We like Sassuolo in December, it might not have quite the same ring to it as Paris in the Springtime but for Fiorentina, it could be a good omen.
Our first December clash was in fact the very first meeting of the two clubs. Even though at the time Fiorentina went by the name of Florentia Viola. This was of course back in the 2002/03 season, when both sides were competing in the Serie C2 Group B division. An unusual, unfortunate and unforgettable occurrence for Fiorentina, while for Sassuolo this was as high as they had managed to go in Italian football after over 80 years in existence.
The previous season, while Fiorentina suffered relegation from Serie A and the financial failure of the club, Sassuolo had just managed to avoid relegation themselves, winning a play-out with Faenza to survive for another season in Serie C2. When the sides met just before Christmas in Sassuolo, 22nd December 2002, Fiorentina had already seen the need to change their manager, Pietro Vierchowod making way for Alberto Cavasin. They were now in a battle for the one valuable automatic promotion place with Rimini whereas Sassuolo were involved in their regular struggle for survival.
Fabio Quagliarella made his first start since Cavasin had taken over at the beginning of November, and this would turn out to be his final appearance, as his loan spell would not be extended after the Christmas break. He had only managed one goal in his 12 appearances, although many of these were as late substitutes. He was taken off in the second half, replaced by another player who was also making his last appearance for the club, Emanuele Matzuzzi. Captain Angelo Di Livio made way in injury time to give Alessandro Turchetta his final run out for Fiorentina, he had also contributed just one goal to the cause before his loan spell also ended.
Unsurprisingly it was the unstoppable bomber Christian Riganò who headed in the only goal of the game just after the half hour mark. In a game that proved to be more of a struggle than was expected, Riganò’s 14th goal was enough to take all three points back to Florence and with Rimini only managing a scoreless draw on the same day at Grosseto, Fiorentina were now top of the table (on goal difference) at the half-way point of the season.
Christian Riganò would go on to score 30 league goals that season in 32 appearances. Having only come to professional football at the late age of 26, he had already won a promotion from Serie C2 with his previous club Taranto. The season before this he almost helped them to an even bigger step up to Serie B, his 28 goals brought them to a promotion play-off where they lost out to Catania. Having accepted the offer to drop back down to Serie C2 to help restore Fiorentina to their rightful place, he would finally make his way to Serie B.
Florentia Viola were already guaranteed promotion when Sassuolo came to the Stadio Franchi for the first time on the last day of the season. By then the gap to Rimini was 11 points, and the teams played out a goalless draw. Sassuolo had by now also made a managerial change but they would still end up down in the relegation play-out places, where they would lose out to Imolese. They would however be back in Serie C2 the following season, replacing one of the usual group of clubs who couldn’t survive financially.
While Fiorentina were back up in Serie A after just one more season, Sassuolo would spend another three seasons in Serie C2 before winning a historic promotion to Serie C1 at the end of the 2005/06 season. They almost won promotion to Serie B at the first time of asking, finishing second and losing out in the play-offs. The 2007/08 season would bring Massimiliano Allegri to the Sassuolo bench and finally they would win their place in the second flight of Italian football.
Of all the teams from that historic season in Serie C2 that Fiorentina fans might have expected to meet again sometime in the future in Serie A, Sassuolo certainly wouldn’t have been anyone’s guess at the time. Rimini probably would have been the obvious contender, and although they made it up to Serie B in 2005/06 they never went any further.
Sassuolo meanwhile would spend 5 seasons in Serie B, from 2008/09. They came close on a couple of occasions to gaining promotion to Serie A, twice making the play-offs. But in 2012/13, Eusebio Di Francesco succeeded where other managers such as Andrea Mandorlini and Stefano Pioli had failed, and Sassuolo were on their way to the top flight for the first time ever in their history. Domenico Berardi was already knocking in the goals back then, scoring eleven in that promotion season.
Just like back in 2002/03, when the sides met for the first time in 2013/14 the game also took place on December 22nd in Sassuolo. And just like that game in C2 this first Serie A clash between the sides ended in a 1-0 win for Fiorentina. The Viola under Vincenzo Montella were riding high in fourth place while Sassuolo were at risk of heading straight back to Serie B. Giuseppe Rossi’s right footed goal eight minutes from time was enough to grab all three points for the away side. This was his 14th league goal, but he would suffer a serious injury in the next game against Livorno.
Despite this, Fiorentina maintained that fourth spot while Sassuolo finished just one position ahead of the relegation places. Di Francesco would lose his position on the Sassuolo bench, being replaced in January by former Fiorentina manager Alberto Malesani. Malesani didn’t survive too long however, five defeats in a row brought about a recall for Di Francesco.
The next December game between the sides came in the 2016/17 season, on the 12th in Florence. This would be Paulo Sousa’s final season in charge at Fiorentina while Di Francesco would be moving on to Roma at the end of this season. Coming into the game, Sassuolo were down in 15th place while Fiorentina were in 9th.
A 2-1 win for the home side was the first time this season they had managed two league wins in a row, and also took them up to 7th spot. Fiorentina had two chances in the first half and both of these were put away by Nikola Kalinić, Fiorentina’s top scorer that season. His first came after ten minutes, from an assist by Milan Badelj and his second five minutes before the break was set up by a young Federico Chiesa, a surprise starter in this game. Francesco Acerbi finally managed to get the ball past Ciprian Tătărușanu with fourteen minutes left to play but Fiorentina held out to collect all three points.
Fiorentina would finish that season in eight position, outside the European qualification places, with Sassuolo ending up in 12th spot. When the sides would meet again in December the following season in Florence, the home side had gone four league games without a win. Stefano Pioli was now in charge at Fiorentina, having managed Sassuolo back in 2009/10 in Serie B. Meanwhile Sassuolo had already had a change of manager this season. Cristian Bucchi had taken over from Di Francesco at the start of this 2017/18 season, but he would make way for a former Fiorentina player and future manager, Giuseppe Iachini.
Sassuolo arrived in Florence on December 3rd hoping for some valuable points to take them away from the relegation zone, while Fiorentina were in need of a win to have any chance of getting back up near European qualification. In the end it was a straight forward 3-0 win for Pioli’s side, thanks to goals from Giovanni Simeone, Jordan Veretout and Federico Chiesa. Beppe Iachini only came away with a warm applause from his old fans in the Stadio Franchi. The win took Fiorentina up to 7th place and left Sassuolo still struggling in 16th.
Iachini would manage to take Sassuolo to safety finishing up in 11th place while Pioli failed to grab a place in Europe, ending the season in 8th position. When the sides met the following season, current Sassuolo manager Roberto De Zerbi was already in charge. Another December meeting in this 2018/19 season saw Fiorentina travel to take on Sassuolo on December 9th. Pioli’s side were in 12th place with Sassuolo in 9th.
Fiorentina came into the game without a win in their last seven games and had lost 3-0 at home the previous week to league leaders Juventus. Sassuolo’s recent run was no better, one win in their previous eight games. A win would be a much needed boost for either side.
In the end both sides would have to settle for a point each, but not before a second half of craziness. The sides went in level 0-0 at the break. After an hour there were still no goals, but in that last half hour we would have six goals and two red cards, shared evenly between the teams.
The first goal came from current Viola player Alfred Duncan, but on this occasion he was still in the green and black of Sassuolo. An Alban Lafont punch clear reached Duncan outside the box and with plenty of space and time he could control the ball before rifling the ball home with his left boot. Five minutes later and things got even worse for Fiorentina when their former striker Khouma Babacar was all alone in the box when a Duncan pass found him. The player who had just joined Sassuolo from Fiorentina a few months previously, met it first time with his left foot and although he didn’t celebrate, the home side were now 2-0 up.
Just three minutes later, and with twenty minutes still left to play, Giovanni Simeone finally scored after going 876 minutes without a goal. Pioli having left him on the bench at the start, sent him on ten minutes after the break, replacing Dušan Vlahović. He couldn’t really miss this one, an Edimilson Fernandes shot came back off the post and Simeone found himself all alone, with the Sassuolo players calling for offside to be given. Simeone was however just onside when the initial shot was struck.
Ten minutes later however, and with only ten minutes left to play, Sassuolo looked to have secured the win. A Stefano Sensi long range shot beating Lafont and just when Fiorentina thought they were back in with a chance this seemed like the killer blow. There was still more twists to come in this game though. First up was Filip Đuričić, only on the pitch twelve minutes and with four minutes left in the game he managed to get himself two yellow cards and Sassuolo now had to hold on with ten men, but with a two goal advantage, surely this shouldn’t be a problem.
In the 89th minute, it was Marco Benassi who gave Fiorentina another unexpected lifeline. Again it was an initial effort from Fernandes, and when his header was scrambled away by Andre Consigli, Benassi was there to poke it home. Nikola Milenković then got himself a second booking in the first minute of injury time, both sides now down to ten men. With time looking to be running out there was still one last piece of excitement.
The referee Daniele Chiffi gave seven minutes of injury time, and with one minute left it was another substitute, Kevin Mirallas who broke Sassuolo’s hearts and sent the travelling fans home celebrating. Germán Pezzella played a lovely through ball into the Sassuolo area and Mirallas waited and waited before striking the ball beyond Consigli.
Sassuolo would end the season in 11th place while Fiorentina’s season went from bad to worse. Stefano Pioli would resign after a defeat to Frosinone, with Vincenzo Montella returning to the Viola bench. There was no improvement however, and in his seven games in charge his side would fail to win. Fiorentina actually finished the season going the last 14 matches without a victory. No surprise then that they needed to wait until the last day of the season to guarantee safety.
Fiorentina have taken on Sassuolo five times in December so far, collecting four wins and one draw. Undefeated in the month of Christmas against our next opponents, we’ll take whatever shred of positivity we can get these days. One other possible good omen is that although Domenico Berardi has scored six times against us in ten appearances, he has never managed a goal in our clashes in December.