EURO 2020 has given the platform for numerous talents to showcase their skills on the big stage, and one such gem which has capitalised on this golden opportunity is Sassuolo’s, Manuel Locatelli. This emergence however is no surprise to those who have monitored the Italian starlet, who has unquestionably been bossing Serie A midfield since his move to the Emilia-Romagna based side from AC Milan in 2018. Let’s take a look at the Italian midfielder’s game in detail.
Locatelli’s Rise to the Top
Locatelli is a product of the renowned AC Milan Academy, and he progressed rather quickly making his debut for the Rossoneri in the 2015/16 season aged 18 and recorded his first professional start at the San Siro later that year. However, his start at AC Milan was rather turbulent. He played under 4 different managers in less than five years with Milan and the Lecco-born midfielder struggled to solidify his place in Milan’s starting eleven. He was quickly loaned out to Emilia-Romagna outfit Sassuolo before the 18/19 season. He found his feet instantly under manager Roberto De Zerbi, starting 21 games for the Neroverdi, scoring twice and assisting on 4 different occasions in Serie A. However goals and assists are merely the icing on the cake when it comes to Locatelli’s overall play as his greatest strengths are his metronomic control of play and deep-lying playmaking skills. De Zerbi was extremely impressed by his stint and signed the deep-lying playmaker at the end of the season for a fee of 14 Million Euros from AC Milan.
Before we analyse Locatelli’s game it is important to understand how De Zerbi’s Sassuolo line up, they usually stick to a 4-2-3-1 with Locatelli playing a deep-lying playmaker role in a midfield pivot. Sassuolo leads the Serie A in possession stats averaging a whopping 61% possession per game in the 2020/21, 9% more than Serie A champions Inter Milan with Locatelli in the heart of the Neroverdi’s midfield. He is imperative to De Zerbi’s possession style footballing averaging the most touches and passes for the side over the last two years. Sassuolo also ranks second for successful dribbles in Serie A, and Locatelli leads the side for the highest successful dribble percentage(players who attempted over 0.5 dribbles per game).
Although a right-footed central midfielder, he is known to drift out of his usual midfield pivot and into the inside left channels off the pitch from where he can switch play with his accurate long balls to the likes of Berardi and Raspadori. Additionally, Locatelli is known to pick the ball up from the centre backs deeper on the pitch and efficiently progress it up the pitch, a pivotal link from defence to attack. His defensive output is also extremely visible on the pitch as he leads Sassuolo for tackles+interceptions. Furthermore, he’s also the sides main midfield creator who can play defence-splitting through balls from deep and is known to switch play often to the team’s wingers further up the pitch.
Locatelli is the prototypical modern Italian midfielder, an acute blend of precise passing, elite deep-lying creativity and someone who can beat the press with ease. His passing is by far his biggest asset, the 23-year-old attempts 84.93 passes(per 90 minutes) putting him in the top 3 percentile for all midfielders in Europe, and for such volume, his pass accuracy of 87.9% is extremely impressive and puts him in the top 20 percentile for midfielders across Europe. He completes a mind-blowing 7.68 progressive passes(per 90 minutes) putting him in the top 2 percentile for midfielders across Europe and even averages 5.57 progressive carries which depicts his remarkable ability to progress the ball. Locatelli also averages 2.81 shot-creating actions(per 90 minutes) and 0.12 xA(Expected Assists) per 90 minutes which ranks in the top 14th and 19th percentile for midfielders across Europe and what makes these stats even more impressive is he does this while sitting much deeper than most of Europe’s elite creators. The Italian also averages 2.4 tackles(per 90 minutes) which rank 3rd amongst all players in the Serie A. These exceptional statistics have put Locatelli on the radar of many of Europe’s top clubs.
Manuel Locatelli had already had his breakthrough season in the Serie A, however, he was still relatively unfamiliar to most of the footballing world, and used Euro 2020 to make his mark on the world stage for a dominating Italy side he fits perfectly into. Locatelli plays a midfield role for Roberto Mancini in a 4-3-3 and not only does this show his versatility in different midfield options but allows him a slightly freer role as compared to the one he plays for Sassuolo. Locatelli impressed in Italy’s debut, helped dictate the pace of the game along with Chelsea’s Jorginho, played a strong defensive role and was good in the air. However, what really caught the eye of the world was his masterclass vs Switzerland, where he scored twice including a pinpoint finish from outside the box. Locatelli also showcased his passing arsenal completing 75% of his long balls and winning the ball back multiple times for Gli Azzur, helping him collect The Man of The Match award for the fixture. This helped skyrocket his market value and multiplied interest from numerous top clubs who already had Locatelli on their radar.
The question arises, does Locatelli have what it takes to follow in his predecessor’s footsteps and be the next greatItalian midfielder?
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