Despite producing some of the greatest players the world has ever seen over the past 30 years, seeing an Italian player in the Premier League is always a rarity.
Nevertheless, there have been some great Italians to have featured in England’s top-flight, from Paulo Di Canio to Gianfranco Zola, Roberto Di Matteo, Gianluca Vialli and Jorginho. Coincidentally, or perhaps not, the best have primarily played for Chelsea.
The Blues have always had a strong contingency of Italian players and coaches. Now, they’ve continued that wonderful streak by signing Cesare Casadei from Internazionale in the summer transfer window.
Casadei was making a massive name for himself in the Primavera with the Italian giants and had even made his non-competitive debut for the first team during the Nerazzurri’s pre-season tour, coming off the bench for half an hour against Lugano in a 4-1 victory.
An U19 Italy international, Casadei was garnering massive interest around Europe, but Chelsea wanted him more than any other side. With less than two weeks remaining in the window, the 19-year-old midfielder put pen to paper for the London club, with the fee reported to be around £17 million.
It is expected that the youngster will go straight into Chelsea’s academy for now, but Casadei has massive potential for the future and is a wonderful acquisition by the Stamford Bridge club.
This tactical analysis piece will be a scout report of Casadei. It will be an analysis, focusing on his strengths and weaknesses as well as how he fits into his sides’ tactics.
When watching Casadei, what stands out the most from the get-go is his size. For a midfielder, the youngster possesses the body build of a centre-back or a defensive midfield player.
However, Casadei is neither of these. He is a central midfielder by trade, one who loves getting forward and making his way into the penalty area by ghosting in behind the opposition.
The teenager currently stands at 6 foot 1, or 186cm depending on how one might measure someone’s height. Furthermore, he weighs 169lbs (77kg), and so has a massive presence on the pitch, especially when playing at U19 level. Given he is almost 20, there is little room left, if any at all, for further growth, so Casadei has probably reached his ceiling for growing any taller.
Regarding his preferred position, Casadei generally operates on the right side of a midfield three, which has been facilitated by the formation choices of the Inter U19 boss and club legend Cristian Chivu, who won the treble under José Mourinho in 2010.
Over the past calendar year, Inter’s U19s have primarily deployed a 4-3-1-2, setting up with the system in 46% of their matches in all competitions.
Nevertheless, the Nerazzurri certainly haven’t been strangers to other three-man midfield structures like the 4-3-3, 4-3-2-1 and the 3-5-2, as the previous image portrayed.
From Casadei’s heatmap over the past year, we can see the areas of the pitch in which he likes to operate.
The midfielder is heavily involved in play on the right side, given that this is the area of the pitch where he is mainly employed for club and country. However, there is quite a lot of action over on the left too, as well as in the higher central areas as Casadei can play on either side of the midfield and in an attacking midfield role.
What’s more interesting, though, is that the player has quite a lot of involvement in the box — we can see that his heatmap has some activity in and around the penalty area, showing his box-to-box playing style.
A midfielder with a body type as robust as Casadei’s would have the ability to hold off opponents when receiving the ball in tight areas.
While Casadei certainly does have good hold-up play and uses his hips well to ensure that opposing defenders can’t nick the ball from him, he tends to avoid being faced with situations where he will need to do so.
Many technically-gifted midfielders like to take the ball on the half-turn by orienting their body slightly skewed to the side which allows them to receive on their backfoot. Again, Casadei does not really adhere to this.
To avoid having to do both, the youngster likes to play the way he is facing on the pitch, typically being used as a wall-pass to bounce the ball back to where it came.
As we can see from this image, Casadei is positioned just in front of the opposition’s midfield. Receiving the ball with his back turned to goal, a Lugano player is about to jump him from behind.
Having scanned the danger, instead of trying to trap the ball and use his hips to hold off the defending player, the teenager simply bounces it to the central defender in front of him and moves to another area of the pitch to receive the ball once more in space.
Casadei’s keenness to make first-time passes is not just a mechanism for the player to help retain possession by taking safe options. The 19-year-old also has a great knack for speeding up the play using these one-touch passes.
For instance, here, Casadei played a one-two with Italy’s attacking midfielder in order to get around the English player easily.
As soon as the ball came back to him, other attacking players began making darting runs in behind as the play has been drastically sped up. Casadei quickly floated a through ball to the centre-forward who was attacking the depth. There were just three touches of the ball in this entire sequence, yet Italy were through on goal.
This excerpt from one of Italy U19’s most recent matches also perfectly displayed Casadei’s passing range. The Italian youngster is always looking up to find runners in behind and will play these types of passes providing he is facing forward and once it’s the best option at hand.
With an overall passing accuracy of 82.8%, Casadei is averaging 0.74 through passes per 90 as well as 6.18 passes to the final third and so is a constant outlet for his side to access the attacking third of the pitch using his excellent wide range of passing.
Furthermore, Casadei averages 2.38 long passes per 90 across all competitions for club and country. These aren’t Burnley-esque long balls, though. They’re almost always precise passes in behind the opposition’s defensive line.
This arsenal of purposeful passing is a wonderful attribute to have in any side, particularly when a team is struggling to break down an opponent’s block with a higher line. A little ball over the top to a quick forward often does the trick and Casadei possesses the ability to provide these in abundance.
Casadei is a very neat midfielder, one who makes plenty of one-touch passes but has tidy ball control and an exceptional passing range from deeper areas of the pitch.
However, undoubtedly his best attribute is his ability to attack the box with runs from deep. There are some midfielders such as Donny van de Beek and Dele Alli who ghost in behind the opponent’s backline rather delicately to attack balls into the area and score goals.
‘Ghost’ certainly isn’t the right term to describe Casadei’s runs into the penalty box. The Italian midfielder is a bit clunky when he moves and, given his physical stature, is very noticeable.
Nevertheless, there are usually triggers set up by the player himself before leaving the midfield area and trying to latch onto the end of a whipped cross. One of these triggers is when he switches the ball out to a wide player.
As seen from this image, Casadei laid the ball off to Italy’s right-back, who was advancing up the flank. Instantly, as soon as the ball leaves his foot, the player makes a marauding run into the penalty area, hoping to latch onto the end of a cross.
Usually, Casadei positions himself at the back post. Attacking the near post isn’t his strong suit as this would require more deft movements to get away from the defenders and in front to head or poke it home but the player’s physique is anything but slight.
Instead, Casadei moves to the back-stick as this allows him to crash onto the opposition’s ball-far fullback and use his superiority in the air to score goals. This is comparable to how Lazio midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-Savic bags so many goals.
Another trigger for Casadei to get himself into the penalty area to attack crosses is simply by the ball being played out to the far side.
If the teenager is being utilised as a right-sided central midfielder and Inter or Italy are attacking down the left, as he is unable to link up with his teammates as part of a wide overload, the youngster will move to the back post, waiting for a cross.
Casadei competes in 6.25 aerial duels per 90 on average and has a success rate of 62.7%, proving how dangerous the new Chelsea star is in the air.
Casadei was the fourth-highest goalscorer in the Primavera 1 last season with 15 from 32 total matches — almost one in two — exceptional for a number ‘8’.
Furthermore, the player boasted an xG of 9.1, meaning he was outperforming his xG stats by almost six goals, an incredible showing.
Regarding his 15 goals scored, 8 were in the air, more than any other player in the youth division in the previous campaign. Casadei is a true goalscoring midfielder.
It would be disrespectful to complete a scout report on an Italian starlet without homing in on their ability in the defensive phases.
Casadei is a superb midfielder on the ball and with his attacking play. When his side are out of possession, he is less impactful and needs to work on certain areas of his game, Nonetheless, Casadei still has decent defensive output.
The new Chelsea signing competes in a high volume of defensive duels per game, currently averaging 9.03. His success rate in these duels is really impressive at 60.6%, meaning Casadei wins the vast majority of his defensive duels.
The midfielder’s massive frame allows him to smother the opposition, making it incredibly difficult for attackers to bypass him. When pressurising opponents, Casadei stands large and has a tendency to try and nick possession of the ball between their legs.
Here, Internazionale have backed Milan into a corner on the flank, blocking off all passing lanes for the ball-carrier, who is the Rossoneri’s left-back in this instance.
Casadei has squared up to the fullback from behind, holding a wide stance to prevent him from being able to turn. Meanwhile, the future star is trying to nick the ball from between the player’s legs, successfully doing so in the end and winning a throw-in.
Unfortunately, trying to constantly swipe at the opponent, while often effective, can lead to giving away fouls. This is one of Casadei’s worst traits. The Italian youngster concedes 2.21 fouls per 90 on average which doesn’t make for great reading.
The teenager similarly uses his size when pressing opponents from the front. Italy and Inter both press high, so Casadei had to be very proactive out of possession. As the two sides predominantly defended in a 4-3-1-2, Casadei was usually tasked with pressing the opposition’s fullbacks, depending on which side he was positioned.
This plays into how Casadei averages 45.3% of his 7.12 ball recoveries in the opponent’s half of the pitch.
Again, he is aggressive and truly understands his tactical role on the pitch which is a testament to his intelligence on the field of play.
One of the biggest issues with Casadei is that he cannot play as a holding midfielder whether it be at the base of a three-man midfield or in a double-pivot. However, as an ‘8’, the Italian youngster is golden.
His prowess in the final third as well as his ability to dictate play and progress the ball from deeper areas all combine to make him a sumptuous footballer despite his age.
Chelsea’s recruitment was intelligent here. While they paid handsomely, Casadei should be able to cause the fee to look like chump change a few years down the line.