Matteo Cancellieri: The Arjen Robben-esque winger showing massive maturity in Serie A – scout report
In November 2017, a goalless draw against Sweden in Milan preceded by a 1-0 defeat to the Scandinavian country in Stockholm saw Italy fail to reach the World Cup in 2018 for the first time since 1958.
Many believed this was the end for the Azzurri as a European force. Their core of stars that had served them incredibly well for the guts of a decade were unable to deliver on the final push. The vintage Maserati A6 had finally broken down with the future looking bleak for Italia.
However, a new, more vibrant driver took the wheel. Roberto Mancini stepped inside the beautiful, blue vehicle, slammed down on the pedal and guided it to one final home stretch before the engine was completely exhausted.
Despite winning Euro 2020, Italy failed to qualify for the World Cup yet again. Now, Mancini is currently trying to steer a banjaxed car with just two tires, one wing mirror and half a steering wheel.
Nevertheless, in this current international break, the former Manchester City and Internazionale manager is attempting to plant the seeds for the future of Italian football, having given several debuts already to young, upcoming stars.
Of these debutants is Hellas Verona’s versatile forward Matteo Cancellieri. This tactical analysis article will be a scout report of the 20-year-old. It will be an analysis of the Italian youngster’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as looking at where he fits into the tactics of his club and country.
Last weekend, Italy faced another fallen European great in Germany in the UEFA Nations League. The game ended in a 1-1 stalemate and certainly was not a classic. However, it will definitely be memorable for Cancellieri who came on for the Arsenal-linked centre-forward Gianluca Scamacca in the 86th minute.
Cancellieri was shifted out to the right in Mancini’s 4-1-4-1 and put in a decent defensive shift as the Azzurri held onto their point despite extensive German pressure in the final ten minutes.
The right-wing is the position that Cancellieri has been utilised the most over the past season.
Cancellieri has played in this deeper right position in 27 percent of his games this season, although right wingback and centre-forward come in a close second with 26 percent apiece, making him a peculiarly versatile player.
Versatility is predominantly a feature of young players in Germany and Holland. It’s quite stereotypically strange to see such positional flexibility in a player coming through the ranks in Italian football but Cancellieri defies this logic.
This visual is Cancellieri’s heatmap since 2019, displaying the wealth of positions the young Italian has been used in. As is very noticeable, the 20-year-old tends to stick very wide on the touchline and is not really a winger that plays in the halfspace. Instead, Cancellieri prefers to start wide and cut inside like Arjen Robben.
For a player that mainly plays down the flanks, the new Italian international certainly isn’t small or dainty. Cancellieri stands at 5’11 or 180cm and weighs 79kg or 174lbs in total. He has a strong core and uses his body really well which will be explored in further detail later in the scout report.
His physical profile has helped Cancellieri to adapt to life in Serie A seamlessly. The young wide-man is not easily bullied off the ball and looks ready for top-flight football already.
Tendency to drift wide
As the heatmap in the previous section pointed out, Cancellieri tends to hug the touchline for large parts of the game. This is, in part, due to the fact that he has played as a right wingback on numerous occasions as well as on the right side of a midfield five.
However, even when the 20-year-old is deployed as a centre-forward, his tendency is to drift out to the wide-right channel and look to receive the ball to his feet. This does help Verona to create wide overloads on the flanks before putting crosses into the box, which are key components of manager Igor Tudor’s tactical system.
This screenshot was taken from a Coppa Italia clash between Verona and Empoli. Cancellieri was employed as a right centre-forward in this cup battle but constantly pulled wide to help out the wingback and number ‘10’ to create triangles down the flank.
Even though on paper, and in the defensive phases, Cancellieri was down as a centre-forward, this was far from the reality when Hellas Verona had possession of the ball.
This is particularly evident when looking at the Gialloblu’s pass map for the match as it shows the young attacker drifting off to the right, leaving a large distance between himself and his strike partner Kevin Lasagna.
Arguably, the most impressive aspect of this pass map is that Hellas Verona played through the academy graduate more often than any other player on the pitch in a game where possession was split 50/50.
Cancellieri’s game-time has been limited this season as it is only his debut campaign in Italy. However, there is a clear trust from his teammates that he can create magic in possession.
The youthful Italian almost always receives on his right foot too, despite being left-footed. He does so by keeping a positive body shape, looking to receive facing goalward as opposed to facing his own goal.
Looking at this example, Hellas Verona are attempting to progress play into the final third. Cancellieri has opened up his body to receive on his right foot and wants the pass to be played in front of him. From there, he will run at the defender using his strong foot, but the trick is to always maintain a positive body shape.
Cancellieri is also quite useful at receiving long balls. His actual aerially ability is rather poor, competing in 4.41 aerial duels per 90 and winning merely 29.3 percent of them. Nevertheless, when a long pass is played towards him, Cancellieri turns his back to the goal and uses his strong core to back into the defender and hold them off, allowing him to trap the ball with his excellent first touch.
Here, Verona went long from the goal kick up to Cancellieri. The inexperienced teenager showed real maturity by backing into the on-rushing fullback, who was far more physically built.
The 20-year-old used his strength to hold him off before trapping the ball, allowing the Italian minnows to retain possession in an advanced area of the pitch.
Again, while Cancellieri may be weak aerially, he still offers his side the possibility to play direct to his feet which is an excellent trait for any player that may not be quite as imposing from a physical standpoint.
Arjen Robben, eat your heart out
When one thinks of the former Chelsea, Real Madrid, and Bayern Munich star Arjen Robben, they will almost certainly remember his glorious ability to dummy inside, drop his shoulder and unleash heavenly strikes into the top-left corner.
Many a defender were caught off guard by this despite it being the most obvious skillset in the winger’s arsenal.
Cancellieri is not the same type of player as Robben and is far more proactive in the defensive phases, but the pair do share some similarities, namely their preference for cutting inside and attempting strikes from range.
Following on from the previous section, once Cancellieri receives the ball on his left foot, he loves to take on the nearest fullback/wingback in a 1v1 duel. The Italian international attempts 6.03 dribbles per 90 with a success rate of 42.9 percent.
Cancellieri loves to drive at defenders, trying some cheeky stepovers in the meantime before cutting inside and smacking the ball goalward.
This sumptuous strike against Empoli perfectly embodied Cancellieri’s tendencies on the ball. The Verona youngster received the ball out on the touchline with his right foot, shifted it to his left, and took on the fullback by dribbling inside, creating space for himself before gliding the ball into the top-left corner. A truly gorgeous goal by Cancellieri.
The player’s shot map, which displays his previous 75 shots in all competitions with the exclusion of penalties, perfectly portrays Cancellieri’s keenness to take shots from the right half of the pitch.
Cancellieri’s goalscoring statistics are rather intriguing. The player took 1.51 shots per 90 this season on average in all competitions for club and country, scoring 0.43 times per 90. However, his xG per 90 is drastically lower at 0.27. Furthermore, every second strike was on target from the Italian international which is relatively impressive given the location of some of his chances. The 20-year-old has even managed to accumulate a 1.08 shot assists per 90.
When cutting inside from the right, Cancellieri’s only move isn’t just to drop his shoulder and launch it. The player also regularly attempts to slip passes inside the box for underlapping players.
Cancellieri’s expected assists may not be too impressive at 0.13 per 90, and the player is averaging zero assists per 90, he still plays 3.34 passes to the penalty area per 90, showing his more creative side.
Nevertheless, Cancellieri’s creative play still needs improving. The player’s numbers could be low because Hellas Verona are a lesser Serie A team, but Cancellieri’s are considerably bad for someone who predominantly plays out wide.
A defensive winger
It’s quite difficult to quantify the type of player Cancellieri is. Calling the Italian a defensive winger would be unjust to his offensive ability. Meanwhile, labelling the youngster as a solely offensive player would be unfair to his defensive instincts.
These defensive instincts are highly impressive for a wide player with such inexperience in top-flight or international football. Again, Cancellieri proves himself to be ridiculously mature for his age.
Quite often, managers will be hesitant towards giving young players game-time due to their mistrust of tactical duties. However, in the defensive phases, Cancellieri carries out these tactical responsibilities with aplomb.
One of Cancellieri’s greatest traits off the ball is his ability to drop back into the defensive line when necessary to track the wide-man.
Cancellieri has played as a wingback several times throughout his career so far and so slotting into the backline during the deep defensive phases comes naturally to the young Italian.
Tudor trusts Cancellieri to fulfil this role because of his excellent defensive inclinations. In all competitions throughout the 2021/22 campaign, the youngster competed in 6.35 defensive duels per 90, winning 53 percent of them. He also made 1.83 interceptions per 90 as well as 0.83 slide tackles per 90.
The only real danger with having Cancellieri back so deep around his own penalty box is the player’s awful tendency to foul. Cancellieri has averaged 2.05 fouls per 90 which is ridiculously high, meaning that there is a risk he will give away free-kicks in dangerous positions, or perhaps even a penalty.
Nevertheless, Cancellieri is even solid in the defensive phases further up the pitch. He is a great presser and closes down passing angles by applying cover shadows whilst also pressing the ball carrier efficiently.
In this example, Cancellieri was pressing Sassuolo’s centre-back, angling his run to ensure that the passing lane to the midfielder behind him was blocked off.
As a result, the defender was forced to eventually play to the goalkeeper as there were no available options for a pass. The keeper made a poor panicked pass and, eventually, Verona bagged a second goal from their high pressure.
Cancellieri has averaged 3.55 ball recoveries this season in all competitions. 57.6 percent of these were in the opposition’s half of the pitch. Moreover, the young Italian competed for 5.49 loose balls per 90, winning 33 percent of them.
If you were told, after watching him play, that Cancellieri had just completed his first full season in professional football, without prior knowledge, you would be mistaken for being struck at his maturity.
Cancellieri is an incredibly mature midfielder for his age. Tactical intelligence is becoming a more important trait as the sport develops and Cancellieri has it in abundance. It’s no wonder Roberto Mancini trusted the youngster to take to the field when Italy were trying to hang onto a draw against the mighty Germans.
The 20-year-old still possesses a lot of weaknesses. He isn’t great aerially and is not the most creative of wingers, but his versatility, ability in and around the box and defensive practicality make him an extremely interesting player to keep an eye on in the future.
With the demise of Italy on the international stage, it’s likely that we will see more of Cancellieri in the national set-up in the future.