A new era of Italian football has begun. Roberto Mancini’s men have just won Euro 2020, and they were by far the most entertaining team during the competition.
Italy have been known for their defence-first tactical systems and Catenaccio styles of play throughout history, but now, a new age has begun. An age where Italy are the most expansive European team in international football.
Along with this new era of playstyle comes a plethora of attacking talents rising through the ranks at some of Italy’s biggest clubs – players of the mould of a Nicolo Barella or even a Matteo Pessina who can become the Azzurri’s next rising star.
One of the players backed to be a future international for the Italian national team is Atalanta’s Alessandro Cortinovis. The 20-year-old has had a fine campaign with La Dea’s U19s in the Campionato Primavera 1, captaining the side to the final of the competition where they, unfortunately, lost out to Empoli 5-3.
Cortinovis, labelled ‘the next Modric’, has earned massive plaudits in Italy and avid viewers of the underage team expect him to be on Gian Piero Gasperini’s radar to make the step up from the academy in the 2021/22 season. Several top clubs have been pursuing his signature including Sassuolo and Manchester United.
This tactical analysis article in the form of a scout report will be an analysis of the player’s strengths and weaknesses as well as an assessment of whether or not the Italian midfielder would suit Gasperini’s tactics.
Player profile and style of play
Cortinovis has quite a lean frame and is quite tall, standing at 5ft 11 and weighing 74kg, which is the equivalent of 163lbs. While having a lean frame, he is not weak or scrawny and so is not easily pushed off the ball easily.
The 20-year-old midfielder is right-footed although he is certainly adept at using his left foot, particularly using his left foot to control the ball in tight spaces.
Cortinovis primarily plays as a central midfielder on the left of a three-man midfielder for Atalanta. The U19s manager Massimo Brambilla has primarily opted to play a 3-5-2 or a 5-3-2 in games with Cortinovis as the left central midfielder, partnering both Alassane Sidibe and Emmanuel Gyabuaa.
The data visual above shows the four main positions that Cortinovis has occupied this year. As already stated, his primary role has been as a left-central midfielder, but the Italian has been utilised as part of a double-pivot, as an attacking midfielder and even as a make-shift centre-forward on numerous occasions.
Although the graphic above does not show, Cortinovis can play wide on the right too, and also as a single pivot. The Italian was quite interesting as a lone ‘6’ and played in that position in a recent match against Internazionale. Certainly, a role that it would be interesting to watch him in again, picking up passes on the half-turn and breaking through the opposition’s defensive block with line-breaking passes.
When Atalanta are in possession, Cortinovis is given quite a free role too and takes up great positions between the lines of the opposition, often in the left halfspace channel, but he also drops deeper to receive to feet and help circulate the ball when the other team are quite difficult to break down in their defensive block.
As can be seen from Cortinovis’ heatmap above, there is quite a lot of action in higher areas of the pitch, where the Italian likes to operate, but there’s also some action in deeper areas. Later in this article, we will delve deeper into how Cortinovis operates in these areas of the pitch.
Prolific goalscoring midfielder but still with room to improve
Cortinovis has shown himself to be very prolific this season despite being primarily a central midfielder, averaging 0.51 goals game, an expected goals rate (xG) of 0.35 per 90, and even 2.26 shots on goal per 90 with an accuracy of 44.8 percent. In just 25 matches for La Dea’s U19s, Cortinovis has scored 13 goals.
The midfielder also takes a high volume of shots within the 18-yard box, averaging 3.39 touches inside the penalty area per 90.
From this data visualization, which has plotted all of Cortinovis’ shots this season, one can see that the majority of his strikes on goal come from inside the penalty area. This is very impressive for a central midfielder as it shows a willingness to get into the box when in the final third.
Interestingly enough, the Italian has yet to have a shot within the six-yard box which ultimately means that the xG on his shots are sometimes low. Just 6 of the 58 shots taken by Cortinovis in the 2020/21 campaign accumulated an xG of over 0.2 so 52 of the young midfielder’s strikes had less than 0.2 xG.
Also, what adds to the number of low xG shots that the 20-year-old takes is his number of shots outside the box. As can be seen from the data visualization in the previous data visual, a massive chunk of Cortinovis’ shots have been taken from outside the area, but just one was converted and the vast majority went wide.
Either Cortinovis needs to practice his shooting from longer ranges to convert more chances from outside the box. His conversion rate from beyond the 18-yard line this season was 0.05 percent which is ridiculously low.
His goalscoring record is very high, a fantastic quality in a midfielder, but there is always room for improvement as the stats and data visual given have shown.
Positioning and ability to jump the press
As already shown previously from the heatmap, Cortinovis generally takes up high positions on the pitch which are between the lines of the opposition. By sitting in these areas between the lines, creating quality angles to receive a pass, the Italian gives himself positional superiority over his opponents.
Here is an example of Cortinovis pushing up between the lines to receive the ball to feet in an excellent position. The Italian knows that there is enough space behind him to take the ball on the half-turn and drive forward and so has gained positional superiority on the opposition’s ball-near players.
When he receives, Cortinovis understands that one of the defending players will be forced to press him to prevent him from turning on the ball. However, the 20-year-old has a wonderful ability to work his way out of a player pressing him or marking him tightly by either touching the ball around the defender and completing a dribble, or else by playing a first-time pass into a nearby teammate.
In this image, Cortinovis displayed his innate ability to control the ball under high pressure. The Atalanta left central defender has played the ball to the feet of the Italian midfielder which triggered one of Empoli’s defensive midfield players to quickly close him from behind. Without hesitation though, Cortinovis touched the ball from his weaker left foot onto his right and sped away from the defender, an utterly stupendous exhibition of his natural dribbling ability.
So far this season with Atalanta’s U19s, Cortinovis is averaging 4.76 dribbles per 90 from central midfield with a success rate of 50.8 percent, slightly over half. This is a very good record for a player that plays a position where dribbling can prove to be detrimental to a team should the dribbler lose possession.
A similar situation has occurred in this annotated image. Again, Cortinovis has received the ball to feet between the lines and the Genoa wingback has pushed out to close him down quickly. In less than a second, Cortinovis has touched the ball into the wide-player on the left and made a run into the space behind.
The Atalanta young star’s footballing intelligence and tactical nous stands out when observing him on the football pitch. Often, Cortinovis will rotate and interchange positions with ball-near teammates to pick up possession in different areas of the pitch, making him less predictable and harder to defend against.
Cortinovis mainly completes these positional rotations with the other midfield players and often likes to drop as the single pivot at times, commanding the actual ‘6’, generally Sidibe, to push out to the left flank while he occupies the central space for a brief period.
At times though, Cortinovis will also instruct the ball-near wingback to move higher up the pitch while he drops out wide to receive, stretching the opposition’s defensive block wider, which creates gaps for Atalanta to then play through.
This positional awareness and tactical intelligence is certainly something that Gasperini would be impressed by as the first team’s system is based on ball possession and space orientation where players interchange and move into different positions on the field to create space within the opposition’s defensive block.
Creating in and around the box
Despite possessing a wonderful goalscoring record and an exceptional passing range, Cortinovis is currently registering just 0.08 assists per 90. The rising star contributed just two assists to his side during the entirety of the 2020/21 campaign. The player’s expected assists throughout the season though was 4.53, meaning he underperformed by 2.53.
This more proves a lack of prolific goalscoring threat within the side as opposed to his inability to create clear-cut chances. This is proven by the number of deep completions and smart passes the midfielder has made this season.
Cortinovis made an average of 2.35 deep completions per 90, as can be seen from the table. This was the sixth-highest in the Campionato Primavera 1 last season. The Italian also tallied the third-highest number of smart passes in total throughout the previous campaign with 37, an average of 1.5 per 90. To top it off, Cortinovis was averaging 0.28 key passes per 90 too, not mind-blowing numbers but still very efficient.
His excellent creative numbers stem from his intelligence and quality in-and-around the box. Cortinovis likes to stay at the edge of the area and slip through balls past the opposition in tight spaces for teammates to latch onto inside the box.
In this image, the young midfielder has picked the ball up in the left halfspace and tried to play a lovely through ball, carving Empoli’s backline open. The pass made it all the way through, but the Atalanta centre-forward failed to latch onto the end of it.
This lack of intelligent runs and cooperation from the U19s forward line can often contribute to the lack of end product that Cortinovis has been showing in his assist numbers. With players like Duvan Zapata, Luis Muriel, and even Pessina in the first-team, Cortinovis could potentially have a field day.
Areas of improvement
Like all players, Cortinovis has some weaknesses, some of which he cannot help and some that need work. One of the areas that the midfielder tends to struggle is in his aerial duels. The Italian contests just 0.97 aerial balls per 90, winning merely 24 percent of them.
The major issue with this is that he has been utilised in a more defensive role at times this season under Brambilla, playing as a lone ‘6’. One of the duties of the ‘6’ is to help the backline defend against long balls, so of course Cortinovis’ inability to do this can leave the defensive line exposed at times.
Standing at 5ft 11, the 20-year-old should be tall enough to contest aerial duels and win more than 24 percent of them, but he has shown to be rather timid when challenging in an aerial duel. This is certainly an area that needs work.
Another area that needs work is his defensive displays. Cortinovis can be rather lazy at times in the defensive phases, allowing teams to bypass him way too often. This is particularly evident when he is tasked with closing players down in a defensive block.
Here is an example where Cortinovis was rather unwilling to help out when Atalanta were sitting in a deeper defensive block. The Roma right-back has possession of the ball and Atalanta have covered all ball-near passing lanes to the ball-carrier. However, there is a forward making a good run in behind the backline.
Cortinovis needs to close down the player on the ball to prevent him from playing the pass over the top, putting his side in danger, and potentially forcing the right-back to turn around and play backwards. However, his body language is appalling for a player in a defensive duel and the Italian applies little to no pressure, so the ball-carrier plays a lovely through ball in behind.
Gasperini likes his players to be very aggressive in defensive duels when they lose the ball, counterpressing and pressing high up the pitch to regain possession as quickly as possible.
Cortinovis desperately needs to improve the defensive side of his game to keep up with the demands of the first team’s tactical set-up.
Alessandro Cortinovis is a wonderful player. He is so elegant to watch on a football pitch, and while he does have his flaws, the strengths overwhelming outweigh them. The Italian youngster will likely be called up to the first team this summer for pre-season where Gasperini will get a feel for whether or not he is ready for the step-up to the professional game.
There has been talk of other clubs making a move for Cortinovis, but this is merely paper talk at the moment, and one would fully expect the young midfielder to make his professional debut this season and be integrated into the squad for the future. Perhaps if the 20-year-old lives up to the hype, like Amad Diallo before him, he could potentially bag a move to a bigger European club.