Until as recently as January 22, Sassuolo had been looking nervously downwards. A 1-1 draw with Monza that day kept them in 17th place, and was their first point in seven matches dating back to a 1-1 draw with AS Roma prior to the World Cup.
Were it not for the abject form of those in the bottom three, Sassuolo could easily have found themselves in serious trouble. Fortunately for them, the bottom three on that day of Hellas Verona, Sampdoria and Cremonese had mustered just five wins from a combined 57 league matches.
That point proved precious, however. It marked the start of a run of form that has continued right into Matchday 27. In the eight matches since, Sassuolo have nearly doubled their points tally from 17 to 33, won five, and lost only one (to runaway Serie A leaders Napoli).
Instrumental to Sassuolo’s remarkable turnaround has been Armand Lauriente. In his first full season in Italy, the 24-year-old Frenchman has ignited a spark under Alessio Dionisi’s side that was severely lacking, and marked himself out as one of the league’s most devastating wingers.
Lauriente‘s arrival was part of a drastic overhaul in attacking personnel at Mapei Stadium over the summer. Out went Gianluca Scamacca and Giacomo Raspadori to West Ham and Napoli respectively, and the winter saw Hamed Traore also depart to Bournemouth.
Having lost names such as these, the signing of a little-known winger from Lorient would likely have gone under the radar. In three seasons in Ligue 1, Lauriente‘s best return from a season was the six goals and two assists he contributed in 2021/22. This was not a player to come in and immediately fill the void left by Scamacca and Raspadori.
His first outings in Serie A proved as much. Whilst Lauriente did score twice and assist two more in his first six matches, the rawness of his talent was evident. Electric and exciting in the ball, with the capacity to blitz past defenders in a flash, Lauriente‘s final touch and finishing quality remained lacking.
This came to a head during Sassuolo’s barren autumn and early winter. Seven Serie A starts between late October and late January produced as many sendings off as they did goals or assists; one. As Sassuolo faltered, the inexperience of Lauriente, his teammates, and even his coach, was glaring.
That was until Sassuolo’s crowning result of the season, a 5-2 away win at AC Milan. Domenico Berardi stole the headlines with a hat-trick and an assist, and even won the penalty for the other goal on the day. Berardi, Sassuolo’s iconic talisman, was expected to take the penalty himself. It was Lauriente however, who confidently took the ball for himself and buried it with ease. The confidence and bravado to do so, having been on such a dreadful run of form, was remarkable.
A league-leading dribbler
Put simply, Armand Lauriente is a dribble monster. Within his own side, his 80 attempted take-ons this season dwarf the next highest (54), and when comparing across the whole Serie A, Lauriente leads the league for progressive carries (92).
Lithe and fluid in his range of movements, Lauriente varies his type of touch and technique to either explode into space on the counter, or weave and nip through crowded spaces. His carrying is far from refined, however. The Frenchman’s will to run at players means he makes the wrong decision far too often, and leaves his teammates exasperated upon not laying the ball off for a simple pass.
The success rate of his carrying puts Lauriente among Serie A’s most dangerous dribblers. His 41.3% success rate is very close to Rafael Leao’s 43.1% for example, and significantly better than Khvicha Kvaratskhelia’s 31% success when carrying. This is to be expected when considering that Napoli are facing deep sitting opposition that afford little room to run into, and Sassuolo play a more vertical and transitional style. It remains a positive indication of Lauriente‘s ability however to see him in close proximity to a dribbler as good as Leao.
Across the season, Sassuolo have averaged 48% possession; a far cry from the ball dominance experienced under Roberto De Zerbi a few seasons back. The balance of their squad demands for them to play in transition, however. A central midfield stacked with technical yet combative ball winners, a facilitating centre-forward in Andrea Pinamonti, and threat from wide in Lauriente and Domenico Berardi. The dynamic between Lauriente and Berardi is especially intriguing. The Italian is a creative mould of winger, cutting inside to combine with team-mates, and littering the final third with delicate flicks and touches to take player out of the game. He is the perfect counterbalance to Lauriente‘s brute speed and directness, and together offer a varied twin threat to Sassuolo’s attack.
Adding to his game
Sunday night’s sensational 4-3 victory over AS Roma demonstrated another string to the bow of Armand Lauriente.
Two first-half strikes continued a fine run of five goals and two assists in six matches for the winger. It was the manner of their scoring that impressed, with both coming inside the penalty area and reacting to loose balls to fire home.
Whilst not difficult chances to score, Lauriente‘s positioning inside the box to receive in a dangerous position was what should be expected of a winger. So impressive and captivating are his exploits with the ball running at defenders, that such simple refinements and additions could be easily ignored. It was such movements that evaded his game during Sassuolo’s dreadful winter run, and appear to be increasing as Lauriente grows and adapts further.
It is difficult to accurately predict the ceiling on Armand Lauriente‘s potential. No one can deny the entertainment and electricity he brings on the left wing, but modern football has a habit of casting aside those that entertain without the merciless edge to contribute goals and assists in great quantity. In his first full Serie A season, Lauriente is Sassuolo’s top scorer on seven, and has helped pull Dionisi’s side away from danger, and towards the comfortable climes of mid-table security.
Another season of growth like this, and Lauriente could be the latest talent to be sold for great profit by the club.