Scouting the Best Under-20 Italian Talent – Part One: Strikers

In this data analysis series, we are going to look at some of the top talent potentially representing the Azzurri at Under-20 and perhaps Under-21 level in the future. Under Paolo Nicolato, the Azzurrini have put in some really promising displays and a lot of young players have risen to the occasion.

The senior side has come a long way under Roberto Mancini so it is only natural to see the younger lot quietly knocking on the doors, waiting for a chance to represent the senior side.

In this data analysis, we will be looking at some of the best Under-20 players in each position and through a comparative analysis, try to figure out which of them could potentially represent the senior side for years to come.

The player analysis will start with four of the brightest young talents in the striking department: Lorenzo Colombo (Milan), Roberto Piccoli (Atalanta, on loan at Spezia), Pietro Pellegri (Monaco), and Sebastiano Esposito (Inter, on loan at  SPAL).

Through our own scouting methodology and combining it with a player analysis powered by The Scouting App, we are going to take a deep dive and see which of these four youngsters comes out on top.

In order to ensure that we have sufficient amount of data to run a comparative player analysis, we’re going to include stats from all local competitions (junior and senior) these players have participated in but will not take into account the games they’ve played for the national team or any friendly games.

Our Player Analysis Metrics

In order to offer the most objective analysis, we’re going to test things on different sets of data metrics that are valid indicators of a striker’s effectiveness in the final third. We’re going to look at the expected goals (xG) in order to gauge how good these players are when it comes to finishing things off.

Dribbling is another art that is becoming more and more important for strikers. Coaches do prefer their strikers do be able to get themselves out of a hole rather than constantly looking to find help from elsewhere.

Chances created is a very good metric when it comes to seeing whether a player has good spatial awareness or if he can create goalscoring opportunities for his teammates.

While using passing as a simple metric does make sense, dicing it down to progressive passes is what really tells us how much attack-minded a player is. For a striker, it is a great quality to have so this is one more metric that we’re going to analyze.

However, strikers also need to know exactly what to do once they’re inside the box or the final third because they’re not going to get enough scoring opportunities every time they get close to the opposition goal. Sometimes, they have to take a few touches and weight their options. Therefore, we’re also going to look at the number of touches these players take inside the penalty area and the final third.

Shots and Touches in the Box

The first part of this analysis will look at the ability of these players to not only create shots but also enjoy touches inside the box. Good movement is needed for strikers to be able to improve the quality of chances they have in front of goal.

This variable is also a great indicator of how far a player can develop and also measures the players’ instincts in the area where it matters the most.

As you can see from this graph, both Pietro Pellegri and Sebastiano Esposito are very much accomplished when it comes to possession inside the penalty area and testing the goalkeeper. However, it is Inter’s youngster who proves himself to be a more consistent striker since he shows great confidence when taking his chances and is equally confident when it comes to tight situations that develop inside the opponent’s penalty area.

Our findings completely fall in line with those of The Scouting App whose schematics award Esposito a shooting rating of 7.5 out of 10.

It is also worth mentioning here that while Roberto Piccoli and Lorenzo Colombo don’t boast a lot of touches inside the box, the two youngsters average 2.18 and 2.31 shots per 90 minutes respectively. However, it is Sebastiano Esposito who is a more confident presence inside the box and is more likely to find himself good scoring opportunities.


Dribbling can be a huge asset for strikers since it allows them to create chances on their own, help create openings for teammates, and get themselves out of tight spots. Strikers who are good dribblers tend to help the team in creating chances and also enjoy more freedom, especially when it comes to their overall involvement in build-up play.

The dribbling scatter plot is a real eye opener. While we knew the talents of all these four players and were aware of their unique abilities, we did not know how closely matched these youngsters are when it comes to their dribble success scores.

For instance, Roberto Piccoli may boast the lowest success rate but the fact that he has attempted 21 dribbles gives us an indication of the sort of player he is turning into.

Similarly, Sebastiano Esposito once again tops the list because the Inter man is great at finishing his dribbles. Pietro Pellegri and Lorenzo Colombo are equally good dribblers but it remains to be seen how far Colombo’s dribbling ability will develop in the coming years.

Our findings once again match to those of The Scouting App’s since all four men have an equal dribbling rating of 6.5.

Aerial Ability

In this section we’re going to compare the aerial ability of these four youngsters. While the only currency strikers are dealt with is in goals, the overall contribution is crucial. It is always great to see how diverse a striker is when it comes to scoring goals. Just like dribbling and ability to win duels, aerial prowess comes in handy for strikers especially during set-pieces or in situations when they’re expected to hold their own in long-ball situations and nudge a ball to a danger zone.

In order to judge this ability, we’re going to look at the number of aerial duels the aforementioned players contested per game against their percentage of success in the said events.

The likes of Pellegri and Colombo on the other hand, are not the most accomplished of forwards when it comes to their aerial ability but then again, both youngsters have never been target men either. Pellegri for instance, is more of a creative force and while he does have a great jumping reach, prefers to play ground passes and receive them that way.

Attacking Output

After looking into the various qualities these four players possess, we need to see how good they are when it comes to their overall attacking output. In order to make our analysis as conclusive as possible, we are going to look at their expected assists (xA) and goals (xG) per 90 minutes. These two metrics are useful to tell us how well a player will perform in the future based on their attacking output.

In order to further break things down properly, a combined xA and xG value of above 0.8 should be considered as elite while anything above 0.6 and under 0.8 should be considered great.

Now this bar chart really clears things up and brings to light how deadly these players are in the final third. In the last three to four years, they all have played against a lot of different teams, in Italy and outside. This has given them enough experience to further their development.

And it now appears that pretty much all four individuals are on track.

Sebastiano Esposito once again catches the eye as he boasts an attacking output of 0.97, which is elite in any league. This clearly means that the young striker is always at the right place at the right time, makes the right decisions, and can make almost one important contribution per 90 minutes.

Next up is Roberto Piccoli who is also developing at great speed. An attacking output of 0.71 is equally great and is likely to go further up once he gets to play more games this season. Lorenzo Colombo is also not further behind with the young Milan striker slowly developing into a potentially elite striker of tomorrow.

Pietro Pellegri boasts a very low attacking output of 0.34 but it is understandable since the youngster has only just returned from a lengthy injury layoff and needs to find his rhythm.


This scouting analysis sought to find the answer for all the abilities the four players possess. Our findings suggest that all four individuals are going to prove to be stars of tomorrow:

Roberto Piccoli

At the age of 19, Roberto Piccoli is at a very early stage of his career but has already a decent amount of first team minutes under his belt. Currently on loan at Spezia, the young striker is likely to get enough minutes on the pitch and the experience for playing against a possible relegation fighting team is going to help him get better.

While he is already proving himself to be a strong in the air, boasts good dribbling skills, and has a very promising attacking output, the youngster’s next step in development would be improving his presence in the penalty area where he needs to develop something of a striker’s greed.

Lorenzo Colombo

After being promoted to Milan’s senior team last month, onus is on the teenage striker to treat the 2020-21 Serie A campaign as a time of learning. The 18-year-old will be learning quite a bit from Zlatan Ibrahimovic and you can expect Stefano Pioli use him every now and then albeit sparingly.

Nonetheless, the youngster would really need to improve in pretty much every area and make use of all the opportunities he gets. While we are not expecting Colombo to become a world beater at this stage, perhaps a loan move to a Serie B side could be exactly what he needs to become more confident on the ball and a goal hungry striker.

Pietro Pellegri

It is really sad to see that Pietro Pellegri’s development was hampered due to constant injury woes. Hailed as the new Messi (heard that all before right?), the youngster was touted for a bright future. Pellegri is a tall and elegant player, and has hopefully moved on from the chronic groin and hamstring issues that have besieged a career that is still in its infancy.

Now that he has started the season and (knock wood…) not been faced with another injury setback, it is time for Pellegri to further his development and continue to improve in all areas that we have mentioned in our players analysis.

Sebastiano Esposito

The gifted striker has been with Inter all his life and after making a mini breakthrough, is set to spend the current campaign out on loan at SPAL. Here he is likely to be given regular playing time which will help him gain valuable experience.

The youngster is great in the air, has good dribbling skills, knows when to shoot, and is overall the best of the bunch. Serie B is as good a place as any and the way he has shown promised whenever given the chance, we expect the teenager to enjoy a real breakthrough season in Italy’s second division.