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Milan-Sassuolo Preview: The Little Team That Could


Our final match of the season is significant in many ways. First on the minds of many Milanisti is that a win could still put us in the hunt for a Europa League qualifying spot, depending on the results of other games that will be played at the same time. Second, if you’ll remember, it was spunky little Sassuolo who put the final nail in the coffin for our dear Allegri’s tenure at Milan in January. So I have a very special spot in my heart for them. But truly the biggest story in all of this is that Sassuolo were promoted for the very first time this season to Serie A, and have managed to avoid relegation with some very impressive draws and wins against bigger clubs. They are the little team that could.

There's a reason that kryptonite is green, Milan were helpless against his four goals in January

Also, this is their owner, Giorgio Squinzi, who is a chemist and entrepreneur and a massive Milan fan:


And this is the song they play at their stadium when their team scores:


They also won the Trofeo TIM Cup last summer, playing against the mighty Juve and yes, of course, Milan. So while they definitely kept the Trofeo TIM curse alive (teams who win the cup did not win the Scudetto that season 11 out of 13 times now,) they also managed to avoid relegation. I rest my case. It’s hard not to root for the little team that could.

Oh, but you probably wanted to know a little about the teams and the matchups. Fine, I’ll oblige you. But keep in mind that the owner is a Milan fan and they celebrate goals with Chumbawamba and they won the Trofeo TIM. Because they are just full of awesome.

Still in our hearts

I’m kind of developing a little crush on Sassuolo, for more than just their unabashed awesomeness. For example, look at their squad. They picked up 33 year old Pegolo from relegated Siena last season, a keeper who is quite good but flies under the radar. The rest of their squad is a mishmash of older players or “falling stars,” like Paolo Cannavaro, Davide Biondini, Antonio Floro Flores, Sergio Floccari, and Reto Ziegler. Not necessarily top team stars, but fairly solid players. The other half of their squad are rising stars like 19 year-old Domenico Berardi on loan from Juve, whose hat trick sunk Fiorentina two weeks ago and who also scored all four against Milan in January. He’s got 16 goals in total this season. Or 22 year-old Simone Zaza, coming through Atalanta and Sampdoria and almost received a callup from Prandelli for Brazil. Or 22 year-old Nicola Sansone, of Bayern Munich’s youth system, who impressed for Parma last season. Squinzi may be a Milan fan, but he clearly does not adhere to Milan’s transfer policies, it’s a pretty impressive squad for a tiny budget and a first-time Serie A team. Galliani, are you taking notes?

After a horrific start to their season, including a record defeat of 7-0 at the hands of Inter, Sassuolo have fought back with draws and wins against some of the bigger clubs. For example, they have just won back to back matches vs. Fiorentina and Genoa in their fight for survival, so they sit in a comfortable 16th place and are guaranteed Serie A again next season. Di Francesco is back as manager, too, having been sacked and replaced ever so briefly by the legendary Malesani. Against Genoa, Di Francesco lined up Pegolo; Antei, Cannavaro, Ziegler, Rosi; Magnanelli, Biondini, Brighi; Zaza, Berardi, and Floro Flores. Interestingly enough, the goals were scored by the ex-Genoa players Biondini and Floro Flores. Ouch. Sassuolo will be without defenders Manfredini, and Bianco as well as striker Alexe, all due to injuries. And we will miss out on seeing former Milan player and lifelong Milanista Acerbi due to his ongoing battle with testicular cancer. (Another reason not to begrudge another Sassuolo victory, as a gift to Acerbi.)

Prepared for the worst

Milan on the other hand could be ushering out a very short era with Seedorf as manager, if the papers are to be believed. Let’s hope that regardless of the result, Squinzi can talk some sense into Berlusconi and Galliani and make sure we see il Professore on the touchline again come August. In addition to a last gasp effort for Europe next season, Milan will be sporting their hideous new first kits for next season with the cool St. Ambrose crest (which is reportedly offending a lot of people based on religious beliefs, even if it comprises one half of Milan’s official crest and they have no problems with this.)

But the biggest story of this match is that Milan could be without the illustrious Daniele Bonera. That’s right, Big Game Bonera is reportedly questionable due to a muscular problem with his right thigh. Game over. Seriously? How will we ever succeed without our superstar? In addition to being without the young Saponara and the perennial fan favorite Valter Birsa due to injury, now we are without Big Game Bonera. Oh, yeah, and there is a young phenom called Hachim Mastour who was just promoted to the first team ahead of his 16th birthday next month. He might get some minutes. But it doesn’t even matter because without Big Game Bonera, we are sunk.

Like Neymar, but without the whining, cursing, and diving

Personally, while I always root for Milan, I would not begrudge another Sassuolo victory. For Acerbi, for ridding us of Allegri, for us to avoid Europe, and as a gift to Squinzi for bringing his spunky little team into Serie A and keeping them here for another year. It’s hard not to like a team who truly personifies their stadium song’s lyrics: “I get knocked down, but I get up again, you’re never gonna keep me down.” So I can truly enjoy this last match of the season, knowing I will be happy with any result, thanks to the little team that could.


This post inspired by Chumbawamba’s “Tubthumping” (“I Get Knocked Down”)


Our final match of the season is
Milan vs. Sassuolo
Sunday, May 18 • 20:45 CEST (2:45pm EDT)
This match is being shown LIVE on BeIN Sport in the U.S.

Check here for stream links ahead of the match