Sebastiano Esposito at Inter 2019/20 – scout report
“Although he is still very young, he already knows what to do in the penalty area,” – Luciano Spalletti, Ex-Inter Milan Manager
Natural goal-scorers are hard to find, especially at such a young age. The genetic instinct of how to finish is a rare talent – and practically unteachable. It is something that clubs are willing to pay vast sums for and it is something Sebastiano Esposito possesses.
Attracting attention from both PSG and Liverpool, Esposito has burst onto the professional scene in Italy this season at just 17-years of age. The Italian born teenager has already put his name in the record books by becoming Inter Milan’s youngest European debutant. With superstars such as Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martínez leading the line for the Italian giants, there’s no better measure of ability than Antonio Conte already offering this youngster first-team minutes.
In this tactical analysis, we look in detail at the Inter prodigy, analysing technical, mental and physical attributes possessed by this exciting prospect.
Esposito’s technical ability makes him a well-rounded right-footed centre-forward. Standing at 1.86m, the teen is strong enough to operate as a single number nine, where he can be used as the focal point, linking up with wingers in support. He can also work in a front-two pairing, varying his game between running in behind or as a target-man linking with his teammates, as he has done in his appearances for Inter this season.
With his pace and ability with the ball at his feet, the Italian youngster is also comfortable playing on either wing where he likes to cut inside and drive into the penalty area dangerously. His technique in the wide areas makes him a dangerous deliverer of the ball; the youngster was even designated corner taker whilst enjoying his first-team minutes.
We can see from his heat map this season in Serie A that Esposito is capable operating in a range of attacking roles, whether it’s dropping in the hole when space presents itself or stretching a centre-back structure by moving into the channels, the Italian is comfortable in many scenarios.
Looking at his career stats so far we can see the numbers support the hype. The Italian born striker maintains an xG90 of 0.48 alongside and xA90 of 0.17, demonstrating his influence in the final third. Outside of his direct impact, we can see Esposito can travel with the ball, attempting 6.05 dribbles on average per 90.
Now we’ve seen an overview of what this young talent has to offer, lets get into the specifics.
Attacking Phase – Hold up play
As mentioned, Esposito is a well-rounded striker who shows experience beyond his years in the centre-forward position. Translated onto the pitch that means being effective beyond putting the ball in the net. In possession, during cycles in the early phases, Esposito uses his acceleration and tactical awareness to find space effectively, as we can see below.
The youngster (currently offscreen) recognises that Lukaku has moved in behind, which has forced the defensive line backwards, opening space between the lines. Esposito accelerates off his marker and receives the ball to feet with his back to goal, using his strength and close-control to keep his body between the ball and the approaching defender. Notice also how the defender has been drawn out of position by the striker’s movement (below).
This ability to hold the ball up allows attacks to develop through the phases using the youngster to link the attack with the defensive unit. In this instance Esposito is fouled, which moves Inter further up the field, retaining possession.
The next scene (above) shows a similar movement from Esposito that doesn’t just continue to develop the attack but also injects tempo and penetration, using one-touch passing in combination with some sharp movement.
Notice how proactive early movement from the striker creates space for himself, moving away from the opposition defender. This movement opens up an incisive passing lane through the entire defensive structure of the opposition, which the defender finds with ease.
Upon receiving the ball, the centre-forward uses his awareness and control to turn the ball into Lukaku with his first touch, injecting pace into the attack. This additional tempo is timed perfectly to penetrate the opposition, whose centre-back is again stranded as a result of Esposito’s movement between the lines.
Though the attack led to nothing for the Italian side, these clips demonstrate the maturity in Esposito’s playing-style, showing his use in the build-up stages, using clever movement and accurate passing to link with his teammates and patiently keep possession.
Key Instinct: Finishing
The other, and perhaps most impressive part of Esposito’s game is his ability moving away from the ball-player, in behind the defence. This natural awareness to not only find space but also time the run and tie everything off with a clinical finish is what makes this young talent a potential star. The next sequence demonstrates this perfectly.
This time in the early phases of a possession cycle, instead of towards the ball, Esposito demonstrates his ability to find space in behind.
By running the angle away from the ballplayer, Esposito makes the pass easier for the midfielder as the pass’ margin for error is increased compared to a straight pass. This movement into the blind side of the defender puts the centre-back in a tricky spot.
We can see above that in order to maintain flight of the ball, the defender is forced to sacrifice concentration on the man, allowing Esposito to drift away easily.
His first touch taking the ball over his shoulder is perfect, cushioning the ball towards goal, in the natural path away from the defender to avoid being tackled. Once under control, the youngster finds the net with a controlled finish to beat the keeper.
Above is a career shot map of Esposito. We can see from the visual that the youngster is not shy at testing the goalkeeper, shooting from a wide range of positions on the field. Interestingly, an equal amount of goals have come from outside the area as they have inside, which is something that will likely alter over time. However, it does indicate the Italian has a powerful and precise strike allowing him to shoot from distance.
Averaging 3.56 shots per 90, with an accuracy of 41.7%, Esposito has shown he is a competent finisher. However, this could also be a coaching point for the youngster as he looks to become one of the best in Europe. We can see a lot of ‘X’ markers outside the area, which are missed shots. As Esposito continues to frequent the top tier of European football, the realisation that wasting possession with a low percentage shot is perhaps not the best option, instead, looking to pass and waiting for higher xG moments, will benefit the forward. Doing this will likely increase the striker rate of the youngster and improve his overall impact in the attacking third.
The next section moves away from the attacking contribution and looks at Esposito’s attributes off the ball.
Under Conte’s regime, Esposito has shown he has the fitness and aggression to press effectively in the top-tier. Despite the youngster picking up two yellow cards in his five appearances for being over-zealous, he has shown a willingness to run for his team and demonstrated bravery in the tackle which earns him a respectable amount of recoveries. The teen averages 5.03 per 90, with 72.7% occurring in the opposition half. With Inter’s tactics averaging a PPDA of 9.29 in Serie A this season, Esposito should adapt quickly to the pace at the highest level.
The first sequence depicts Esposito showing an understanding of when to adjust his pressing intensity using triggers. The first picture demonstrates the centre-forward edging forward as part of a unit, to avoid being picked off by easy passes. Notice his attention is turned to the single-pivot in midfield, who he leaves open as a trap pass into midfield.
Once the ball is funnelled backwards, the trigger is activated and Esposito bursts into a press in synchronicity with his teammates. This awareness and understanding of tactical pressing prevents the youngster from being bypassed easily and offers him good opportunities to recover the ball in 1vs1 scenarios with defenders, who are prone to panic in these situations.
Above is Esposito’s recovery map from his 90 minutes against Genoa. The teen made nine in total, with six being made in the opposition half leading to potentially dangerous transitions. Despite the slightly concerning disciplinary record, with age and experience, it is likely the Italian striker will commit to his tackles more appropriately and avoid needless bookings. Looking beyond the inexperience, it’s clear he has the strength, stamina and tactical understanding to operate in tactical systems that use high-intensity pressing triggers.
So now we’ve seen Esposito’s main strengths in and out of possession, let’s see how he stacks up against other emerging talents.
Fighting for the throne
Below is a ternary graph which has been used to show the style of Europe’s emerging attacking players. It’s important to note that this is an indication of style over ability, identifying how a player’s game is focussed based on three differing metrics. The stats used to create the graph have been taken from the 2019/20 season.
We can see from the analysis that the majority of players, including Mason Greenwood and Gabriel Martinelli, have balanced playing-styles. From the figures, we can see Esposito, however, is highly geared towards goal-scoring. Rival/teammate Eddie Salcedo’s statistics show he is more of a creator than a goalscorer in his latest season.
So now we’ve compared playing-styles, let’s compare productivity.
We can see above that Esposito is leading the way in terms of xG per 90 compared to his cohort. The youngster sits far above the average set of 0.32 xG90 and beats the likes of highly coveted Greenwood (0.41 xG90) and Fábio Silva (0.36 xG90). This demonstrates Esposito’s ability to find space and move into positions where he can score goals.
The graph also shows the youngster is underperforming against the amount he would be expected to score based on his xG90. This could be a spell of variance for the Italian, and something we’d expect to see align as more games are played. It also enforces our previous point, looking at when and where Esposito should be shooting from, as garnering a large xG90 with shots from distance will continue to put Esposito in a deficit against this metric. Being so young, Esposito has plenty of capacity to develop a better understanding and improve as his experience grows.
The next graph supports this point. It measures shots per 90 against a player’s touches in the box per 90. We can see that Esposito is far above the average of 2.17 in terms of shots per 90. This is positive in that he is getting into goal-scoring positions, but again, potentially highlights a tendency to shoot too early instead of waiting for a better opportunity. An average of 6.17 touches in the box per 90 is also streets ahead of his peers. The average is just 4.25, showing Esposito’s competency of finding space inside a congested penalty area.
The next graph looks at the creative side of the attacking talents. Following on from Esposito’s playing-style, which we learned is goal-centric, it’s no surprise that he is behind his peers in the creative aspects. The Italian is second last for both xA90 and assists per 90, averaging an xA of just 0.03 per 90. This is far below the average set of 0.14. Matías Palacios leads the way in this area, averaging 0.39 xA per 90 minutes.
This is potentially another area of improvement for the youngster who may look to balance his impact on the field, making him a useful team asset even in times when the goals aren’t flowing.
In this scout report, we have highlighted Sebastiano Esposito as a player who has the potential to become a top striker in Europe. Looking at his contribution both on and off the ball we’ve seen that the youngster has all the attributes physically, mentally and technically to succeed at the highest level.
Entering a crucial period of development in his career under Conte, Esposito’s work ethic should continue to take him on a curve that seemingly has no ceiling. As ever with players of this age, it’s difficult to truly predict a career path, but if the start is anything to go off, Esposito has a long and exciting career ahead of him.