The 2021/22 season is another campaign that sees Bologna float around the middle of the Serie A table. The head coach, Siniša Mihajlović, struggles to find balance in their performance, and their inconsistency makes it difficult to progress into a better position in the league.
Despite the unsatisfying collective job, though, some players have still impressed and show signs of a brighter future. The 23-year-old Nicolás Domínguez has been quite consistent this term and is considered by some to be the team’s best performer so far, contributing both on and off the ball to support his teammates all over the pitch.
The club signed the Argentine in 2019, but he remained at his former club Vélez Sarsfield as a loanee, only to arrive in Italy for the 2020/21 campaign. His first season with Bologna wasn’t as fruitful as expected as he was mainly used from the bench and didn’t manage to find his rhythm and make an impact.
Now, once the coach started to rely on him more consistently, Domínguez showed a glimpse of his potential, and his defensive midfield role turned out to be key for the team’s efforts in possession while also providing more stability defensively.
The midfielder received his Argentina call-up in 2019 and has been in and out of the squad ever since. He is yet to be included in the starting XI, and despite being named in the squad for 16 games he has only contributed as substitution with a very limited playing time. Domínguez’s performance in the 2021/22 season might turn out enough for Lionel Scaloni to re-evaluate his performance and give him more chances in the upcoming international fixtures.
The young player suffered a shoulder injury in January which kept him away from playing both for club and country but he is expected to return at the end of April and help Bologna in their final efforts to move closer to 10th place.
In this scout report, we use tactical analysis to examine the 23-year-old’s performance and explain what are the qualities that might put him under the radar of the top European teams.
Bologna’s main traits and his role
Mihajlović has been switching between formations rather frequently this term, although he most frequently opts for a 5-3-2 in an effort to improve their defensive performance but also to employ an attack-minded approach with overloads in possession, moving to a 3-4-3. The team try to retain possession through frequent short passing, although their pass completion rate is not high enough so they can play possession football.
Domínguez is relied on as a defensive midfielder who can orchestrate play and provide balls further, but he can also help with breaking the opposition attacks. He is also used as a left and right central midfielder, depending on the formation, although there is no significant difference in his role.
Bologna create their attacking opportunities by using through balls and long shots (44% of their shots have come from a distance), and the Argentine has made a notable contribution to this. His long balls often set his teammates up in quality positions and allow the team to threaten the goal. He constantly tries to send balls behind the defence so they can bypass the first two lines of defence and create chances.
Apart from their efforts from open play, the team is very efficient in their attacking set-pieces. They have scored nine goals from set-plays so far as their smart routines and strong aerial abilities have often given them an advantage.
That’s still not enough for higher attacking efficiency, as their finishing is often poor and throws their efforts to waste.
The team is also highly vulnerable defensively. Their inaccurate and hasty actions often put them into difficult situations as the players fail to avoid committing fouls in dangerous areas. While the team does not commit a high number of fouls per game, many of their interventions end up with yellow and red cards. Bologna players have received five red cards since the beginning of the season. They often fail to defend attacks down the wings, which forces them to dive into challenges in their own third, which increases the risk.
Domínguez is efficient in his defensive performance, and his presence in midfield is important for stopping dangerous attacks and gaining back possession. His well-measured actions are often crucial as he gives his team an advantage in the central areas, which also results in more opportunities in attack once they recover the ball.
Ball retention and progression impact
The 23-year-old’s contribution in possession is key for the team’s build-up-play and attacking actions. His positioning all around the midfield helps the team in releasing pressure and in opening the passing lanes as they try to build up from the back. They form a back three in possession and try to get an advantage over their opponents with midfield overloads.
Domínguez can be considered a box-to-box player as he covers wide areas, and his aim to drop deeper towards the defence make him important in ball progression. With his positioning, he provides a passing option to his teammates, and his one-touch pass ability allows him to receive the ball and immediately release pressure.
He is highly valued because of his long passes, though. His spatial awareness and understanding of the game result in sending long balls either to switch play and retain possession or to expose the defence and deliver the ball to the attackers. His quick decision-making is important for the team’s build-up as it allows them to move the ball faster and decrease the risk of losing it.
His 4.74 long passes per game on average are crucial for the team’s attacking efficiency and for them to be able to create goalscoring opportunities. The midfielder is linked with all of his teammates and serves as a passing outlet not only for the defenders but also for the advanced lines.
He constantly moves between the oppositions’ lines to try to re-position players and open the passing lanes for the team to make an easier transition. That makes it difficult for the opposing players to mark him and block his ball progression efforts.
The Argentine has an equally big impact on the team’s defensive performance. While Bologna have many flaws off the ball, Domínguez constantly tries to compensate and keep the ball away from the team’s defensive third.
The team switch between pressing high and trying to win the ball back in midfield depending on the opposition. The former Vélez player contributes to ball recovery no matter of the pressing strategy and is equally efficient both in the final third and in midfield. His concentration and awareness result in him recovering the ball 10.04 times on average per game, which gives the team an advantage in the central areas and often stops conceding potentially dangerous attacks.
He doesn’t hesitate to dive into challenges, and he often drops back to defend in front of the goal or on the flanks, supporting his teammates wherever needed. He often tries to cover depth in the wide areas, where the team become exposed due to the wide players’ advanced positioning. With his 66.1% of won defensive duels per 90, he is among the most efficient Serie A midfielders defensively.
Considering his height of 179cm and his position, the Argentine involves in aerial duels rather frequently, which additionally helps the team to avoid or at least delay the opposition attacks.
Domínguez has a slightly different role with Argentina. The team play with a four-man defence in a few variations — in 4-4-2, 4-3-3 and 4-1-4-1 formations. He is rarely used as a defensive midfielder there as he has a more advanced position, but he has even been relied on as a left-winger on a few occasions.
He is not as involved defensively as he is for his club, and he doesn’t contribute to ball recovery as frequently. The coach relies on him more because of his passing abilities. He has a significantly higher pass completion rate with Argentina and is more focused on short passing and ball retention, rather than providing long balls directly to the final third.
His lateral passing abilities are often used to switch play and release pressure and helps the team in building up more efficiently. The team often attack through the middle, and his presence there is key for creating short pass combinations and engaging players out of position.
As our analysis shows, Nicolás Domínguez has the potential to become one of the best midfielders in Serie A with his great impact in and out of possession. He has already demonstrated his qualities despite Bologna’s inconsistent performance. His contribution all over the pitch has made him the best performer for the team and his tactical intelligence and strong positioning can be just enough to attract some attention for a future big move.