Serie A Week 10 – Sunday 16 October 2022 – Stadio Atleti Azzurri d’Italia | Preview by Enrico Passarella
The tenth matchday pits against each other two teams that used to be among the most high-flying in Italy but have found consistency and solidity through a more conservative approach this season.
Atalanta have been tremendous so far following an underwhelming campaign where they missed out on a European berth. They are regressing to the mean after they spiraled late in 2021/2022. But their squad and thier formula changed substantially. They have toned down the intensity and the aggression. They remain more proactive than the average Serie A team, but they are not as bold as they used to be. Perhaps Gian Piero Gasperini was scarred by what happened last season when they were often undone by their overall imbalance. Or he didn’t think such pace would have been sustainable given the peculiar schedule. But the lack of frequent midweek matches gives them an advantage there.
Their summer has been weird as they have brought in a few more pieces, but they haven’t completed many sales, so the roster is large. Many players that used to be mainstays have been lost in the shuffle, even perplexing so, because the gaffer prefers to play with his new toys. Ademola Lookman quickly won over the boss, and, differently from Jeremie Boga, he combines blazing speed with decent finishing skills. They paid €22M for the ex-Sassuolo winger last January, but they have no issue with him riding the pine. The same goes for Ruslan Malinovskyi, who’s a non-factor despite being a major weapon in the past. The writing might be on the wall for them in January, as the new course has already started.
Even though they have had troubles in the back in terms of injuries and suspensions, they have switched from 3-4-2-1 to 4-2-3-1 just once or twice from the start. Rafael Toloi and Berat Djimsiti missed time, and José-Luis Palomino has been suspended for doping-related charges. The captain was the last one to go down, which was noticeable versus. Udinese. They had never given up more than one goal before. But the quality and resiliency of the opponents were a factor too. The Serb could return from a fibula fracture in this one, although he’s unlikely to start right away.
Their esteemed youth sector came to their rescue, as they have patched things together thanks to two of their home-grown prospects, Caleb Okoli and Giorgio Scalvini. While very different, one more physical and imposing, the other technical and cerebral, they both have a bright future ahead of them. They occasionally use the latter in the midfield to shore things up because he can handle the ball. And they can drop Marten De Roon in rearguard when they prefer having a reliable bulldog there.
Duvan Zapata has been extensively sidelined by a thigh injury, but they haven’t truly been hurt by it. Both because they no longer need to outgun adversaries in each game, as they have picked up five shut-out victories already, and because their other strikers, Luis Muriel and Rasmus Hojlund, have been fine. The Colombian has come on the last few matches after a so-so start. He’s a problem when he has it going, as he can take anybody on and is pretty selfless in the final third. Other sides would have ushered in the Danish starlet more quickly given the large investment, but they preferred protecting him, and the early returns are promising. He’s the total package.
Making a profit on Remo Freuler was a no-brainer as they had Teun Koopmeiners waiting in the wings, and giving him the keys of the midfield has paid big dividends. He’s a much more gifted passer, and it often takes just one of his pinpoint long balls to create a chance. Ederson hasn’t been the animal he was at Salernitana, and considering him a no.10, albeit tactically, might be a stretch because he’s not as Mario Pasalic there. But he has grit and stamina that distinguishes their team.
Their flank game is where their tweaks have been more noticeable. They did sign Brandon Soppy, who’s an energizer bunny, but the two wingbacks attack less frequently than in the past. They have no Robin Gosens on the roster, and Davide Zappacosta, who’s probably their best option, has suffered three straight thigh problems. They have taken it down a notch, and one of the two generally always stays in the back to help out, while the feed from one flank to the other used to be a staple of their offense.
The next few matches will tell whether their modifications were incidental or are here to stay. They lose some of their luster, but the formula has worked, so they have no real reason to go back. The more aggressive scheme remains in the mix, and they would just need to insert Malinovskyi for one center-back to switch things up.
Expected XI (3-4-2-1): Sportiello; Scalvini, Demiral, Okoli; Soppy, De Roon, Koopmeiners, Maehle; Pasalic, Lookman; Muriel.
While they weren’t outright disastrous, it took a while for Sassuolo to build their new identity after a rough summer where they bid farewell to two of their top three strikers, Giacomo Raspadori and Gianluca Scamacca. They held onto Domenico Berardi and Hamed Traoré, but they went down with early injuries. Therefore, they had to come up with some solutions on the fly, which wasn’t always pretty.
The transfer market helped, as Armand Laurienté lived up to the hype and has been quite clearly their technical leader in the last few matches. He’s so elegant and effective with the ball on his feet, and, similarly to the star teammate, he too can finish on his own or create for others.
They stayed afloat thanks to their defense while they were figuring things out and the Frenchman got acclimated after joining late. Martin Erlic quickly proved to be a quality addition, but there weren’t many doubts. Moreover, considering that Mert Muldur suffered a serious injury and Georgios Kyriakopoulos was often fielded in a more offensive role, they routinely leaned on their most cautious pair of fullbacks, Jeremy Toljan and Rogerio.
Andrea Consigli leads the League in clean sheets, along with Lazio’s Ivan Provedel, and that’s insane considering their style and numbers in previous seasons. With Traoré fracturing his foot in the summer and Raspadori quite clearly on his way out, Alessio Dionisi switched from 4-2-3-1 to 4-3-3, which made them sturdier. They specifically signed Kristian Thorstvedt to bolster their midfield, and while it took him a while to get going, their vision is coming to fruition. Like Davide Frattesi, who’s an ace at this point and should quickly find his way to a top club, he is a dynamic box-to-box and a capable cutter, plus, he’s very physical, which never hurts in the passive phase. Considering Maxime Lopez’s brilliant ball handling, they have an exquisite and well-rounded line.
They paid a decent buck to get Andrea Pinamonti, who is a nice replacement for Scamacca, although he probably doesn’t have the same ceiling and surely isn’t as flashy. He doesn’t have the same capocannoniere potential as the West Ham forward, but he’s more mobile, combines better with his teammates, and takes care of the dirty work. He’s unlike to bag 20 goals a year, but he’s suitable for a side that has two wingers that can potentially reach the double-digit threshold, which is their case. Once Berardi is back in peak form, their frontline will be potent if Laurienté continues to be this involved and productive. The two injured stars are both good to go for this one, although they might need time to be in acceptable conditions.
After winning just once in the first six rounds, although picking up three draws, including one versus Milan, they turned the corner with a gritty win over Torino and a romp of Salernitana, while they were unlucky to lose versus Inter. While they haven’t been as superb as in the past, they are more compact and have already proven they can go toe-to-toe with anybody since their more cautious strategy always keeps things close.
Expected XI (4-3-3): Consigli; Toljan, Erlic, Ferrari, Rogerio; Frattesi, Maxime Lopez, Thorstvedt; Ceide, Pinamonti, Laurienté.
Injuries and Suspensions
Atalanta: Musso (orbital fracture), Zappacosta, Toloi, Zapata (thigh strain); Hateboer, Palomino (suspension).
Sassuolo: Muldur (fibula fracture), Defrel (foot fracture).