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Ceramic Trophy brings together clubs from two ceramic towns

Gabriele Maltinti

Stop me if you've heard this one before.  A town with a population of around 40,000, an industrial town where the main industry is ceramic tile, has a football team.  After 90 years, the team gets to the top level of their league for the first time, and....

No, I'm not talking about Villarreal CF and the town of Vila-real, but about U.S. Sassuolo Calcio, promoted to Serie A in Italy for the first time in 2013.   They survived their first season in the top flight (barely), and will try to avoid the drop again this year.

Sassuolo has had to deal with some challenges in terms of playing at home.  Basically, they don't: their "home" ground only holds 4,000 and is rented from the town, so expanding it is problematic.  They played for five years--when in the second tier--at Modena's ground (about 6 miles away), but in 2013 moved to a ground in Reggio Emilia, about 15 miles away from Sassuolo.

I am honestly unsure whether their owner subsequently bought the ground or is simply renting it, but either way, it looks like being Sassuolo's home as long as they are in the first two divisions, and holds around 20,000.

The team is owned by Giorgio Squinzi, who founded something called the MAPEI Group.  It actually isn't a ceramic tile company, but manufactures things such as sealants, adhesives and so forth that are used to install ceramic tile.  Neat, huh?  It has revenues of more than €1 billion, andis still family-owned and operated.  Squinzi is a sports fan, having sponsored bicycle racing and NASCAR racers in the past, and is now the owner of Sassuolo Calcio.

Their #1 star is a player who came up through their youth ranks, Domenico Berardi.   Best player of Serie B in 2013 (11 goals in 37 matches), he signed for Juventus in summer 2013, but was loaned back to Sassuolo.  Worked out pretty well--he only scored 16 goals in 29 matches, including a hat-trick against Fiorentina.  A 20 year-old,  left-footed right-winger (Sassuolo play a 4-3-3) who was found kicking around a ball in five-a-side games, he is bound for greater things--but for now, Sassuolo have him for one more year.

The team went out and signed Croatian international right-back Sime Vrsaljiko from Genoa, and they bought the remaining rights to their striker Simone Zaza from Juventus this summer as well.   And, they now have 33 year-old centerback Paolo Cannavaro, brother of Fabio and long-time Napoli player.   Not being an ardent follower of Serie A, I don't recognize most of the other players, though some of their older players commanded high transfer fees in their earlier years (Mateo Brighi--€16m in 2004--really?).  Unfortunately, their #1 keeper, Gianluca Pegolo, broke his leg in training and is out for the season--a big loss, as he started 33 matches for them last season.

Sassuolo don't do catenaccio (not that any team in Italy does these days, but hey).  They won matches against Sampdoria and Fiorentina 4-3, won 4-2 over Genoa, and lost to Lazio 3-2.  With their best players at the top of the 4-3-3, our defense is going to come under pressure for sure.

Villarreal: Everyone will be waiting to see whether Mateo Musacchio starts.  It seems likely--we know Sr. Roig wants to keep him, and there hasn't been much reaction from Tottenham in the last few days--and we know Mateo has returned to training.

Assuming he does, then the main interest is going to be seeing how the "G4" version of the Submarine can put it together.  If they can create chances (and Sassuolo's defense is not great) we should score some.  But if Berardi is as good as advertised, we might need all those goals.

Last year, we defeated Fiorentina 2-0 in a match where, to be honest, the Viola didn't really show up. I expect this match might be a lot more interesting.

TV/Radio: Radio Vila-Real will have the match on radio, and it's being televised in Spain on Gol TV.  Villarreal says Fox Sports is broadcasting it, too, but I expect that's to Mexico; look for streams in the US.  The game time is 12:30 Pacific time, 3:30 Eastern.

Finally, I offer this for whatever it's worth--an Italian article that projects we will line up in a 3-4-3 with de Guzmán in midfield.  Of course, it also projects we'll win 2-1 with that lineup!  Enjoy.