We are in the last few laps of our data analysis series in collaboration with The Scouting App. After taking a deep on some of the most talented forwards and defensive midfielders with Serie A connections, we have now reached perhaps one of the most important parts of our series – the defenders!
In all honesty, the current market does not have a lot of elite defenders out there but the clubs would always be on the lookout for the next top center-back.
What Makes a Top Defender?
As the game continues to evolve, so does the role of each position. Today, defenders are no longer considered to be just good…well, defenders. The game has changed quite a lot and as we moved forward with things, more and more managers have started to develop quite the affinity for signing only those defenders who are not only good readers of the game, but are also great at passing from the back.
Passing from the back is a very casually thrown around term. A defender who is able to pass from the back needs to have great ball control, to be capable of passing the ball progressively while having great vision to instigate attacking moves.
Moreover, it is a bonus if a defender can play a high defensive line and can contribute more effectively to the attacking phase.
This is one of the reasons why many old school defenders are slowly being “phased out” of top-level football.
The likes of Virgil van Dijk, Stefan de Vrij, Matthijs de Ligt, and Marash Kumbulla are just some of the defenders who really stand out when it comes to an evolved modern day center-back.
Like it has been the past few decades, Italy is setting the trend for up and coming defenders who could become stars of tomorrow.
So we decided to list out some of the up and coming defenders who have only recently started out in their professional careers but have the ability to further play their part in the game’s evolution.
Bosko Sutalo is a Croatian defender who is currently on the books of Serie A highflyers, Atalanta. The youngster spent the first half of the previous campaign with Croatian outfit Osijek but following some really consistent showings in Croatia and in Europe, he signed for the Bergamo giants during the 2020 winter transfer window for just 4M euros.
Initial signs show that the youngster could prove to be a bargain signing for La Dea. He ended up making seven appearances last campaign and though he did not get as many minutes as he would have liked, the initial signs were good.
As you can see from this heat map, Sutalo’s preferred position is on the right side of defense but judging by the red heat signatures on the map, it is clear that the youngster likes drifting towards the right flank and due to his speed, seems to be a very good option as a full-back.
The above heat map is from the current campaign where he has seen a good amount of minutes on the pitch already. In his most recent encounter (2-1 win over Crotone), Sutalo was given 22 minutes to showcase his potential as Gasperini looked to shore up the defense.
The 20-year-old did not disappoint and won all ground duels e competed for. He also made one key pass but lost possession 10 times which means that there are still certain elements in his game that need to be worked on.
Gabriele Corbo is a 20-year-old center back who is currently on the books of Bologna and is on loan at Ascoli. The young defender is a product of Spezia’s youth academy and moved to Bologna in August 2018.
Standing at 1.86 meters, the young Italian is a solid player at the back who doesn’t shy away from making a crunching tackle. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s a risk-taker. Corbo prefers to play short and simple passes and ensures that he keeps safe possession.
One of the rare things about the youngster is that he has great long-distance shooting ability – something he demonstrated during his youth academy outings.
Blessed with great spatial awareness, the youngster is a great defender to have when your team is on the wrong side of a counter-attacking move. As one of the rare defenders who are both fast and strong, Corbo is definitely one for the future.
As you can see from the heat map, Corbo is a very defensive-minded defender. He prefers not to move a lot out of his position and would only go as far as the center of the park. A player like Corbo is perfectly suited for teams that prefer to sit back and defend. However, in the long run, the youngster will have to be more diverse and even imaginative if he wants to play for a top team in Italy.
Perhaps the reason why Corbo is more in the mold of a central defender is that he does not have a great vision or the passing accuracy to be a more active part of the offensive phase of the game. This is perhaps one of the key areas where he needs to work on.
Currently plying his trade in Serie B, the young center-back is definitely learning a thing or two but based on our analysis, the player would need to work on his range of passing and be more active when it comes to involving his more creative teammates fast enough.
Lovato is a 20-year-old defender who is currently playing for Serie A side Hellas Verona. He joined them on the last day of the January transfer window from Padova and managed just 8 minutes.
Lovato is a very versatile defender who can easily slot inside any position in a three-man defensive system which is why he has become a reported target of Antonio Conte’s Inter side. The youngster did struggle for game time upon his arrival at Verona but following the departure of Marash Kumbulla to Roma, the young Italian’s role has grown.
The 20-year-old has played 6 Serie A games so far and amassed 431 minutes.
As you can see from this heat map, Lovato is a very busy defender and seems to show great effectiveness in a higher defensive position which could mean that he can be a great asset for a high defensive line.
The heat map is created out of the six games he has played this season and it becomes quite clear that Lovato is an all-action defender.
The youngster prefers playing as a last defender and due to his ability to distribute passes capably, this is the perfect role for him. Lovato also appears to be quite comfortable on the ball which is becoming a very much in-demand attribute.
However, if there is one thing that the youngster really needs to work on it’s his ability to time challenges while being mindful of his body shape. Lovato tends to go for a half-shield half-tackle stance which makes it difficult for him to win the ball cleanly. While he hasn’t conceded any free kicks so far this season, it would be wise for him to become more agile when it comes to winning the ball.
Nonetheless, at the age of 20, sky is the limit for Lovato as he continues his development playing for a team that is known for giving the younger players sufficient chances to prove their credentials.
20-year-old Walukiewicz is currently playing with Serie A outfit Cagliari but judging by the constant rumors surrounding his future, the Poland international might not be there for long. The talented defender was playing for Polish side Pogon Szczecin a couple of years ago when he first attracted the interest of Premier League sides Arsenal and Southampton.
However, the youngster eventually decided to sign for Cagliari for a bargain price of 4M euros. It was a tough introduction to Italian football for the young Pole who made 14 appearances and had to deal with 7 league defeats.
But we need to mention that the youngster managed to break into Cagliari’s first team during the second half of the campaign and his aerial ability really caught the eye. Reportedly, Manchester United have been monitoring his progress in the last few months and might make an approach in January.
As you can observe from this season’s heat map, Walukiewicz is predominantly a center back but does tend to drift more towards the right of the defense. The youngster is also fairly good when it comes to playing a little bit further up field which is something that would be appreciated by his coaches.
His biggest strengths are his aerial ability and marking. Walukiewicz is one of those defenders who would stay tight on their opponent and offer them very little space to operate around.
Moreover, these attributes allow him to execute perfectly-timed tackles while good awareness automatically results in great interception number. The Pole averages 2.2 interceptions per game and so far this season, has boasted a passing accuracy of 86%.
You are unlikely to see the youngster showcase poor ball control. Walukiewicz is very good with the ball and due to his athleticism, manages to get himself out of tricky situations before passing the ball to one of his teammates.
While he is still in the development phase of his career, it is evident that Sebastian Walukiewicz is a unique talent. Blessed with great athletic ability, vision and ability to distribute passes without risking losing possession, the youngster shows great promise and we would be surprised if he does not make a bigger move in his career in the next couple of years.