December 21, 2017 / 2:09 AM / 6 months ago

Firing the coach pays dividends for Italian pair

MILAN (Reuters) - Having lost their unbeaten record and Serie A leadership in defeat to Udinese last week, Inter Milan must face another team who are enjoying a new lease of life after changing coach when they visit Sassuolo on Saturday.

Inter will have further reason to be wary of Sassuolo, the team from the smallest town ever to be represented in Serie A - they have lost four of their last eight meetings against them.

Udinese and Sassuolo both made poor starts to the season and opted for the time-honoured solution of firing their coaches in order to turn their respective campaigns around.

Proud owners of one of the most modern stadiums in Serie A, Udinese gave Luigi Delneri his marching orders in mid-November after losing eight of their first 12 games and brought in the relatively inexperienced Massimo Oddo.

Although Oddo’s only previous stint in Serie A ended abruptly when he was fired by Pescara in February with his side bottom of the table, he has transformed Udinese by making the most of his team’s physical strength.

They have responded by winning three of their four games under him, capping their run with a 3-1 win at Inter last Saturday when they gave a lesson in quick counter-attacking.

“I’ve always said that the coach has to find the team for his players, not the other way round,” said Oddo, 41.

“This team is very different team from the one I had at Pescara with different characteristics. There is a great deal of power, physical presence and stamina, so I try to make the most of that.”

Udinese host Verona on Saturday although Oddo warned against getting carried away. “We are getting great results but the worst thing we can do now is to start dreaming,” he said.

Sassuolo, meanwhile, have won two out of three league games since swapping Cristian Bucchi for the wily and much-travelled Giuseppe Iachini, who is at his 11th Italian club but has yet to coach any of the top teams.

They won 1-0 at sixth-placed Sampdoria on Sunday despite missing the fifth penalty of seven they have been awarded this season.

“We’ve only been together for three weeks,” said Iachini. “I’m convinced that if we continue to work like this, with this intensity in both attack and defence, we can make further progress.

“Everyone has shown great willingness and we’re improving but I know we can do better. We haven’t been so good with our final passes.”

Sassuolo made their top flight debut in the 2013/14 season and were thumped 7-0 at home in their first meeting with Inter. But in seven meetings since then, Inter have won only three to Sassuolo’s four.

Inter, who went through their first 16 games unbeaten, are third with 40 points, two behind leaders Napoli, who host Sampdoria. Titleholders Juventus, who host fourth-placed Roma on Saturday, are second with 41 points.

Writing by Brian Homewood in Bern; Editing by Toby Davis

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