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Nicolo Fagioli 2022/23 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

Nicolo Fagioli: Could this be his year to shine at Juventus?

The Italian Primavera has always been a good development ground for young talents. But despite icons like Claudio Marchisio springing from its ranks, the road to Serie A, or more specifically, to Juventus, is extremely difficult. Not many since the legendary midfielder can truly say they have made it on the big stage but Nicolo Fagioli, the now 21-year-old prospect, might rekindle that almost extinguished flame of hope. 

At the moment of writing, Fagioli’s future is yet to be decided. The young starlet will likely remain associated with the Bianconeri but could still be sent out on loan to further bolster his development through guaranteed game time. This, of course, doesn’t diminish the level of his talent nor does it imply he can’t become good enough for Juventus. However, what young players need more than anything is a chance to play. If it isn’t guaranteed at their parent club, a loan is recommendable or even desirable. A case in point could be Barcelona’s Nico González who, despite his undeniable talent, has accepted a loan spell at Valencia for the good of his development.

But back to Fagioli, who is he and what can we expect from him in the future? This tactical analysis will give you a full scout report on the 21-year-old talent, outlining his strengths and weaknesses within Juventus’ tactics and beyond. The analysis will also include his time at Cremonese as well as the pre-season outing with the blue-and-black Italian giants.

Player overview

As ever, we’ll start the tactical analysis with a data overview of the player, extracting the player’s outlier characteristics. Standing at 178cm and weighing just around 68kg (149 lbs), Fagioli isn’t a brute with an imposing physique. His game revolves around technique, elegance and agility much more than it does around his PnP traits (pace and power).  The following visualisation will tell us more about his strengths and weaknesses.

Nicolo Fagioli 2022/23 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

Fagioli’s profile reads like that of an elite playmaker, one capable of making a difference in the final third of the pitch. His creative and attacking numbers are simply off the charts but it has to be noted that while he is now still a Juventus player, the data extracted depicts his Cremonese loan spell. But even still, seeing him top virtually every single category an elite chance creator should, we can already start forming a picture of his profile in our heads.

However, there is a caveat here. Despite him being a final third machine, Fagioli is being moulded as a controller interior, assuming either the position of a no.8 or even a deeper playmaker, often within a system with a double pivot at Juventus. Considering he’s very efficient with the ball at his feet, which is where his true strengths lie, this isn’t that surprising. But reducing him to nothing more than that often feels like underutilisation. Fagioli is a creator, a virtuoso boasting excellent final ball and dribbling capabilities that are used in a box-to-box manner – deeper to escape pressure and higher to carve out chances.

Having played as the defensive midfielder, the 21-year-old is also an underrated duelist with an admirable work rate. However, there are flaws in his game that will be addressed further down the line of this scout report. Of course, flaws are expected at 21 years of age but some issues need to be ironed out if the player wants to eclipse his current ceiling and become a more refined version of himself in the future.

Without further ado, let’s dissect some of his most prominent traits.

The controller

It seems Massimiliano Allegri feels Fagioli’s primary role is — or should be — that of a controller no.8, as we’ve already noted earlier in the analysis. This goes hand in hand with his composed nature in possession as well as extreme technical proficiency and ball control. Fagioli is right-footed but can and does use both feet in various scenarios. Similarly, despite boasting a box-to-box nature, the 21-year-old is first and foremost an excellent tool for progression in the first and second phases of play, which doesn’t exactly show in the data.

The heat and action maps will tell us more about his positioning and contribution across the pitch in the 2021/22 season. As you can immediately tell by the visualisation, Fagioli is something of an all-phases midfielder, often found roaming the field and occupying the space optimal for the specific scenario that’s unfolding at that precise moment.

Nicolo Fagioli 2022/23 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

There are several ways he enables progression at such a high level. Firstly, it’s awareness and space occupation. I’ve found Fagioli to scan his surroundings constantly, preparing both his body and exit route well in advance to actually receiving the ball. This trait is invaluable for midfielders of his profile as they enable him clarity of action and elevate his chances of success. Fagioli moves efficiently so he can open passing channels when there are none and also makes it easier for his teammates to access them from deeper areas of the pitch.

This, however, I have to note, isn’t done consistently enough. Fagioli is aware of his surroundings, yes, but also needs to be more fluid and imposing between the lines. He is a player of immense technical quality and this comes with a certain dose of responsibility. This is also where we come back to consistency — Fagioli’s space occupation is one of his strengths but this is mainly true in the first phase of build-up play. As a highly creative outlet for his team, whether that be Juventus, Cremonese or someone else, the 21-year-old will have to assume more responsibility and influence. 

As perhaps expected, this was more visible during his loan spell than at Juventus, where the level is significantly higher. Naturally, it was more difficult for a rookie talent to impose himself as much as he would’ve liked. However, I find his first and second phases of build-up play to be impressive and smart. Here, you can see all the different positions he tends to occupy to ease progression.

Nicolo Fagioli 2022/23 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

Fagioli is comfortable moving across the pitch, depending on the needs of the team. The images above see him occupy the LCB, RCB, LCM and AM roles, all of which are specific to the situation at hand. This is a very impressive trait and it shows both confidence and versatility, characteristics of a great player in making. I say ‘in making’ purely because of the aforementioned flaws.

The 21-year-old is still on the road to elite levels in some aspects but only if his profile is more refined in the not-so-distant future. Let’s take a look at a couple of examples that show very well-rounded and intelligent player traits that make him special and valuable. Most of these characteristics revolve around progressing the ball, either directly by evading pressure or indirectly by creating pockets of space that can then be exploited by others. Again, considering this is effectively an off-role for the youngster, it emphasises his talent even more.

Take this sequence in the pre-season game against Real Madrid, for instance. Fagioli receives the ball between the lines higher up the pitch but instead of immediately laying it off, he retains possession and proceeds to drag Casemiro out of position. Once the space opens up, he releases the ball and Juventus can access the third man higher up. 

Nicolo Fagioli 2022/23 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

This is a very common trait for the young midfielder. He is a great dribbler and likes to hold onto the ball in these situations, waiting for the right moment to either advance himself or release it to a free teammate. While it’s definitely a strength of his, Fagioli also needs to learn when to play one-touch football and when to wait for the opposition to engage in a duel. Taking extra touches is something most coaches will often frown upon but just like virtually everything else in football, this too is situational.

Holding onto the ball or advancing with it instead of immediately passing it along can be used to draw out the defenders, and make them abandon their positions; having that kind of ‘pausa’ to know how to properly influence the game is what the elites do best. At the moment, Fagioli still needs to improve on these aspects, especially when moving between the lines and higher up the pitch in general. 

In deeper areas, he seems more comfortable passing or even dribbling his way out of pressure, which is an invaluable trait for a progressor-type of midfielder, which Juventus seem to be moulding him into. The following example, once more against Real Madrid, will tell us more.

Nicolo Fagioli 2022/23 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

This time, Fagioli is pushed back to Juventus’ penalty area but he still decides to keep possession until the right moment to release it arrives. Once the Real Madrid players have collapsed onto the young midfielder, he threads an accurate through ball to a supporting teammate who’s dropping deeper to assist the progression sequence. While the pass itself is very impressive, especially given the position and body orientation of the player, it’s the awareness and patience Fagioli has exhibited that stands out.

Often, players with perhaps less confidence or ability would want to get rid of the ball as soon as possible. However, Fagioli waits for the perfect moment to do so and is then rewarded with a great sequence. This shows maturity in his play despite the tender age of the player. Finally, I want to highlight his carrying and dribbling potential regarding breaking the press and quickly progressing up the pitch.

Dribbling vs passing is a complex topic. Which one is more valuable is, again, situational. However, as a general rule of thumb dribbling is far riskier but with a higher ceiling; it can dismantle even the most organised of defensive blocks in situations in which passing may not be able to do the same. Fagioli is a great dribbler and it helps him both with controlling the pitch, progression and chance creation.

Nicolo Fagioli 2022/23 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

Here, Fagioli receives possession from the deep and proceeds to win the duel against the opposition player, beating him with dribbling and tenacity. The 21-year-old doesn’t have the ideal frame for duelling but it still represents an underrated aspect of his player profile. This not only creates space and breaks the immediate defensive block but also sets the stage for the attack to advance with more venom.

Conveniently, this is a good time to transition to the next profile trait we need to discuss: passing.

Passing ability

Without a doubt, passing is one of the most prominent characteristics of Fagioli’s player profile. His movement, awareness and occupation are well complemented by his extraordinary technique and ball control. The 21-year-old has an immense final ball and can link up really well at multiple angles and with multiple passing techniques. We’ll discuss them a bit later on in this tactical analysis.

Firstly, however, let’s take a look at four of his recent pass maps that have given us a big enough sample to dissect. As a whole, Fagioli is generally very involved in his teams’ construction of play, which is a testament to his ability at such a young age. Let’s explore the pass maps a bit more.

Nicolo Fagioli 2022/23 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

Studying the maps, we can see there are different types of passes present across the entirety of the pitch, further solidifying the notion of an all-phases midfielder who’s active all around. Fagioli is a great progressor but he enjoys lobbed diagonals as well as short one-two sequences where his great movement is paired up with similarly high-quality technique. It should also be noted how positive he is in his output, prefer to play passes forward rather than letting the opposition push him back.

When it comes to passing in the final third and the opposition’s box, we can see he’s been used in a far more subdued role as of late. Recently, his passes don’t access zone 14 as much nor does he deploy too many attempts into the penalty area anymore. Still, the passes that do end up in those areas are often key passes so we can still conclude he hasn’t lost his edge at all.

Earlier, I’ve mentioned Fagioli can pass the ball with different techniques and this is what makes his in-possession ability so special. While he seemed a bit more timid playing for Juventus due to a different role, this particular trait was still on display. We can see some of those techniques in the following collection of images.

Nicolo Fagioli 2022/23 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

Fagioli is right-footed but can still use his left on a decently reliable level. However, it’s with his right that we see most of the magic happen, as can be seen in the images here. Whether it’s with the outside of his foot, inside, lobbed, ground or with his heel, the 21-year-old uses his feet with a lot of kinaesthetic fluidity. What I mean by this is that he shows a lot of control, efficiency and adequate levels of power depending on the situation at hand. 

This is especially true when it comes to passes that travel in the air and/or final passes, which I found most impressive. Here is one example that shows the potential of Fagioli’s delivery, despite it perhaps not being utilised as much as it should be in recent times. We see him lob a perfectly weighted ball into the final third of the pitch, serving the pass on a silver platter for the forward rushing beyond the opposition’s defensive line.

Nicolo Fagioli 2022/23 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

In addition to demonstrating his excellence on the ball, this sequence also shows us a glimpse of his potential in a more attacking role. Fagioli has often been boxed into the controller role deeper down the pitch but if given licence to roam higher up, he could break through his box-to-box ceiling, showing his true colours.

He has the technical quality to do so and become the creative leader of the team but only if he can start imposing himself on games a bit more. Some of his most impressive sequences have come while playing for Cremonese and have sadly not always translated well from Serie B to Serie A level of play. This, while natural for a young player in development, still suggests he needs more time to comfortably play at the grandest of stages.

Take the following image as a great example. Fagioli receives the ball deep in his half and then proceeds to run with it, demonstrating excellent straight-line running power, blazing past multiple opposition players before threading a great ball into his teammate.

Nicolo Fagioli 2022/23 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

While impressive, I found that Fagioli hasn’t shown this nearly enough in his most recent outings due to a complete change in roles. Needless to say, this is a shame as it feels like Juventus are caging an immense player that’s hiding somewhere deep within. So it’s not that he can’t do it – he most certainly can. But rather, he seemed more subdued when playing at Juventus than was the case in lower leagues during his loan spell. Granted, the sample isn’t huge and pre-season can be deceiving on many levels due to a lot of experimentation so that caveat needs to be taken into consideration.

There is, however, one more aspect of his profile we have to discuss.

Box-to-box nature

Despite being previously described as the no.8 controller in terms of his current role, Fagioli still has a box-to-box nature. He’s a player that has potential for greatness on both ends of the pitch, even though he currently mainly mans the middle part of it. Yes, he usually starts deeper but with his great movement and awareness, he knows when to make an off-the-ball run beyond the opposition’s defensive line, whether that’s to receive a dangerous pass or simply create space by being the decoy that drags markers.

I’ve found this to be the case in the pre-season games as well, where he continuously offered himself as the highest option up the pitch. Take the following sequence against Barcelona as a great example of what Fagioli can offer in the final third.

Nicolo Fagioli 2022/23 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

We also have to note the very start of the attack too. Fagioli loves one-two football as that’s when he can combine his movement with great passing. In this particular example, he drops to first receive possession in a very tight space and holds onto the ball for a moment before deploying it to the nearest teammate.

And immediately following that, he makes the run to receive possession once more. While this isn’t necessarily something extraordinary, it does show his tendency to move forward and be proactive in his approach. The same can be said about his dribbling, which we’ve only discussed for progression purposes so far in this scout report. However, that specific trait can and should be utilised higher up and for more creative tasks as well.

Fagioli is a great dribbler so this can be a weapon for Juventus in the final third, especially when approaching the opposition’s penalty area. The next image will show us a great example of that.

Nicolo Fagioli 2022/23 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

Here we find Fagioli dribbling into the box with a signature pirouette move. We’ve already seen him performing a similar skill earlier on in this tactical analysis, only back then it was used to beat the immediate pressure and continue the attack down the flanks. Now, however, Fagioli is the threat himself, gliding past his markers who can’t help but bring the youngster down, giving his team a penalty kick in the process.

These two situations show us there is immense attacking potential in Fagioli that’s still waiting to be fully unlocked. Yes, those of you familiar with the Serie B Fagioli can attest to that but we are yet to see this materialise against better-structured teams. This could suggest a jump into the Juventus first team may still be slightly out of reach but that is more of a temporary setback than a definite conclusion.

Be that as it may, we’re yet to discuss the defensive aspects of his game. As a whole, Fagioli’s work rate and defensive reading of the game are another two underrated aspects of his player profile but that’s mostly because they’re also quite inconsistent, as is his duelling prowess.

Nicolo Fagioli 2022/23 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

In this latest example, we can see Fagioli doesn’t track the run of his man, leaving him to access the empty pocket of space within Juventus’ defensive structure. Seeing him jog back instead of recovering ruthlessly when it’s his responsibility to plug the hole isn’t a good look for the young midfielder. This, of course, isn’t always the case as he will generally track back and is often successful in recovering or intercepting the ball, courtesy of having experience in the defensive midfield role.

However, these kinds of mishaps at the highest level, even if it’s just in a pre-season game, can impact the coach’s decision to either keep or discard the player from his plans. The final example we want to highlight here is his tackling timing. Once again, the following example shows us a failed attempt, even though that isn’t necessarily always the case.

Fagioli is a decent duelist despite lacking the upper body framer to physically outmuscle the opposition. This is also where we can mention his work rate and engine, or rather lack thereof.

Nicolo Fagioli 2022/23 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

He is quick to press and won’t shy away from putting the work in defensively but just as is the case with some of his aspects on the ball, this needs more refinement and discipline. When do I press? How? Are my teammates in a position to support me? Football is a team game so all phases of play should be played exactly that way, too. Often, Fagioli gets easily bypassed in 1v1 situations because he rushes into the tackle, not timing it properly. 

Still, the 21-year-old is tenacious and as with everything in his current arsenal, there is a lot of potential underneath the rough exterior. Only time will tell whether he carves it into a diamond profile or not.

Final remarks

Nicolo Fagioli is undeniably a supreme talent. His journey from the Serie B to potentially being a Juventus regular has been impressive but is also not yet complete. He is talented, yes. He is also a hard worker, versatile and has the right mindset to succeed. But there are also some flaws in his profile that need to be ironed out for the 21-year-old to break into the elite categories and be more consistent.

Whether that will happen or not depends largely on him but also on Juventus themselves as they have to decide what role suits him best.