Fikayo Tomori 2021/22 scout report: What makes the 23-year-old the heart of Milan’s defence
Milan continued their solid performance from last year and started the 2021/22 season strongly, being in a constant battle with Napoli for the first place in Serie A. The team were undefeated in their first 12 games this term, showing consistency in defence and being one of the most efficient teams in attack.
One of the players that have contributed to their strong performance is the 23-year-old centre-back Fikayo Tomori. Being let go by Chelsea in the summer for roughly £25M, the Englishman took the opportunity to prove his abilities at San Siro by becoming one of the best performers for the Rossoneri.
Tomori contributes equally well in and out of possession and brings balance to Milan’s performance. He picked up an injury in November which forced him to miss the games against Fiorentina, Atletico Madrid in the Champions League and Sassuolo. They eventually lost both of their league games, conceding a total of seven goals, which made Tomori’s absence even more noticeable and underlined how much better their performance is when he partners with Simon Kjær in central defence.
As the main passing link in the team, he is crucial in possession and orchestrates the build-up from the back well, which makes his contribution even more valuable.
Milan’s defensive performance
Despite their strong attacking performance, the Rossoneri do have some defensive problems and have conceded 18 goals since the start of the season, which is currently the worst record among the top five teams in the league.
The main reason for their issues at the back is the high number of individual errors that they commit. And that doesn’t only go to losing their direct challenges but also easily losing possession due to unmeasured actions.
Firstly, the team are vulnerable on the flanks where they actively use the full-backs in attack. Due to their advanced positioning, they often leave open spaces behind. That results in the opposition exposing those areas which puts the defenders under pressure and often forces them into individual mistakes.
Milan also often lose the ball centrally due to their lack of composure and often inaccurate passes. Despite the team having the highest defensive duels success rate in the league (62.8%), they often struggle to retain possession in and around the box, especially when their opponents overload these areas.
Not only do their hasty actions often result in opposition shots, but the team also commit a rather high number of fouls on average per game. That has resulted in Pioli’s side giving away penalties and free kicks in dangerous areas.
Tomori’s impact in defence
Speaking of errors, Tomori has been one of the most solid defenders in the league so far as the Englishman is yet to make a mistake that has led to conceding a goal. The 23-year-old’s concentration levels rarely put him in a difficult position. He is second best in the league in terms of successful defensive duels.
His actions are precise and with his 77.14% of won defensive challenges on average he provides security and helps the team in keeping the opposition away from the goal. Most of his ball losses don’t come from direct duels but rather from inaccurate forward passing.
His low number of losses per 90 (5.04) underlines his importance for the team both in and out of possession. He contributes to the team’s pressing efforts and many of his ball recovery attempts are done in the midfield. He contributes to blocking the passing lanes with his intelligent positioning and often puts the opposing players under pressure, forcing them into inaccurate actions in attack.
His pace and awareness allow the team to move into a more advanced position in possession as he is able to close out spaces and dive into challenges even in cases of quick turnovers.
Whenever he is unable to recover the ball, he makes sure to make a clearance and not give the opposition a chance to take advantage of their opportunities. His anticipating skills allow him to stop runs to the box and cover depth for his teammates, especially considering the full-backs’ advanced positioning.
Tomori doesn’t hesitate to step out against more creative teams that use short pass combinations and through balls, looking to intercept or clear out early on. His physicality helps him in such situations and allows him to recover the ball and get it out of the dangerous areas. Although his aerial presence is not as strong as his ground duels, he always tries to win second balls and avoid conceding shots.
The fact that the former Chelsea player wasn’t playing in five of the last six league games where Milan have conceded three goals underlines his defensive impact.
Tomori’s contribution in possession
The young player has an equally important role in possession. He is often the starting point of their build-up from the back and is responsible both for spreading out wide and breaking the lines centrally. Due to his ability to defend the ball, he is often used for combinations with the keeper as a less risky approach.
Tomori is regularly among the top passing links in the team and combines with everyone, often getting the ball out of defence and finding Frank Kessie forward. His efforts on the ball are crucial for bypassing the opposition press and progressing the ball. His composure and positional awareness, combined with his 91.7% pass completion rate, make him one of the most reliable centre-backs in possession.
His confidence on the ball allows the Rossoneri to move forward and try to commit more players to the opposition half, including giving the full-back’s freedom to contribute to the attacking actions. He reads the game well and often launches long balls behind the defence or initiates a switch of play in an effort to dismiss their opponents’ pressing structures.
The ball reached its target and dismissed the Napoli defence, with only the keeper’s movement stopping them from scoringHe prefers to move the ball forward, rather than circulating it in the defence and often looks to the full backs’ wide runs so he can get the ball out as quickly as possible, although whenever the team are instructed to keep the possession for longer periods, he contributes with line-breaking passes that support ball progression and help the team in methodically exposing their opponents.
Despite him often combining with the keeper and being the deepest lying defender he doesn’t like to invite pressure to the team’s defensive third and always looks to move the ball forward, instead of playing it laterally.
As our analysis showed, Tomori proved his value after being let go by Chelsea and is becoming one of Milan’s crucial figures both in defence and in possession. The 23-year-old earned Pioli’s trust and is his first choice in central defence as his presence complements Kjær’s movement and their partnership provides more defensive stability to the team.