Introducing Serie A’s latest majestic midfielder
Position: Centre Midfield
Nationality: Italian (5 caps 1 goal for Italy U21’s)
Despite including two club legends in the form of all-time appearance holder Francesco Magnanelli and all-time top scorer Domenico Beradi, undoubtedly the star of the Sassuolo midfield over the past few months has been a 20 year old with less than 25 senior appearances to his name prior to this season. Lorenzo Pellegrini’s consistent performances in the opening half of the season saw him the subject of transfer rumours in January, with surely more to come in the summer.
A tall, graceful midfielder, who strikes a ball beautifully, Pellegrini has long been considered a good prospect. As well as representing Italy at U19, U20 and U21 levels, he was previously the captain of the Roma primavera squad that reached the semi-finals of the UEFA Youth League in 2015. However, with many midfielders ahead of him in the Roma pecking order, the then teenager was moved onto Sassuolo – with their renown for developing youth – that summer, but not before Roma inserted a buy-back clause in his contract, showing they still rated the boyhood Romanista.
Pellegrini has many attributes to become a fantastic all-round midfielder in the future. With his well-built, 6”1 frame and his propensity to stick his foot in, there is no doubt that he can more than hold his own in the scrappiest of midfield battles. Thanks to his unerring ability to play with his head up, he can combine this physicality with a grace normally reserved for shorter players; perhaps you could draw comparisons with a younger, more mobile Michael Carrick.
Pellegrini has been asked to fulfil an interesting role in the Sassuolo team. With the old stalwart Magnanelli a lock in centre midfield, Pellegrini often starts from a position on the right or left. When the mobile attacking midfielder Beradi pulls wide, Pellegrini is asked to fill the space in the centre. Many young central players look out of their depth when asked to do a job out wide, but he has adapted effortlessly, showing a tactical intelligence beyond his years.
However, his outstanding attribute is his technique when striking a ball. Witness his fantastic goal against Cagliari in December, where whilst driving perpendicularly across the box, he was able to stroke it confidently into the bottom corner when many lesser players would have sliced it. Or see the way he confidently puts so much pace, whip and accuracy on each and every one of his corners.
There are though, areas for improvement. His short passing could certainly do with some work, often falling into a classic young player lapse of failing to keep it simple. His work rate leaves a little to be desired at time; it’s not an uncommon site to see him half-heartedly close down an opposition player. He has also been substituted in over half his appearances this season, showing a lack of stamina or little trust in his defensive abilities in the latter stages of matches.
If he can iron out these flaws – as many young players have in the past – Pellegrini could compete with other young talents such as Inter’s Roberto Gagliardini and Milan’s Manuel Locatelli for a national team berth alongside Marco Verrati in the future. He’s been linked with all the big teams in Italy many times by this point, but don’t be surprised if Roma exercise their buyback clause this summer and bring Lorenzo back home, perhaps as they always intended to.
Doug Johnson (Football Analyst)
All Player to Watch articles are formed on analyst’s opinion rather than in-house statistics.
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