Scouting Serie A
There’s plenty of interesting high-quality players in Serie A every season. This season has proved no different. Therefore, in this piece I’ll look at some player who have really caught my eye and would be smart signings for most clubs. I’ve excluded obvious players like Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Jorginho who are linked to every other club. Let’s get started.
Position: Central midfield
Estimated fee: Around €40m
Would suit: Manchester United, Chelsea and Bayern Munich
The Brazilian central midfielder has been a revelation at Napoli over the last few seasons under Maurizio Sarri. Allan has been used as the right-sided central midfielder in Napoli’s 4-3-3. From this position, Allan contributes in every aspect of the game. His pressing and energy are strong assets combined with his ball-winning qualities. The combative midfielder averages 2.9 tackles per game and make 0.8 interceptions on average too. In possession he has excellent passing ability, completing 87.5% of his passes in the Serie A this season. On average he makes 0.9 key passes per 90 minutes and he has managed five assists in the league. Add four goals to that tally and you understand Allan contributes both in the defensive and attacking phase. To further highlight his complete skill set Allan also completes 2.1 dribbles per game. The 27-year-old truly is a midfield all-rounder, a true box-to-box midfielder.
Going into the summer with Napoli missing out on the Italian title, Allan could probably be tempted away from Naples. In my opinion he’s the outstanding player for Manchester United to go for since he would be perfect as the third midfielder next to Nemanja Matic and Paul Pogba. His defensive contribution would add steel to the midfield while also freeing up Pogba and Allan would also be an upgrade on United’s current midfield crop. It should be a no-brainer for Jose Mourinho.
Club: AS Roma
Estimated fee: Around €50m
Would suit: Real Madrid, Juventus, Arsenal and Liverpool
Another Brazilian impressing in Italy, Alisson has possibly been the outstanding player in Roma’s successful season. This was his first campaign as number 1 after replacing Wojciech Szczesny after the Polish goalkeeper’s move to Juventus last summer. Alisson has stepped up and established himself as Italy’s finest goalkeeper. His performances have been key in Roma finishing third as well as reaching the Champions League semi-final, memorably knocking out Barcelona in the quarter-final.
In the league, Roma have conceded 28 goals (as of the 37th league game). Their expected goals against, xGA, however is 37.48. This means they *should* have conceded 37 goals but for different reasons have only conceded 28. The biggest reason is the performances of Alisson. The Brazilian has vastly been out-performing xGA and showed why no one in Rome misses Szczesny. There’s been a string of memorable performances from Alisson, most notably at San Siro against Inter when he was fantastic. After just one season as the regular at Roma, Alisson will be in no rush to leave. But, as Roma showed when selling Mohamed Salah last summer, anyone can be sold at the right prize. Real Madrid have been mentioned, as have Arsenal and Liverpool who both need an upgrade in goal, but it would also make sense for Juventus to be involved given Gianluigi Buffon leaving. Yes, they already have Szczesny, but Alisson might already be better.
Club: AC Fiorentina
Estimated fee: €40m
Would suit: Inter, Milan, Napoli and Arsenal
Federico Chiesa’s father, Enrico, had a long and successful career in Italian football. There is every chance his son will surpass him though. After enjoying a breakthrough year at Fiorentina under Paulo Sousa last term, Chiesa has stepped up his performances this season under Stefano Pioli as Fiorentina have looked to replace Federico Bernardeschi’s end product from last year. Chiesa hasn’t quite managed to replace Bernardeschi fully; his contribution of six goals and five assists is some way below Bernardeschi’s output last season. Still, it shows the growth of the 20-year-old’s end product. One of the first names on Pioli’s team sheet, Chiesa doesn’t back away from taking responsibility. He’s taken on average three shots per game which is among the highest in Italy. He’s also averaged 1.6 key passes and 2.1 completed dribbles per 90 minutes.
Chiesa is a very direct winger who looks to take his opponent on and who excels in 1 vs 1-situations. As his dribbling stats show he does this well. Chiesa is also very quick, his pace over both short and long distances is absolutely rapid. He is also intelligent in his movement and has shown this season that he can also play in more central areas. Chiesa is one of Italy’s brightest talents and look set for a bright future. Inter, Milan and Napoli have all been mentioned as possible destinations this summer, but I think Arsenal could be a great destination too. His direct wing-play would be perfectly suited for the Premier League. Regardless of where he ends up it will be interesting to follow the Italian winger.
Club: Atalanta (on loan from Benfica)
Position: Central midfield
Estimated fee: €25-30m
Would suit: Lazio, Juventus, Milan and Roma
Bryan Cristante has been one of the revelations of the Italian season. The midfielder has impressed both in central midfield and as an attacking midfielder in Atalanta’s high-tempo and energetic 3-4-2-1. What has impressed most has been his goal scoring, nine in Serie A and three in the Europa League, but Cristante is a very complete midfielder. Defensively he averages 1.8 tackles per game and 0.8 interceptions while winning 2.8 aerial duels per 90 minutes. His passing is also very good, highlighted by two assists and 1.3 key passes on average. Another impressive aspect of his performances has been his dribbling in midfield, completing 1.4 dribbles on average. Cristante has really impressed in all facets of the game this season.
It is his goal scoring which has caught the eye most, however. His record of nine Serie A goals and three strikes in the Europa League give him a total of twelve goals for the season. That is a number any midfielder would be proud of. The main reason behind his success in front of goal has been his sublime timing of runs into the box. He picks his moments well and times his runs perfectly to get on the end of crosses or through balls. In fact, Cristante has a certain Frank Lampard-esque timing when moving into the penalty area. Still only on loan at Atalanta from Benfica, Cristante is rumoured to make the move permanent for around €5m. Atalanta would then look to sell Cristante for a vastly higher fee with most of Italy’s top clubs interested. Juventus, Milan and Roma would all welcome Cristante into their squads but I feel Lazio would be the perfect destination right now. Cristante would blend in well in Simone Inzaghi’s squad and fits the role Marco Parolo currently plays in midfield perfectly. That right-sided central midfield position with the job of making runs forward is made for Bryan Cristante.
Position: Central midfield
Estimated fee: €20-25m
Would suit: Milan, Roma, Lazio and Inter
While most of the names on this list will be well-known to even occasional followers of Italian football, Daniele Baselli won’t be one of the most well-known midfielders in Serie A. The Atalanta youth team product has spent a good few seasons at Torino now and, at 26, is ready for a shot at a bigger club. The elegant playmaker is a true central midfielder who specializes in distributing the ball accurately while also making strong defensive contributions. For example, Baselli averages 1.9 tackles per game and 1.8 interceptions. He also wins 1.1 aerial duels per game. Going forward Baselli has contributed four goals and two assists for Toro in the league. His intelligent play at the the base of midfield or in a more box-to-box role provides balance and tranquility to the side.
Milan has been heavily linked with the midfielder who can play as a defensive midfielder, one of two central midfielders or as a mezzala, a wider central midfielder, in a three-man midfield. Baselli would also improve the squads of Roma, Lazio and Inter in a heartbeat. It would be interesting to see Baselli at a bigger club and also in European football. For around €20-25m he could also be seen as a true bargain in today’s market. If not, Torino will continue to relish having such a gifted player running their midfield.
Position: Defensive midfield
Estimated fee: €25-30m
Would suit: Manchester United, Juventus, Napoli and Atletico Madrid
Lucas Torreira has been linked to virtually every big club in Europe over the last few months and it’s easy to understand why. The Uruguayan has been fantastic at the base of Sampdoria’s midfield diamond under Marco Giampaolo for two successive seasons. His defensive ability is fantastic with aggressive pressing and superb ability in 1 vs 1-situations as well as intelligent positioning when shielding his back-four. Statistically, his defensive quality is highlighted. Torreira averages 2.8 tackles won per game while also averaging 2.0 interceptions per game. Both physically and mentally this is a proper defensive midfielder.
Torreira is equally impressive in possession, completing 60.8 passes on average at a success rate of 87.2%. Sampdoria play a very combination focused build-up play where Torreira is often positioned in tight areas at the centre of midfield. When many players would go missing, Torreira takes control and runs Sampdoria’s passing game. His understanding of space and the movements of his teammates suggests sublime football intelligence. He also hits wonderful free-kicks and possess a strong shot from distance, highlighted by his four goals in the league. Going into the summer, the links to Napoli remain strong. He would fit in naturally in Jorginho’s defensive midfield position should the Italian international leave Napoli this summer. Sampdoria’s football is in many ways similar to Napoli which makes the links so understandable. But I can’t help but feel Torreira should also be courted by the likes of Juventus (where he would likely start), Manchester United (where he would be a long term successor to Matic) or Atletico Madrid where his battling performances at the base of midfield would be a good replacement for the superb Gabi. Wherever he ends up, Lucas Torreira is a name to remember.
Position: Central midfield
Estimated fee: €22-28m
Would suit: Inter, Milan, Roma and Napoli
Nicolò Barella has been a key man in Cagliari’s survival struggle this season. Barella is a very complete midfield player capable of playing in a variety of midfield roles. In the beginning of this campaign he usually played in a 4-3-1-2 formation as one of the wider midfielders – a mezzala. After a change of coach, Cagliari have largely played 3-5-2 with Barella then shifting between the defensive midfield position and one of the two mezzala either side of him. He’s also been used as a number 10 on occasions. The fact he’s deployed in such different roles highlights his impressive versatility. For now he probably is most suited to the mezzala role which is essentially as a box-to-box midfielder.
Defensively, Barella averages 2.8 tackles per game while also making 1.4 interceptions. There’s a question surrounding his discipline though, since he concedes 2.3 fouls per game on average and has amassed 12 yellow cards and one red. Naturally this will improve with experience but for now there is a question mark here. Going forward Barella has scored six goals in the league as well as making one assist. He averages 1.5 dribbles per game and makes one key pass on average. His pass completion of 79.6% isn’t fantastic but is partly explained by the direct style of play of Cagliari under Diego Lopez.
Barella is one of Italy’s most outstanding prospects and combines excellent technical ability with battling defensive contribution. His passing and dribbling helps him be key in possession but his strong tackling and reading of the game makes him vital defensively. It would be intriguing to see him continue his development at one of Italy’s bigger clubs. He would be a great option at both Milan clubs and Roma. Personally I feel he would be perfect at Napoli where he would fit the high-tempo football they play.
Position: Central midfield
Estimated fee: €20m
Would suit: Many Bundesliga or Premier League clubs
The Swiss midfielder Remo Freuler has gone under the radar as one of Atalanta’s most impressive players over the last two seasons. In this period his midfield partners have changed from Roberto Gagliardini to Franck Kessie to Bryan Cristante and Marten De Roon. In a team where players have come and gone, Freuler has stayed consistent and integral to Gian Piero Gasperini’s exciting team. Freuler is a complete central midfield player who can help build up play in his own half, play the final pass into the box, make a late run to score a goal himself or break up play with strong tackling or reading of the game. Basically he can do a bit of everything. He averages 2.9 tackles per game in Serie A and also averages 1.2 interceptions. This defensive contribution is essential to Atalanta’s high-pressing game. In possession, Freuler completes 88% of his passes and always look to play forward due to the vertical nature of Atalanta’s passing. His contribution in the final third is also telling; he’s scored five goals in the league while also making three assists, as well as a goal and an assist in the Europa League too.
I’ve hardly seen any rumours linking Freuler with a move away from Atalanta which is good news for the Bergamo club. However, there should be plenty of Italian, German and English clubs all over this Swiss midfielder. At an estimated prize of only around €20m, Freuler would improve most Bundesliga and Premier League sides. His energetic style of play also fits perfectly with both German and English football. If these clubs have scouted well in Italy, Freuler will be on their shortlists.
As every summer, Italy’s transfer market looks likely to be very eventful. There are many players expected to make the move to bigger clubs both within the league and on the continent. Players like Allan, Alisson, Baselli, Cristante, Chiesa, Freuler, Barella and Torreira have once again showed how much quality there is in the Italian top flight. Now it remains exciting to see which clubs have scouted well and identified the right players to target this summer and where these eight among many other will end up next season.
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