Italian football is right now going through a revolution. The number of talented, young Italian footballers coming through at this moment in time is staggering; Domenico Berardi, Federico Bernardeschi, Antonio Barreca, Roberto Gagliardini, Mattia Caldara, Andrea Conti, Leonardo Spinazzola… The list of names can cover this entire article. One of the most exciting players currently impressing in Italy is Sassuolo centre-midfielder Lorenzo Pellegrini.
Pellegrini is a 20-year-old midfielder who joined Sassuolo in the summer of 2015 from AS Roma’s academy. Knowing his potential well, Roma made sure a buyback clause was inserted into the deal. Roma have the possibility to purchase Pellegrini back to the capital in June 2017 for the sum of €8m, an option they’ll likely take up in the summer but that is speculation on my part. Pellegrini took a little time to settle, first appearing for Sassuolo on matchday 12 of the 2015/16 Serie A, but eventually earned his place in the team as Sassuolo impressed everyone in Italy by securing a sixth place finish and qualify for the Europa League.
This season, Pellegrini has sparkled and, in the absence of the injured superstar Domenico Berardi, became Sassuolo’s most important attacking player. Usually, Pellegrini has slotted in as one of the wider central midfielders in the coach Eusebio Di Francesco’s 4-3-3 formation. On occasions though, Di Francesco has used a 4-2-3-1 formation with Pellegrini deployed as the team’s main creative outlet in the number 10 role. Regardless of his positioning on the pitch, Pellegrini has impressed with his overall play; he’s scored goals, made assists, won tackles and dribbled through the pitch. He looks like a proper midfielder, capable of doing everything the modern game demands of a central midfielder and, as Luis Enrique would say, can develop into a “total footballer”.
Despite having his biggest qualities in the attacking part of the game, Pellegrini is very good defensively. His pressing is aggressive and intense, he’s tough when going into tackles which sees him winning the ball back often and he breaks up play for the opposition with energetic running and harrying while his positional intelligence is excellent. This likely stems from his deployment in defensive, central and attacking midfield positions throughout his development at Roma and in the Serie A with Sassuolo.
Technical, attacking midfielders who are prepared to work hard and tackle when out of possession will be even more in demand in the future than they are now as the rise of pressing looks set to continue. As the video below illustrates, Pellegrini not only contributes on the ball.
In the video I’ve picked out a few tackles and ball recoveries made by Pellegrini in different games. The fact he can combine winning the ball with his calmness and technical ability to then find a teammate with a pass to calm things down straight after winning the ball gives the team an opportunity to breath and stops the opposition from counter-pressing effectively.
In possession, Pellegrini is a creative midfielder who looks to create chances and set his team up for attacks. Due to his tendency to push up the pitch in order to impact the game in attacking areas where he can create chances, his pass completion isn’t as good as other central midfielders. His quality in creating chances, though, is very impressive and as you see in the video, he can do it with both feet.
As you see, Pellegrini’s quality with the last pass sets him apart from other central midfielders. His quality to break the defensive line of the opposition to set his teammates up highlights not only excellent technique and creativity, but also remarkable football intelligence. The fact he can play these inch-perfect passes, crosses and through balls off either foot shows you what a fantastic talent this is.
In the video above you see Pellegrini isn’t afraid to receive the ball under pressure from opposition either. He simply receives the pass, holds off his marker and plays a pass to a teammate with more time and space.
And here he receives the pass with pressure from behind and is then pressed by a further three Pescara players. Where many players would panic, Pellegrini remains calm and then finds his teammate Alberto Aquilani in the empty space from which Sassuolo can attack. This ability to receive under pressure is vitally important, especially in tight games at the highest level where teams often cancel each other out. With Pellegrini, you get a midfielder that will never hide from the ball.
Physical attributes and dribbling
As you see in this clip, Pellegrini possess the speed and acceleration, on top of his technical ability, to break opposition lines by dribbling too. Despite a quite slim body, Pellegrini has the right muscles in his legs to possess impressive speed when running both with and without the ball. This makes him an even greater attacking threat, as well as being useful in transition, both attacking and defensive, with quick sprints.
Goal scoring threat
Pellegrini also has the exceptional ability to score goals. He has seven for the season for Sassuolo, an impressive return for a midfielder. As you see in the video below, he times his runs into the box perfectly and can score with shots from distance, headers, volleys, solo goals and after combinations. His truly brilliant right foot also ensures Pellegrini to be a threat from set pieces.
Areas of improvement
As with all young players, Pellegrini needs to be more consistent. He doesn’t go missing, but sometimes his passing levels drop. Still, he’s been almost carrying Sassuolo’s midfield this season, is only 20-years-old and still more consistent than most players his age. His biggest problem is his temperament because, although his aggression is positive as it sees him win the ball back often, he can be a bit rash with tackles and commits too many fouls. That problem will be solved with experience though, and if so then we really have a ‘total’ player.
Lorenzo Pellegrini has impressed in the Serie A this season and his complete skill-set as a midfielder will hopefully see him hit the highest level of midfield players in Europe. Tough and aggressive defensively while creative and technical in attack, Pellegrini’s potential is huge. It remains to be seen if he goes back to Roma in the summer, but if he doesn’t, other clubs will come in for one of the biggest talents in Italy at the moment.