Verdict: Away win
Best odds: 6/5
Sassuolo welcome Lazio to the Stadio Citta del Tricolore on Sunday to do battle for the points needed fairly strongly by both sides, though for different reasons, and it promises to be a fierce encounter.
Having had a fine 2021/22 season, being near the top of the Serie A for a while before going back down and finishing 11th, Sassuolo are now back fighting to stay in the league. Their case is not exactly desperate at this point, given that they’re 16th at the moment with 16 points, seven more than Verona in the red zone, with Spezia sitting in between. For Verona, as well as Sampdoria and Cremonese further down, things don’t look too promising.
On the other hand, Alessio Dionisi will be extremely worried by the fact that his team recorded its last victory to date in October, against Verona, as well as the fact that they only avoided defeat once in their last six matches, losing the last five. The run begins with a 1-1 draw at home against Roma, followed by consecutive defeats 3-0 away to Bologna, 2-1 away to Empoli, 0-1 at home to Inter Milan, 1-2 to Sampdoria at home, and eventually 2-1 away to Fiorentina. An abysmal line of results indeed, and if it goes on for much longer, things could get serious very quickly.
It should be said that Sassuolo lost a number of important players from previous seasons last summer, mostly in the attacking department. Strikers Gianluca Scamaca and Giacomo Raspadori, wingers Jeremie Boga and Jens Odgaard, as well as attacking midfielder Filip Djuricic, all left the club ahead of the season.
Andrea Pinamonti, one of the players who came in on loan from Inter to ease the attacking situation at Sassuolo, is unavailable for this clash through a muscular issue. Dionisi’s situation is made more difficult by the knee injury ruling out first-choice goalkeeper Andrea Consigli, as well as the one keeping midfielder Maxime Lopez out of action. Mert Muldur is also out with an ankle fracture.
Gianluca Pegolo is expected to stand in for Consigli between the posts, with captain Gian Marco Ferrari commanding fellow defenders Martin Erlic, Jeremy Toljan and Rogerio. Pedro Obiang will probably be at the base of the midfield, with Davide Fratessi and Hamed Junior Traore running from one box to the other. Without Pinamonti, Augustin Alvarez is set to lead the line, flanked by Domenico Berardi and Armand Lauriente.
And while Sassuolo keep looking over their shoulder and scrambling to stay away from the relegation zone, Lazio are fighting to break back into the top four. It’s not looking easy either as they sit in fifth with 31 points, looking at the back of Inter on 34, as well as Juventus and AC Milan on 37 each. The title race is currently in the bag for Napoli, who now have a 10-point advantage at the top after thrashing Juventus on Friday evening. Lazio have to look behind as well, being on the same tally as Atalanta in sixth and city rivals AS Roma in seventh.
Maurizzio Sarri’s team haven’t exactly been on great form recently either, though it’s not quite as bad as that of Sassuolo. Their last-six run to date begins with a 1-0 defeat away to Eredivisie leaders Feyenoord, which saw them unexpectedly exit the Europa League after the group stage. They bounced back in the best way possible, by beating AS Roma 0-1 in the Derby of Rome, and followed that up with a 1-0 victory over Monza at home. But then came a 3-0 thrashing they took away to Juventus, and after the World Cup, they lost 2-1 away to Lecce, but the subsequent draw at home against Empoli probably hurt the most.
Wingers Felipe Anderson and Mattia Zaccagni struck either side of the break to put Lazio in a relatively comfortable lead in that match, but after Francesco Caputo pulled one back for the visitors in the 83rd minute, Razvan Marin set the score at 2-2 three minutes into the stoppage time.
Despite that disappointment, Sarri isn’t expected to make any changes in the lineup for Sunday, apart from Elseid Hysaj likely being named to replace the suspended Manuel Lazzarri on the right defensive flank. Also Matias Vecino could be hoping to replace Luis Alberto in the middle of the park, but with the team likely to go all out to win this clash, Alberto, the more creative of the two, is still more likely to keep his place ahead of the more disciplined Vecino.
So, with Ivan Provedel in goal, Alessio Romagnoli and Nicolo Casale should form the centre-back partnership, with Hysaj on the right and Adam Marusic on the left. Danilo Cataldi should be tasked with providing some midfield protection for the back four, with Alberto and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic having more freedom to contribute in attack. Captain Ciro Immobile should be flanked by Zaccagni and Anderson again.
Both teams have obviously gone through a rough patch lately, but Sarri will have given his players a proper talking-to after the Empoli fiasco and they’ll surely do whatever they can to make amends for the points they dropped.
Verdict: Away win
Best odds: 6/5