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.

Published:28/04/2021

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
For Análisis de Jugadores we also recommend you:

Giving value to the pass, much more than being accurate

With the end of the regular seasons, we list the 22 players who generated the most added value with their passes in the top five European leagues.

‘Player Transfers’: Erling Haaland in Guardiola’s team

How will Erling Braut Haaland fit in at Manchester City? We expose possible pros and cons using data.

‘Driblab’ coverage: what if the next football genius was born in Ecuador?

The next football genius may not be Brazilian, Argentinian or German. He can be born anywhere in the world. And the most comprehensive coverage possible allows access to players in any league.

Driblab, present at the ‘Football Innovation Forum’ in Seville

Driblab will be present at the second edition of the Football Innovation Forum, held in Seville on 18 May.

Football stats: the best set-piece specialist

Through the ‘Expected Assists’ metric, we take a closer look at Benjamin Bourigeaud, the best assist man in Europe’s top leagues.

Driblab analyzes the Champions League quarter-finals on Televisión Española (TVE)

We collaborate with TVE to analyse the preview of the second leg of the Champions League quarter-finals.

driblabPRO Release Notes March 2022

During March, we have added some new tools and updates in driblabPRO to expand the resources provided to our clients.

Uruguayan Football Association and Driblab announce partnership agreement

We announce a partnership agreement with the Uruguayan Football Association.

Driblab at the Sports Data Forum 2022

Driblab, present at the Sports Data Forum of the Sports Data Campus, will take part in the round table dedicated to the data industry on Thursday 24th March.

CONMEBOL 2019-2022: South American market overview

In this report we look at the South American market: where each league exports how much talent and at what value. An in-depth analysis of the CONMEBOL market.

Driblab

Información corporativa

Somos una empresa con sede en Madrid fundada en 2017 por Salvador Carmona y Cristian Coré Ramiro. Desde nuestros inicios nuestro trabajo se ha centrado en el análisis estadístico de datos para ayudar a los clubes en la planificación deportiva. Somos una consultora big data que ofrece servicios personalizados para cada cliente y defiende un modelo de gestión mixto y una comunicación constante para acompañar el día a día de las instituciones. Nuestro punto fuerte es la más amplia cobertura disponible en número de torneos profesionales y juveniles. Para más detalles, póngase en contacto con nosotros.

Colaboramos con:

           

Hemos aparecido en:


Talk to our speciali