Speaking during his pre-match press conference, manager Maurizio Sarri started off with the question if he would rest Cristiano Ronaldo this weekend.
“Cristiano is an immense resource. He has stamina, but perhaps lacks a little in sharpness right now, which is only to be expected.
“We have three forwards of enormous potential, so we always expect a great deal from them. Cristiano trained well, partly with the team and partly in a separate routine, but he is available. All great strikers get irritable if they don’t score goals and I think it is a healthy attitude.
“Look, clearly Ronaldo is not a player like all the others, no matter what you’re supposed to say. Not all players are the same. If someone were to not accept that situation, it’d be a problem for them and not for the team, but I see no such issues. Everyone is crystal clear.”
That was followed by the now-customary question of when he would play all three forwards - Ronaldo, Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain - together?
“We haven’t had time to perform experiments, as we play every three days. It’s problematic, as to have them we’d need one centre-forward and two wingers, which is not the situation here.”
There have been rumours circulating that Lionel Messi has won the Ballon d’Or for 2019.
“I don’t know who is going to win. I’d hope it would be Ronaldo, because he is extraordinary. I also hope Matthijs de Ligt can contend for the young players’ award and that in future Dybala can have a real shot at the trophy. Having said that, no offence to all of you, I care very little about individual awards and even less so about ones assigned by journalists.”
Matthijs De Ligt seems to have gotten over his rocky start, was this due to the coaching of Andrea Barzagli on his coaching staff?
“Clearly, Barzagli is a precious resource for us and can teach him so much in terms of individual and collective tactics. We play every three days, so there isn’t much time for training, but he can sit down for 15 minutes and watch video examples with Barzagli.
“Aside from that, De Ligt is also adapting to the style of football we have in Italy and he’s settling in, which was always going to be the process.”
Comparisons have been drawn between Sassuolo coach Roberto De Zerbi and Sarri, with their playing styles and focus on possession and passing.
“This is a very dangerous match that arrives in a period where we’ve used up a lot of mental energy lately. Sassuolo deserve to be much higher than they are in the table and create plenty of chances on their travels too.
“Even when I was at Chelsea, I said that De Zerbi was one to watch out for, because he has great ideas and I am sure he’ll become a fine coach.”