Euro 2020 Players to Watch: Manuel Locatelli Analysis from The Scouting App

Manuel Locatelli burst into Italian football with an explosive goal against giants Juventus in 2016. Just 17 at the time, Locatelli was quickly burdened with being the future of the Milan midfield. Unfortunately, ownership turnover and the overhaul of Milan’s squad in the summer of 2017 left the academy product out of the first-team picture.

That did little to slow down Locatelli’s development. Since 2018, the Italian international has been honing his craft at Sassuolo. Now 22, Locatelli has begun to turn heads and pop up in niche football conversations. His knack for switching the field, making incisive passes, and competing like an established veteran has turned him into one of the most effective midfielders in Italy.

Sassuolo provided the tools for their dominant midfielder to develop. Roberto De Zerbi’s 4-2-3-1 provided the space for offensive ambition and creativity from the midfield pivot. Both wingers for Sassuolo have the requisite offensive awareness and ability to take advantage of Locatelli’s passing. If players enter the box, then expect Locatelli to find them. He has the ability to punish opposing defences if they fail to defend spaces and track runners.

Manuel Locatelli switches play beautifully. It is by far the best feature of his game. During general play, he drifts towards the left side of the field but remains around 30 to 40 yards away from the goal line.

When he receives the ball, he quickly scans the field and if a run is being made, he picks it out. Locatelli typically operates on the left side of the midfield in Sassuolo’s 4-2-3-1 shape, which allows him to sit deep and spray passes into the path of attackers.

While his ability to shape passes is excellent, the most impressive aspect of his passing is how consistently he hits players’ feet with long balls. Instead of forcing a team-mate to adjust his run to collect, Locatelli understands how to identify a run and subsequently lead that player with a pass.

For defensive midfielders, the Italian rates highly in progressive passes, with 6.23 per 90 minutes in the top-flight this season. His tendency to advance play with an incisive, press-breaking pass has helped spur on the Sassuolo offense; his xA per 90 of 0.18 shows his offensive ability from defensive midfield, and all while rarely straying from position. Locatelli does not need to spring forward to support attackers, instead comfortably supporting and supplying Sassuolo’s attack from deep.

He can spring runs and pass players into space. He is not selfish with his passing. He has a tendency to break forward and find space to play a cutting pass. Expect him to enter the box to act as a passing option, and even play wall passes to help other players continue their movement. He supports everyone around him with his attacking awareness.

His offensive ability should spark interest from teams in need of a ball progressing midfielder. Progressive passing and the ability to “break the lines” have become more popular in recent years. Examples like these clips show the importance of a player like Locatelli. He has the requisite passing skill to pick apart an opposing side. His versatility makes him suitable for many teams, whether they are counter-attacking or possession based.

Serie A will be challenging for him over the next few seasons as the talent level of midfielders in Italy grows. However, if he remains at Sassuolo or moves to a club further up the table in Italy, expect him to succeed. Teams like Juventus and Milan have holes in their midfield that Locatelli could easily fill. Clubs can always use an offensively minded midfielder who can initiate counter-attacks or transition play by himself. He should be highly sought after when the summer transfer window heats up.

Locatelli has high upside and has begun to show a return on it during the last two seasons. Any team with a need for a midfielder who can link play should immediately look to the Sassuolo player, and he will be much less expensive than many of the other notable options littered across Europe. Expect Locatelli to turn more heads in the upcoming seasons as he continues to develop.

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