MARK O'HAIRE'S (@MarkOHaire) first European NAP of 2018 heads to Italy this weekend.
Genoa v Sassuolo | Saturday 6th January 2018, 14:00
Sassuolo were always going to find replacing heroic head coach Eusebio Di Francesco difficult. The Neroverdi won promotion to Serie A for the first time ever, qualified for European competition and enjoyed year-on-year progression in five of his six seasons in charge.
Di Francesco was pinched by Roma and Sassuolo plumped for Cristian Bucchi as his replacement. Relatively inexperienced Bucchi had led Perugia to fourth in Serie B last term and was embarking upon his first campaign in the top-tier.
Regression was expected around the Mapei Stadium, especially so when losing top goalscorer Gregory Defrel and talented youngster Lorenzo Pellegrini in the summer. The club once again invested in youth with all their major additions aged 23 or under but things just never looked like working under Bucchi.
A home defeat against struggling 10-man Verona at the end of November was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Bucchi was axed with the Neroverdi having taken only 11 points from 14 fixtures under his watch.
A new Sassuolo dawn
Beppe Iachini was given the gig of reviving Sassuolo’s fortunes and providing some much-needed stability. And after a thumping 3-0 loss at Fiorentina only days after his appointment, the side are starting to flourish once more.
Under Iachini’s guidance, Sass have W3-D1-L0, despite having to face the likes of Roma, Sampdoria and Inter Milan in that sequence before the winter break. The Neroverdi survived two VAR claims against Roma, and Inter missed a penalty, but on both occasions it could be argued Sassuolo were deserving of their results.
The work-rate, resilience and spirit Sassuolo became famed for has returned in droves and although the coach admits they must improve in possession, there’s enough invention in Domenico Beradi and in-demand winger Matteo Politano for the side to thrive in forward areas.
It should be said veteran defender Paolo Cannavaro has retired over Christmas to join the coaching staff of brother Fabio at Guangzhou Evergrande but Iachini believes he’s a squad capable of covering the loss and that’s encouraging.
Sassuolo can pick up another positive result
Sassuolo travel to Genoa having recorded W4-D2-L1 against clubs below them in the league standings; in fact, the visitors boast a superb return at bottom-half dwellers, winning seven of their last eight trips to such opponents. Indeed, all five of the Neroverdi’s road reverses have come against Serie A’s current top-10.
Genoa may have suffered a sole reverse in seven games under Davide Ballardini’s watch (W3-D3-L1) but their three victories in that time all came against the current beleaguered bottom-three, and by the tightest of margins (1-0).
Last time out the Rossoblu managed to scrape a goalless draw against a Torino outfit missing a whole host of stars, with in-demand Genoa goalkeeper Mattia Perin putting in a Man of the Match performance.
The hosts have really struggled to impress at their Marassi home this season too. The Rossoblu’s only triumph came against rock-bottom Benevento (W1-D2-L6) and going back further they’ve claimed only three wins at their Genoese base since December 2016 (W3-D5-L12).
It’s true Ballardini’s improved Genoa defensively but with the Rossoblu scoring more than a single goal in only four outings this term, it’s hard to find the faith to support them at such short quotes. Therefore, Sassuolo +0.50 in the Asian Handicap market at 11/14 (188BET) has to be my European NAP this weekend.
Genoa v Sassuolo – Sassuolo +0.50 Asian Handicap (11/14 188BET)