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Tactical Preview: U.S. Sassuolo vs AC Milan

Sassuolo bring a high-flying attack and a faltering defense

AC Milan v US Sassuolo - Serie A Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

AC Milan, looking to finally secure a Europa league spot, head to Mapei Stadium in tiny Sassuolo, where they will face off with one Serie A’s hottest teams. Both sides are in excellent form: neither have lost in eight matches.

Sassuolo generally run a 4-2-3-1, which has fascinatingly resulted in one of Serie A’s top offenses, whereas the formation is typically considered defensive and conservative. Though they occasionally line up in a 4-3-3, this formation did not serve them well, as they last drew with Cagliari in this setup. The 4-2-3-1 allows for a huge amount of defensive flexibility because the two defensive midfielders are able to easily cover for an attacking fullback and protect the backline. Stereotypes might portray a typical team using this formation as strong defensively and weak offensively due to the presence of just one striker. Ironically, the reverse is true for Sassuolo.

Sassuolo’s defense has struggled mightily this season, allowing 58 goals through 33 games. The fact that the side is in contention for a Europa League spot despite allowing so many goals is a testament to their offensive abilities. Sassuolo’s defense is actually allows an average amount of goals in open play, but the club has given up a shocking number of free kicks (13), penalties (8) and own goals (4).

In addition to these goals, Sassuolo is incredibly vulnerable to close-range goals. 8% of goals against come from inside the 6-yard box, third-most in Serie A, while 60% come from inside the 18-yard box, most in the league. The location of these shots suggest that Sassuolo’s defensive midfielders are struggling to halt oncoming attackers, which is backed up by statistics. Among qualifying CDMs in Serie A play, Sassuolo’s Pedro Obiang and Manuel Locatelli, their starting defensive midfielders, have the second and fourth-most failed dribbles respectively. Milan should be able to exploit Sassuolo’s backline fairly easily with creative players like Ante Rebić, who has been in top form lately. If the Rossoneri stay motivated and apply continuous pressure, they should be able to net at least 3 goals in this match.

Sassuolo’s offense has obviously been the driving force behind their recent success. The club has scored an astounding 63 goals, which is 10 more than Milan has managed. These goals have largely come from Francesco Caputo (18), Domenico Berardi (13) and Jeremie Boga (11).

The three aforementioned players will be crucial to whether or not Milan get a result in this game. The full backs in particular will need to stop Berardi and Boga from cutting in from the wings whilst Kessie and Bennacer will have to ensure that the shots from the edge of the box are limited. Caputo will be a nuisance for Kjaer and Romagnoli as the veteran striker has been the focal point of Sassuolo's success with 4 goals and 2 assists in the past 5 games. Caputo very much relies on that one half-chance in a game to find the back of the net and Milan have been relatively sloppy with the goals conceded against Bologna, Parma and SPAL.

In addition to the front line, Djuricic and Traore have been vital to Sassuolo blistering transition play that allows them to attack over and over again. Locatelli plays simple passes to keep the ball moving but it is the two mezzallas who open up the spaces and draw defenders away from Boga and Berardi with the overlaps and the late runs into the box. Overall, this game looks to be an ultra attacking display with the team that can score more grabbing all three points; both sides will likely start off cagey but the individual talent available will result in the goals.