Locatelli, the prototype of the new Italian central midfielder

Manuel Locatelli is one of today's most interesting midfielders. We analyse his game and his profile as a pure central midfielder.


On 13 June 2018, Unione Sportiva Sassuolo Calcio announced 39-year-old Italian Roberto de Zerbi, a coach who is nearing the end of his third season south of Modena as one of the main figures responsible for the footballing transformation in Serie A, a championship that has been breaking its own chains to become one of the most attacking and tactically versatile leagues in all of Europe.

From the moment of his arrival, De Zerbi did not take long to stand out with a work based on several premises that had been highlighted outside Italy, mainly derived from the hegemony of possession football championed by Guardiola’s Barça, which highlighted collective concepts such as the construction of the game, involving the goalkeeper and the centre-backs, fundamental to create both offensive and defensive advantages. A new way of organising around the ball which was not usually seen in Serie A.

Alongside him, Manuel Locatelli arrived in the Reggio-Emilia region, a Milan youth player, as one of the most promising talents in Italian football, and whose story alongside De Zerbi helps to understand how the central midfielder in Italy, since the figure of Andrea Pirlo, is no longer a purely defensive player. These circumstances, coupled with the Azzurri’s failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, have influenced the country’s mentality, resulting in the development of some of its greatest talents.

At 23 years of age, Manuel Locatelli is one of the most interesting players on the current and future European scene. We are talking about a midfielder who is becoming more and more established in his roles, both in balancing the game and in guiding and directing his team, the epicentre of the Neroverdi, initiating from the back and bringing the team together or launching it into attack. Using one of our metrics, the Pass Map, and to graphically exemplify his impact on Zerbi’s idea, in Sassuolo’s recent win at Milan Locatelli was the one who made the most passes (81), something completely usual every week.

In the last three years, Locatelli has been moving backwards on the pitch to become a pure central midfielder, in charge of developing but also of winning back metres, defending in the air, covering to the wings or protecting his area on a permanent basis. Although not as pronounced, it is something that happened to players like Pirlo or Verratti, who were more used to playing between the lines in their early days and who later became central midfielders.

If we look at some of the statistics we have to take into account to separate a midfielder who plays in the final third from one who plays as a central midfielder, Locatelli has been dribbling and pressing less, creating fewer chances and generating fewer assists, in exchange for increasing his defensive performance: being dribbled on less, winning many more aerial duels and intercepting many more balls.

His zone of influence, and consequently his responsibility in the team’s play, has become more centralised and delayed to become a complete midfielder in all phases and facets of the game. If we observe and compare all the passes, by zones of the field, of the 2018 season with those of the 2020 season, we can see that his deliveries have been moving backwards, starting from further back, to modify his behaviour, giving more passes in the first two thirds of the field; less route and a more positional role and focused on guiding the construction, organising and bringing the team together and protecting and preventing progressions of the rival near the area, becoming one of the most coveted midfielders in the big leagues.

Locatelli’s zonal passing in the 2018/2019 season

Locatelli’s zone passes in the 2020/2021 season

Manuel Locatelli is one of today's most interesting midfielders. We analyse his game and his profile as a pure central midfielder.

We are Driblab, a consultancy specialized in the statistical analysis of players and teams; our work is focused on advising and minimizing risk in professional football decision-making in areas related to talent detection and footballer evaluations. Our database has more than 180,000 players from more than 180 competitions, covering information from all over the world. Here you can learn more about how we work and what we offer.

Autor: Alejandro Arroyo
Para Análisis de Jugadoreswe also recommend you:

Deportivo Saprissa and Driblab announce partnership agreement

Our consultancy will work with the recruitment department of the Central American club, 36 times champion of Costa Rica

driblabPRO, already available in Italian and German

We have implemented two more options in the language selection of our tool, extending it to five (English, Spanish, French, Italian and German)

driblabPRO Release Notes June 2021

During the month of June we have developed new tools at driblabPRO that expand the resources we provide to our clients. Here are the details of the month’s new releases

Driblab and Club America sign multi-year renewal agreement

Driblab and America sign multi-year renewal agreement

Driblab, speaker at Sports&Life with Andrés Iniesta

Next July 9th, Driblab will be part of a series of conferences organised by Sports&Life, an agency founded by Andrés Iniesta, current Vissel Kobe player, former player of Futbol Club Barcelona and European (2008, 2021) and World (2010) champion.

Pumas and Driblab announce partnership agreement

In order to aggregate information from all major leagues around the world and further improve talent scouting and player performance analysis, Club Universidad Pumas and Driblab reach a partnership agreement. Driblab will collaborate by providing its artificial...

driblabPRO Release Notes May 2021

During the month of May we have developed new tools at driblabPRO that expand the resources we provide to our clients. Here are the details of the month’s new releases

2020-21 season: Five European U21 newcomers

After a particularly difficult season, it is all the more remarkable to stand out at a young age. We take a closer look at five talents in the top five leagues.

Passing Contribution: influence beyond pass accuracy

Passing statistics were among the first to gain acceptance from the football public but now with Passing Contribution we can analyze the real influence.

Aymeric Laporte with Luis Enrique

Together with the newspaper ‘Marca’, we analyse Laporte’s performance, comparing him with other Spanish centre-backs who have been regulars under Luis Enrique, after obtaining Spanish nationality.


Corporate Information

We are a company based in Madrid founded in 2017 by Salvador Carmona and Cristian Coré Ramiro. Since our inception our work has focused on statistical analysis to help clubs in sports planning. We are a consulting firm that offers personalized services for each client and defends a mixed management model and constant communication to accompany the day to day of the institutions. Our strength is the widest coverage available in number of professional and junior tournaments. For more details please contact us.

Colaboramos con:


Hemos aparecido en:

Talk to our speciali