STADIO ENZO RICCI (Sassuolo): Sassuolo appeared to have fallen into an irreversible habit in Serie A Femminile’s first round of fixtures, consistently putting in performances that were worthy of a healthier points total than the table showed. With just one win from their first nine games though, things were more than just a little concerning from the outside looking in.
It didn’t seem right that their first win of the season came in their final game of the opening round of fixtures, less so with draws against reigning champions Juventus and early-impressers Inter in there as well. But anybody who had been keeping a close eye on the Neroverde would have known that the table, as it sometimes does, was lying.
A tough start without much luck
Sassuolo lost their season opener to Sampdoria, having gifted their visitors a goal back in August. That luck never turned, and a string of late goals saw them fast having to reevaluate their season goals and focus on getting themselves off the bottom of the table.
Then came the late concessions – they lost a point in the 90th minute away to Parma; dropped another in the 92nd at home to leaders AS Roma, lost grip of two in the 92nd at home to Inter; let another two slip in the 93rd at Como. There seemed to be no end to their misfortune. But when they navigated their way through a late storm against Pomigliano to hold onto a 2-1 win sealed by a Lana Clelland header midway through the second half, things changed.
They have since gone away to Sampdoria and avenged their opening-day loss with a 2-0 win, and most recently enjoyed the sweet taste of revenge with a 94th-minute equaliser of their own through Eleonora Goldoni against Parma in Matchday 11.
The mood has changed at Sassuolo, but it would be wrong to say that they’re back. Gianpiero Piovani’s team play differently to the side he led so brilliantly last season. They consist of different parts now, but can be just as entertaining to watch. Benedetta Orsi’s return after a long-term absence has been huge at the back, and has provided them with a little more stability while also giving them so much on the ball as well. Martina Tomaselli is another to have made a return from a long spell on the sidelines and she brings an indescribable amount to their midfield and attack. Clelland, too, has had to battle through injury problems and is still only finding her rhythm again.
Clelland delivers, Goldoni stepping up
Clelland is and has been a guarantee of goals in Serie A Femminile for as long as she’s been in Italy. Injuries stopped her from really finding her feet early in 2022/23, but she’s scored twice in her last three outings now, with two of those appearances coming from the bench. With Sofia Cantore, Haley Bugeja and Michela Cambiaghi all having left over the summer, somebody alongside the Scotland international has been missing.
Despite her unquestionable talent, Giusy Moraca has struggled to settle since moving north to Sassuolo and is likely to leave again; Asia Bragonzi hasn’t always been available; Eleonora Goldoni has been mostly contributing from the bench if at all. In recent weeks it appears as though Goldoni is finding a role under Piovani though, and she’s almost single-handedly earned the Neroverde four points in their last two with a goal and an assist in the 2-0 win at Samp before her 94th-minute leveller against Parma.
If Goldoni can continue to work her way into form and Piovani’s XI, and with contributions from Bragonzi, Valeria Monterubbiano, Evdokija Popadinova and exciting 16-year-old Manuela Sciabica, Sassuolo should be able to fire their way to safety at the very least.
There are now seven matchdays to play before each team will have played one another twice and Serie A Femminile will split in half for two mini-leagues to settle the title and relegation, and recent weeks have shown enough to suggest that Sassuolo will be targeting AC Milan Women, currently six points above them, and hoping to take their place – currently the fifth of five – in the top half of the table.
Milan, incidentally, visit Sassuolo at the Stadio Enzo Ricci next up for Matchday 12 on Saturday, December 10.