Sassuolo setting example in Serie A

Adam Digby 23/10/2015
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Sassuolo's Gregoire Defrel is mobbed after scoring against AC Chievo Verona this season.

In a cold midweek round last January, giants AC Milan made the short journey south to take on Serie A debutants Sassuolo in a clash that would have huge ramifications across the peninsula.

Domenico Berardi would turn in a wonderful performance, netting no less than four times as the Neroverdi stunned their opponents and notched a remarkable 4-3 victory.

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It was arguably the highlight of the club’s debut top flight campaign, but it spelled the end for Rossoneri boss Massimiliano Allegri, fired in the aftermath of what had previously been an unthinkable defeat.

But Sassuolo would prove it was no fluke, taking all three points when they visited San Siro a year later, before Berardi once again blitzed them in the return fixture back in May.

His hat-trick in that 3-2 triumph ensured Filippo Inzaghi would exit in the same manner as Allegri, and while the latter rebuilt his reputation after being appointed by Juventus just six months later, Milan have failed to do the same.

Indeed, despite further widespread changes both on and off the field, the Rossoneri continue to flounder, with Sinisa Mihajlovic faring little better than his predecessors so far this term.

Currently sitting in thirteenth place with just three wins from their opening eight fixtures, this weekend they will once again host Sassuolo, invoking painful memories of those previous clashes.

Yet while everything and nothing has changed at Milan, there is much more certainty and continuity to be found with their opponents.

Nicola Sansone scores from the penalty spot against AC Milan last season.

The Neroverdi will likely be able to field a number of players from that most recent victory over Milan, with no fewer than nine of the side who won helped them record that win starting in last weekend’s triumph at home to Lazio.

That result propelled them into fourth place despite a difficult fixture list, including a win over Napoli on the opening day of the season and a credible draw with AS Roma.

Berardi of course continues to dominate the headlines, his well-struck penalty past Lazio goalkeeper Federico Marchetti taking his tally to a staggering 32 goals and 17 assists in his first 66 Serie A appearances.

That has prompted interest from new Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp and Juventus – who retain an option to buy him the 21-year-old this summer.

Normally playing wide on the right, Berardi drifts across the pitch looking for openings while remaining something of an unconventional winger.

Domenico Berardi is becoming one of European football's most sought-after talents.

Preferring to play a pass to a team-mate rather than take on opponents, his perfectly timed off-the-ball running remains his most potent skill. He will hope to be part of the Italy squad at Euro 2016, but no matter how good he has been, Sassuolo are arguably performing even more impressively off the field.

Owner Giorgio Squinzi – who took control of the club three years ago – has repeatedly shown he is unafraid to spend money in order to support the team. His company Mapei have sponsored the club’s shirts in what is surprisingly Serie A’s most lucrative such deal, paying them €22 million per year.

They also purchased naming rights to Sassuolo’s Citta del Tricolore stadium, which itself was bought outright by Squinzi two years ago. Juventus and Udinese are the only other clubs on the peninsula to own their stadia, effectively providing the Neroverdi with yet another advantage over their rivals.

However, his most shrewd investment could well be Coach Eusebio Di Francesco, with the 46-year-old having carved out a fine reputation of his own during a three-year tenure.

Eusebio Di Francesco joined Sassuolo in 2012.

Under his guidance, the team employ a high-octane and exciting brand of football, playing with pace and confidence in a manner that has endeared them to fans across the country.

They shun the traditional approach of most clubs, trusting in young Italian talent to the point that the current squad contains just three foreign players. That strategy has ensured that – despite the prominence of Berardi – Sassuolo are far more than just a one man team.

Balancing the side on the opposite flank, Nicola Sansone is a vastly underrated talent, cutting in from the left to help provide a flurry of chances for whoever is chosen to fill the central role.

Behind them is a functional but solid side, with veteran players like Paolo Cannavaro and Francesco Acerbi adding much-needed leadership and awareness, while Captain Francesco Magnanelli has been with the Neroverdi since they were in the fourth division.

There is also promising young full-back Sime Vrsaljko, who has learned from those experienced defenders around him to become a reliable and influential performer himself.

Rumoured to be a January target for Barcelona, the 23-year-old Croatian is unlikely to remain with the Emilia-Romagna outfit much longer.

Like Berardi and Sansone, Vrsaljko has undoubtedly benefited from the belief Di Francesco and the club has repeatedly shown in their young players.

Seeing Sassuolo so high in the table may be surprising to many, but it is also testament to their sound business planning, setting an example which many of Italy’s bigger clubs would do well to follow.

“We’re enjoying ourselves,” was the coach’s simple but honest reply to the secret of their success. Desperately in need of similar restructuring, Milan – and indeed Mihajlovic – could be forgiven for being nervous about their immediate future as they once again prepare to host Sassuolo this weekend.

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Klopp's side struggled against Kazan.

Jurgen Klopp saw his Europa League bow with Liverpool end in frustration, on a night when his former club Borussia Dortmund took control of their group.

Klopp's first Anfield match ended in a 1-1 draw against Rubin Kazan despite the Russians playing 54 minutes with 10 men following Oleg Kuzmin's sending off.

Liverpool were trailing to Marko Devic's effort at that stage, but Emre Can equalised within seconds of the red card.

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FC Sion therefore took a four-point lead at the top of Group B having won 1-0 at 10-man Bordeaux.

Klopp's former charges sit three points to the good on top of Group C, Pierre Emerick-Aubemeyang securing a 3-1 win with a hat-trick, while PAOK and Krasnodar went goalless.

In-form Napoli continued a 100 per cent record in Group D, Manolo Gabbiadini (two), Jose Maria Callejon and Gonzalo Higuain notching in a 4-1 success over Midtjylland.

Group E leaders Rapid Vienna and Group F pace-setters Braga have also won all three of their matches after both edged five-goal thrillers.

The Austrians came out on top of Viktoria Plzen, with Alan grabbing an 89th-minute winner for Braga against Marseille.

Villarreal nestle second behind Rapid, Cedric Bakambu's brace setting up a 4-0 defeat of Dinamo Minsk.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's return as Molde manager was a cause for celebration as the Group A leaders eased to a 3-1 win at Celtic's expense.

Fenerbahce got their first victory in the group's other game, Fernandao netting in the 89th minute.

Stefano Okaka struck the decisive goal as Anderlecht came from behind to inflict a first defeat of the Europa League group campaign on Tottenham.

Christian Eriksen put Spurs in front after just four minutes but Guillaume Gillet levelled soon after and Okaka – on loan from Tottenham's London neighbours Fulham – sealed a first victory for the hosts with 15 minutes remaining.

Lacina Traore's goal was enough for Monaco to edge past FK Qarabag and leapfrog Tottenham at the Group J summit.

Lazio took a three-point lead in Group G after defying an early red card to beat Rosenborg 3-1 at Stadio Olimpico.

Mauricio was dismissed after only six minutes but Alessandro Matri, Felipe and Antonio Candreva (below) netted for the Serie A side in a match that saw missed penalties at both ends.

Dnipro had been level on points with Lazio but lost 1-0 at home to St Etienne, with Romain Hamouma on target.

Schalke remain atop Group K after a 2-2 draw with second-placed Sparta Prague, while APOEL Nicosia beat Asteras Tripolis 2-1.

Sporting were the evening's big scorers in Group H, despatching Albanian outfit Skenderbeu 5-1, with all six goals coming after Hamdi Salihi's first-half sending off.

Top two Lokomotiv Moscow and Besiktas shared a draw, with goals from Maicon and Mario Gomez.

There were two unexpected away wins in Group I. Lech Poznan celebrated a 2-1 success at Fiorentina, Dawid Kownacki and Maciej Gajos negating Giuseppe Rossi's late consolation, with Portugal's Os Belenenses surprising Basel by the same scoreline.

In Group L Augsburg got off the mark in style, Piotr Trochowski's goal enough to defeat AZ Alkmaar at home.

Athletic Bilbao ended Partizan Belgrade's 100 per cent record as Raul Garcia and Benat Etxebarria effected a 2-0 win for the visitors.

Legia Warsaw against Club Brugge and Liberec versus Groningen both ended 1-1.

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A day with ex Man Utd coach Steve Round

Barnaby Read 22/10/2015
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Round enjoyed successful years at Everton.

Steve Round rose to prominence as David Moyes’ assistant manager at both Everton and then Manchester United.

Having had his playing career at Derby County cut short, he joined the coaching staff at the Rams where he worked with future England manager Steve McLaren.

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McLaren appointed him to his back room staff at Middlesbrough and with England before he became first team coach at Newcastle under Sam Allardyce, then Moyes’ assistant at the Toffees.

He replaced Sir Alex Ferguson’s long-time assistant Mike Phelan at the Red Devils but then left the club following Moyes’ sacking.

Round is in Dubai running coaching workshops for E-Sports and spoke to Sport360° at SportsMania.

Round with David Moyes during their short time together at Manchester United.

Tell us what you’re doing out here in Dubai? 
I’m with Gareth Morley of E-Sports. I’m doing a masters in sports and directorship at Manchester Business School and he’s one of the students on the course with me. He said he’d like me to come out here to speak to the players and coaches and give some inspiration to the players going forward. 

Why are you doing that course? 
I wanted to do something that would stretch me. I’ve been in coaching a long time, I’ve worked for nearly 20 consecutive years in the Premier League at the highest level and I wanted something I could turn to, something different and unique, something that would open my mind and thinking and improve me as a person and a coach.

Do you now want to be a manager in your own right? 
Definitely. When I left Manchester United I said I wanted to take a year off. I needed some time out. I needed to take stock. When you’re in it it’s all consuming. Every day it’s intense and you’re on the front line, so I needed to step away from that. I’ve had a couple of opportunities I was very close to getting but didn’t quite get them, but it (management) is the next step for me.

What do you think the biggest difference between being a coach or assistant and a head coach or manager is? 
The biggest difference is you’re the key decision-maker in people’s lives. You have to man manage people. It’s all about leading people. 
When you’re a coach you’re main role is to improve that player as a footballer. When you’re a manager you have to win on Saturday.  You’ve got to manage above. You have to manage media, transfers, talk to the chairman, there’s a lot more aspects to it other than performance. 

You’ve been quite loyal to the likes of Sam Allardyce, Steve McLaren and David Moyes. Is it important for managers to have people like that around them? 
Getting a really good number two is very important. I hold loyalty, ethics and morals very high and the people I’ve worked for have been the same. They’ve been great relationships with some top managers. The likes of David, Sam, Steve, as well as Kevin Keegan, Jim Smith, Terry Venables – these are all good people who I have tremendous respect for. 

What went wrong for you as a coaching team at Manchester United? 
They didn’t give us enough time. It was always going to be difficult following Sir Alex Ferguson. Sir Alex is such an iconic manager, arguably the greatest manager that’s ever lived. To follow him was always going to take time. I have to say I loved it there. It’s a great football club. 
We just didn’t quite get enough time. I think I saw a stat after 50 games where David and Louis van Gaal had a very similar record. Louis has spent a bit more money and had a little bit more time. Other than that I’ve got no complaints. At the end of the day you’ve’ got to win football matches and if you don’t then you don’t keep your job. We didn’t win enough football matches.

Is it disappointing looking back? 
No. It might have been at one time but I’ve moved on from United now. I wish them all the best. It’s a great club and needs to be at the top of the tree both domestically and in the Champions League. I have no grudges against Manchester United at all. I wish them every success and I hope they win the league this year and the Champions League. 

David Moyes has gone on to Real Sociedad. Was there scope to join him? 
He asked me if I’d be interested at one stage but he knew I wanted to take that year off and I told him I wasn’t going back no matter what opportunity came up. I promised that to the family. I was out there the other week watching them against Athletic Bilbao in the Basque derby and I really enjoyed it. The team hasn’t started as well as he would have liked. He’s been disappointed in the results but he thinks the team’s playing okay and that it’ll turn.

Do you think results will turn around?
Yes, definitely. He’s a top manager. It’s quite difficult because there’s certain rules with Basque players and you have to recruit from your own area, which puts you at a bit of a disadvantage, but he’s got the basis of a good team. They’re never going to go and win the league but they’re always going to be competitive, and I think he’ll get them there eventually this season.

Phil Neville’s gone out there. Do you think more British coaches should go and test themselves?
Why not? There’s a lot of foreign coaches in the Premier League and Championship and there’s no reason to stop us going. We can be quite insular at time in the UK. A lot of it’s down to the language aspect. They learn English in school abroad and it’s their second language. Jurgen Klopp’s just come over and speaks English brilliantly, better than most English people, whereas we don’t tend to learn other languages. I would definitely promote it. It’ll always help you in the long run.

Have you ever been tempted by the Arabian Gulf League? 
Yes I have. There’s a really good standard and it’s getting better. You’re starting to get Middle Eastern players and African players transcending and I think it’s improving year on year. I’m waiting for the right opportunity and when it comes up I’ll go for it.  That might be abroad. There’s the MLS which is getting better and better, there’s all of Europe and even the Middle East, too, which is getting stronger and stronger. There’s a lot of things I’m looking at.

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