Italy may have been knocked out of this summer’s European Under-21 Championship in Czech Republic at the group stage, but that did not prevent many onlookers from labelling Berardi as one of the players of the tournament.
Previously co-owned by Sassuolo and Juventus, Berardi surprised many people by opting to remain with the Neroverdi – the only club he has played for professionally – rather than move to Turin this summer. It is probably a sensible move: with Mario Mandzukic, Paulo Dybala, Alvaro Morata and Simone Zaza all competing for starting spots at Juve, Berardi will enjoy regular action with Sassuolo and could still move to Juventus in 2016 if the Italian champions activate a clause in his contract.
Quick, agile and in possession of a wand of a left foot, the inventive Berardi is capable of conjuring pieces of magic from nowhere. The 21-year-old has been fielded as a winger, support striker and out-and-out frontman in his fledgling career to date, with such versatility making him even more valuable to Eusebio Di Francesco’s side.
15 Serie A goals last term and 16 in 2013-14 are terrific returns for a young player belonging to a relegation-threatened team; Berardi will be looking to take that next step by breaking the 20-goal mark this time around.
Alessio Romagnoli, Milan
Eyebrows were raised when Milan agreed to pay Roma £17.5m for a player who only has one full season of senior first-team football under his belt, but it is easy to see why the Rossoneri felt such a deal was good value for money: Romagnoli has already shown signs that he could develop into a top-class central defender and, at just 20, he potentially has a decade-and-a-half in the game still left in him.
Romagnoli was generally excellent on loan at Sampdoria last season, his performances at the heart of one of Serie A’s sturdiest defences leading to comparisons with his hero Alessandro Nesta. Though Romagnoli is nowhere near the level of the world-class former Lazio, Milan and Italy centre-half just yet, there are certainly stylistic comparisons to be made between the pair: like Nesta, Romagnoli is a fine reader of the game and an elegant passer of the ball.
Milan have endured disastrous back-to-back campaigns, the 18-time Italian champions slumping to eight and 10th-place finishes in the previous two years. Having conceded 99 goals in those 76 league games, new boss Sinisa Mihajlovic – who managed Romagnoli at Samp last year – will be hoping that the former Roma man can help bolster the club’s backline.
Franco Vazquez, Palermo
The aforementioned Dybala was one of the best players in Serie A for Palermo last time out, with the Argentine rightly earning a move to Juventus after some superb showings throughout the 2014-15 campaign. While not quite as eye-catching, Vazquez was also fantastic for Beppe Iachini’s outfit and is perhaps a little unfortunate not to have secured a switch to a Champions League side as well.
The attacking midfielder is a highly intelligent player with tremendous movement and awareness and a functioning footballing brain. Vazquez is highly adept at linking the play and knitting his team’s midfield and attack together, with his brilliant left foot allowing him to both shoot accurately from distance and deliver pinpoint passes to his colleagues. Indeed, his vision is arguably his biggest attribute, with 10 assists last season evidence of his creativity capabilities.
It will be interesting to see how Palermo cope without Dybala – who netted 13 goals in 2014-15 – but fans of the Sicilians can at least be grateful that Vazquez remains at the Stadio Renzo Barbera for now.
About the Author – Greg Lea
Freelance football writer. Work published by FourFourTwo, The Guardian, World Soccer, Goal, The National, Squawka, Eurosport, The Blizzard + others.