quite well as Charleroi finished second in the Belgian top flight last year. Exciting news for the club – even more so that he’s not made his millions through politics, oil or being a front for a gambling company.
An up and down month but we’re still exactly where I want us to be. Napoli have two games in hand at Atalanta, one, but we have points on the board. Chasing Lazio is an improbable task for us as I am still just seeking a top half finish this season, with twelve to go. Next month sees a trio of fixtures we should win and then a game against Juve where I just need to stop Vlahovic scoring!
The new man is in place and the new board staff start to take place and another loan added to the club’s statements. With that, I feel it’s an appropriate time to begin righting some wrongs at boardroom level. They want U20 for the future and U23 for the first team. Whilst I’ve said – many times – that our financial picture does not really allow us to be able to afford, at least not Italian and South American, youngsters that are first team ready, I feel that I have not explored the first option. With the way I have built my skin, signing a player is hard enough as it is as I simply don’t have a full understanding of all of their attributes, but it’s one that feels really realistic to me.
What I long for is a way to extrapolate large amounts of data from the youth competitions, but, being as SI haven’t made that possible yet, I’ve had to do it the slightly longer way. To make matters worse, it doesn’t collate data such as minutes played but I have managed to go through all the U20 sides in the Primavera, print screen the data and collate it into a list of 377 players, who have started more than five games at this level – again, as I can’t use my normal minutes played filter.
The idea is that, whilst we don’t have the best academy (although it is still incredible for a town of our size) and we don’t have the squad depth that the bigger teams have, I may be able to pick up a bargain who can make the step up, who wouldn’t have otherwise had the opportunity. These players are unlikely to get any/much first team football so then would be missing out of my normal recruitment focus.
Initial reports for Bua, Casali and Inacio (full profiles are clickable on the new little thumbnails I’ve been skinning) suggests that this could be a particularly fruitful venture. However, I am fully aware that the AI are not blind and, if they have a talent, will play them and, therefore, the likelihood of being the only team in for a player who their current club have also given up on, feels relatively unlikely.
Serie A: SPAL vs Sassuolo.
Drab. Drab. Drab
Pre-match gave me a few ideas to try and pull their midfield out and build centrally but then I forgot to amend them initially in my line up, doing it after a few minutes – Mez(a) to CM(a) and focus play through the centre. It led to the most boring half of football I’ve ever seen. Things didn’t get much better. Very much two points dropped. Just as we start to iron things out, we show that we aren’t quite consistent enough to be any higher in the league than we currently are. I get it, but it’s still annoying!
Serie A: Sassuolo vs Juventus.
Yet this performance feels very different to the one just a week prior. We were resolute, stuck intently to our game plan and made it very tough for the Turin side. Our OPPDA, at nearly double Juve’s, shows that we let them have the ball, but much of that 61% was in their own half, between their defensive players and double pivot, unable to break our press and create spaces. Dusan, Endrick and Calvert-Lewin (feels like there is very much the odd one out in that trio) barely had a sniff as Martinez Quarta and Valenti reigned supreme in the air and with a host of important interceptions. To have faced the top side in the league twice and only conceded once is a real feat. Yes, we have only won twice against top half teams this season but my short term goals were to consolidate and that does not mean winning these types of games. That comes way, way further down the line.
Serie A: Hellas Verona vs Sassuolo.
Adama Traore and the better (not best – Dad, Diego, takes that crown) Simeone brother faced us in a strong Verona lineup, really underperforming but, probably, safe from the threat of the drop. Traore, and all his pace, would need watching, so my line up reflected that, keeping Pierozzi wider. Portanova’s player instructions forced him to sit a little deeper and mark their marauding wing back but I wanted to take advantage of that, too, focussing play down that side and distributing to the creative Portanova, who could make a lot happen if we could catch Gallo upfield. Cacace’s international duty meant that youngster Francesco Mari earned a place on the bench, but, given the pacey winger on that side, I didn’t want to start him.
Within ten minutes, we were behind as we just didn’t defend a corner properly, much to my annoyance. It didn’t get much better: we looked leggy, second best and unable to cope, with Simeone doubling their lead in the second half after Traore was not able to be caught on the break. A personnel change wasn’t going to cut it, so I moved to the 4-2-2-2 double pivot and was rewarded with a penalty, which Barco converted. In the end, it wasn’t enough.
Yet again – I have to look at influential players: Berardi, Pinamonti and Gedson – all missing when we needed them the most. That is now three games in a row where we have created less than 1.0 Non-Pen xG and that worries me. In haste, I arranged a friendly cup against some Serie D sides, won the semi final and final and eased some initial worries!
A total of 29(!!!) players entered my academy this season – something that I’ve seen before when moving country; it feels like it’s a balance thing but will return back to normal next year – and I was able to whittle that down to 16, as seen in the screenshot clickable on the above thumbnail. This is a larger number than I’d normally work with but I want to ensure that we have enough players at the club to fulfil youth fixture requirements and squad rotation. Plus, I have a really strong top end to work with:
All of the above thumbnails can be clicked on to open a full profile.
Mattia Legati appears to be the star of this show but I’m a little unsure of just what to make of him. Relatively tall but doesn’t really possess the positioning to be a true centre back but also doesn’t really have the required on-the-ball ability to play any further forward. In the short term, I’m going to look at developing im as a pretty standard DM, with special focus on his Defensive Positioning and also his weaker foot. Sunday (one of, I think, far too many Nigerian descendants in FM with days of the week names) looks like a little tenacious defensive midfielder but lacks the size and stature to really run the midfield. I’ll look at turning him into a ball winner as his ball playing ability is somewhat lacking, too. Colonna, on the other hand, has the ball playing ability but I will need to work on his actual Ball Control – but his traits make him an exciting prospect in my midfield if I can increase his physicality to create that hybrid 8/10 I like in the middle: I’ll use the BWM schedule to do that. Bartolucci is nicely rounded and I can build a base for an IWB from his skill set whereas Messina is a bit of a character who I’ll have to manage. I want to get him making better Decisions, so will go for a NCB(d) schedule as it focuses on the least amount of attributes. Segura feels like a nice little project and is really well rounded to be that wide creative midfielder I want – although I’d like a yard more pace from him. The WP(s) schedule with a Quickness focus should help that.
All in all, I have got a really nice bunch of players to work with here. Just how I monitor their progress remains to be seen. I have previously used notes and shown their actual attribute growth but I think that using the circles on their profile may be a better way of demonstrating progress in areas, although it is, given the removal of exact figures, a slower process.
Serie A: Sassuolo vs Cagliari.
Goalscorers: Andrea Pinamonti, Andrea Belotti.
The game was fairly comfortable as we came out the other side of the mini-slump with relative ease. Happy to see the two strikers scoring, too.
I am delighted with our standing right now but I am aware that Napoli now have three games in hand and Atalanta two, meaning our poor run could come back to haunt us next month, given the difficulty of our fixtures, too.
Serie A: Lazio vs Sassuolo.
Pre-match I was able to see a 4-4-2 shape and a team that, despite being above us in the league, are probably pretty close to even in terms of ability; as such, I set about use of the 4-1-4-1/3-2-4-1 shape for our line up. I’ve been reading a lot of stuff, as always, and this Twitter thread of Kompany’s Burnley really made me think about the way that I use my wing backs. I tend to solely preempt based on their starting shape rather than react based on the roles I see and also based on phases of play. I want to spend a bit more time over the coming games and months, looking to identify triggers in which might warrant a change in build up shape.
The game was even and quite high quality. Sadly, a lapse in concentration in injury time saw Lovato nod in from a corner, consigning us to a defeat that we probably did not deserve although probably brought on ourselves given how we almost invited the pressure in the last ten minutes.
Serie A: Atalanta vs Sassuolo
Tedesco’s Atalanta, despite sitting below us, are our bogey team and that was further reaffirmed from the re-built pre-match panel, which shows our hideous record against them. I’ve used that third panel to showcase where I think we can get ahead: they are possession heavy and keep the ball in the middle of the park with a lot of sideways passes and a really lonely forward in either Camello or Zapata. Therefore, using the shape that we did against Lazio, that builds up in a 3-4-2-1 will leave two extra defenders but would also allow us to get on the ball where they are not going to press due to numbers. I was hoping that it would disrupt their midfielders, bringing the players forward to press and allowing us to play through it and counter.
Even thirty odd games into my tenure, each game is still a learning opportunity. This time, we tactically were wrong. I watched our transitions and we were just too deep and too reluctant to throw players forward, probably in lieu of the fact that Atalanta’s rest defence was strong and they quickly retreated back into possession. It’s interesting to see that our shape, building up down the right – with the inclusion of Torres at right back, was almost mirrored by Atalanta’s play down their left – when, surely, the opportunity to counter the highly aggressive Pierozzi (#2) would have put them through against our three man backline. We were poor overall and didn’t deserve the victory, creating a smattering of poor quality chances. Our defensive style was fine – we were solid but pretty much all but three or four of their attacks but didn’t create enough going forward and, in particular, Barco and Moder were poor – although I did see some nice opportunities where the Pole dropped between the lines as we tried to play through their press.
Lots of things to take and work on from this.
Serie A: Sassuolo vs Torino.
An interesting pre-match report giving me some quite interesting detail, actually making this a must win for us. Baraja is cautious in his style so I’m going to have to look at opportunities to draw them out but they also play long and progressive passes, particularly from their full backs, although often recycle the ball across their backline. The keeper looks to be a primary source for possession losses, and doesn’t appear to complete many passes from goal kicks. They won last time out but aren’t on the best run of form and have conceded first in twenty five of their thirty two league games to date, losing nineteen of them. They also appear to be quite thin on the ground.
I started the game with the 4-1-4-1 Inverted Wing Back shape but, before a ball was kicked, moved to a super-aggressive style that almost created an old school W-M shape, knowing that the first goal was absolutely key for us. It came on the 22nd minute after our pressure had told, with Portanova nodding in for his six goal contribution for the club. Tactical parity was soon restored as we returned to our normal shape, knowing that Torino would also now have to be far less risk averse. Pinamonti doubled our lead on the hour mark after a lovely through ball from Valenti. Cortes halved the deficit in the ninetieth minute with a high xG tap in for what was their only shot on target, but, for me, a win is a win and that is what mattered here.
It also puts us back in the driver’s seat…
Serie A: Milan vs Sassuolo
The pre-match focus for me was looking at how they played against Atalanta, given that we’d recently faced them, too. It appears that took a lot of low quality shots, possibly linked to a higher amount of risk and that Tata Martino’s style meant that they tired somewhat in the second half. I also decided to utilise the same approach as in the last game and ask Federico Torres to man mark Sandro Tonali, as seen in our line up.
Whilst this looks like a reverse-FM’ing, there was method in my madness and, whilst FM clearly does not give out good ratings for low possession players, I think the defence was superb. We allowed just seven shots on target and their goal accounted for 0.21 of their total xG – more restriction to low quality chances. But because Milan’s pass map shows nearly eight-hundred passes and Martinez Quarta only completed 31 (and with a 91% completion rate plus no tackles – great positional work, an interception, a key header and no mistakes), he gets a poor rating! Offensively, we didn’t offer much, but, with Torres often being the furthest man forward chasing Tonali (1 foul, 2 interceptions and 1 key tackle), we were not really going to! Our sole shot on target, 68% of our total xG, came right at the death thanks to Franco Tongya, on for the injured Portanova earlier in the game.
For AC Milan, it’s two points dropped but these are the kind of results that I need to learn from and build on. I’m delighted with a point but, in most other occasions, we’d not be grabbing a late goal like that so need to balance attacking flair with defensive structure to fully complete this little jigsaw!
With Sebastiano Della Torre and Giuseppe Brighi out on loan in Serie B and vying for a return to the first team next year, I wanted to share another new panel and the next generation of Sassuolo talents, all of whom are searching for a loan and exposure to mens football soon…
18-year old Francesco Mari has been training to become an Inverted Wingback on the left but then also someone who can fill in as the deeper of the two midfielders if we decide to play with the offset full backs as he doesn’t have enough going forward to be a Mezzala. He’s seen some growth in his individual focus and is doing nicely – although still only considered good enough for Serie C.
Agazzi is a promising goalscorer who has done really well at U18 level and has earned his move up to the U20 squad. I’m currently working on is quickness as that’ll hold him back most in the style that we play in, but I am also aware of the deficiencies with his Decisions and Dribbling, which need working on. However, at just seventeen, he’s progressing nicely.
Maset and Mari could, if all goes to plan, become the two inverted wing backs for us in the future. At just 16, he’s raw and young – again, good enough for Serie C right now, but making good progress. I’m also working on his Defensive Positioning, as is normal when converting midfielders, but am impressed with his on the ball ability. Ideally, he’ll become a bit more physical as he grows and I can then also develop his Dribbling ability.
Serie A: Sassuolo vs Genoa.
The pre-match report told the tale of a team on the up but a team who were quite leaky at the back, therefore, to counter threats – I went with the offset 4-1-4-1, moving Berardi out wide to replace the injured Portanova and moving Moder to a more advanced role. It was a strong performance, but we left it late to snatch the win with two goals from substitutes. We were almost a little complacent and reticent at times in front of goal, squandering a number of chances but did enough to restrict Genoa to only a couple of half chances.
In the last of the new screens in this months update (that is pre-match, post-match, player development and player metric comparison re-created!), I wanted to share three players who have been absolutely vital to our successes this season…
These metrics are not as absolute as they used to be on Excel and they are also not live but a) it will save me literally hours each transfer window and b) I can still see that Berardi is performing amazingly well against other midfielders in the top European leagues with over 2000 minutes (that is the solid metric comparator so I won’t reference it every time). He’s progressing the ball through dribbles and passes and is creating loads of chances for others. At 34, he’s not going to be around forever and has just made his five hundred and fiftieth appearance for the club.
I’ve already mentioned it but getting Pinamonti back from injury in January was like a new signing. He’s been absolutely excellent at leading the line although has been prone to some absolute shockers, like most forwards. It’s imperative that I do everything I can to keep him here until he retires because, given a whole season next time out, could be the striker that scores us 20+ goals.
Liberato had performed absolutely fantastically in the wing back/full back/deep winger hybrid roles and has been integral in our play both defensively and offensively. Again, he’s been prone to a lack of consistency at times and that has hampered his overall rating but I feel he’s unfairly penalised for not having the ball as he defensive and progressive statistics show when compared to top level European defenders.
Three left and we’re in the driving seat for Europe now but our run in is treacherous and we could quite easily lose it all from here on in. Lecce are in a great bit of form and Milovanovic is a top striker, whilst Napoli are hugely underachieving and Fiorentina are hoping to tie up a Champions League spot. May is going to be a fun one!
We have an old team:
Which means that not only do I need to strengthen and deepen the squad – I also need to replace a whole host of these over the coming months and years. I’ve struggled to recruit – being completely honest – and am not overly happy with the players I’ve brought in thus far, which means I’m casting an eye at this more than I probably should just twelves months in here…
I have to get this summer spot on: either recruit and strengthen (on a budget) really well or hit the ceiling that this club has very, very soon.
Serie A: Sassuolo vs Lecce.
Pre-match told me all about the Milovanovic and how impressive Lecce have been in the second half of the season, so I lined up in the normal 4-1-4-1 shape, with little specifics, hoping that we could just have enough to do our job.
How wrong I was! All wrong and far too kind to them. I spent so long focusing on cutting out the supply to their big target forward that I really forgot to stop them progressing the ball wide down the right and putting Cacace into lots of difficult positions. We weren’t that bad but I’m conscious that our attacking output has somewhat stalled without Portanova and the very-disappointing Barco, whose statistical output can be seen below:
He’s done everything else other than put chances on the plate for our forward to finish. Somewhat of an enigma that appears and disappears again just as quickly in a game, which is not what is required of a top level creator.
Lots of work to be done but we’ve significantly stuttered in our quest for Europe.
Serie A: Napoli vs Sassuolo
Once again, I looked at the last opponents in my pre-match report and lined up accordingly. Napoli are far too good to be where they are in the league so I wanted to capitalise on the fact that I knew Almeida, Raphina and Di Lorenzo were all unhappy and wanted to leave the club. I also saw their pass maps and wanted to disrupt passes into their advanced forward, specifically after we’d struggled so much against Milovanovic just a week ago.
Largely, our game plan worked. Napoli had all of the ball and didn’t create too much aside from their penalty late on. It was another game were we scored late on – super sub Belotti showing he can still do it in a performance that is very reminiscent of the Milan tie. We probably didn’t deserve anything and need to become far more clinical on the counter but also a little more press resistant: I feel that our midfield is a bit lightweight, too many creators and not enough muscle, and that comes at the detriment to some of our transitional play.
Serie A: Sassuolo vs Fiorentina
Pre-match, I was focused upon our poor record against Fiorentina and, basically, just how to get some good performances out of my team – given our little slump of late. I knew that Fiorentina would look to dominate possession in a really focused, positional way. I kept the same style but had to mix the line up around a little, giving to injuries.
We made the perfect start, with Baldinelli, in for his pace up front in the absence of Pinamonti and a match-fit Kouame, as he raced on to the end of a through ball and slotted it away superbly to give us the lead inside a minute. From then on, we dug in and I don’t really know why. We created little that was exciting or energetic and the mini-slump is clear to see for everyone. Defensively – we were resolute, but, as I’ve said time and time again this season, we did not have the transitional ability to cause them problems.
The season ends and we have performed absolutely fantastically – I am delighted with how we have pretty much reshaped the team’s fortunes and turned ourselves into a coherent, aesthetically-pleasing football side. In the end though, we came up just short. A pretty poor run in with a tough set of fixtures saw us slump to eighth, failing to capitalise on Lecce’s last-day loss.
I won’t go into too much detail with the player stats because I’ve talked a lot about them all year, but here they are, sorted by minutes:
A real mixed bag. Nobody really scoring or assisting many but Pinamonti was solid from January onwards and, when Berardi played well, it was like watching the Domenico of 2014 as he rolled back the years. Elsewhere, I must say that I’ve been a little disappointed in the performances of my new additions, with only Florenzi and Gyabuaa really standing out to me. Portanova was a strong addition to the side in January but his injury cut short his involvement.
The season ends on a slightly sour note, to be fair. We’ve not qualified for Europe – fine – but, actually, the squad is in need of another overhaul and we just don’t have the funds to do that.
My summer started with a look at the squad I had left:
Within the next twelve months, I need definite replacements for:
- Leandro Trossard – CM
- Domenico Berardi – CM
- Lucas Martinez Quarta – CB
I then want to improve on the following areas:
- LM to replace Esequiel Barco
- RB to improve on Pierozzi, who, despite not being too bad there – is not naturally the ball-playing player I need.
- RM (or the €6m fee if I want to make Portanova a permanent player
- Backup at centre back
- Backup at left back
The problems then start to come here…
I have two sellable assets – Andrea Pinamonti and Gedson Fernandes and either of them leaving would significantly weaken the squad I have. I also do not want to become a Jose Mourinho-type, who managers older squads and frequently moves to a) replace squads or b) move teams. I want to build on something and create a really strong set of foundations to grow a club from and, with us already overachieving and me then breaking a promise to several key players, I am worried.
With just €5m to strengthen the side, I don’t think that I can sign Portanova on a permanent deal, nor even keep the disappointing Barco. I envisage that my transfer window, as such, will start on the 1st July when I have the time to look at all my reports and see which players are now not at a club. There is very little in the U20 and U18 team that can step up so this aging core will have to continue into next season.
The 30th June 2029 brings me an opportunity:
This is a step up, despite what the league table told me last season. I desperately want to make this move happen. Not because I didn’t enjoy Sassuolo but because I made mistakes and backed myself into a corner – the squad is aging and I did nothing to change that, instead focusing on the short term aims of getting Europe. We tired and fell at the final hurdle and, being frank, I just don’t see a way to fix this quickly or nicely. Atalanta would provide me with the perfect platform – a younger squad, more money and – most likely – a much higher ceiling to work with.
I just need to get it. Therefore, resignation tendered.