Tuesday January 19 2021
Locatelli at a crossroads

Manuel Locatelli has been linked with moves to Juventus and Manchester City, and Kaustubh Pandey discusses which would be the best option to further develop in the future.

Watching Manuel Locatelli over the last two seasons has been an enriching experience as his development is an example of how a player can make it big despite leaving a big club.

The Italy international has taken quite a unique path since leaving Milan to move to the Mapei Stadium in the summer of 2018.

As scouts keep tabs on the Italian, he carries on going from strength to strength for Roberto De Zerbi’s side. Playing in a system that thrives on inviting the press from the opposition and playing through it, Locatelli has shown signs of being a top-class ball distributor from deeper midfield.

However, it would be unfair to refer to him as a defensive midfielder because the 23-year-old offers so many things on and off the ball.

De Zerbi uses a 4-2-3-1 shape at Sassuolo and Locatelli is usually one of the two midfielders, with the other being either Pedro Obiang, Mehdi Bourabia, Maxime Lopez or Francesco Magnanelli.

The Sassuolo capitan spoke about the development of Locatelli and what the future has in store for him in an exclusive interview with Football Italia in November.

De Zerbi’s pivots constantly change positions, but Locatelli predominantly plays the role of a deep-lying playmaker, as he constantly keeps play ticking, threads passes through the press and brings others into play.

De Zerbi’s system has found the perfect role for the former Milan man, who is now Sassuolo’s chief enforcer.

For players who have played over 1000 minutes in Serie A this season, Locatelli is fourth for most progressive passes per 90 minutes (8.03).

The 23-year-old completes the biggest number of carries per 90 minutes amongst those players as well: 70.3. That is testimony to his supreme technical ability and suggests how effective he is while playing the ball forward and carrying it with his feet.

Considering how Sassuolo play out from the opposition press, Locatelli comes across as a line-breaking midfielder who can be very effective in tight spaces, even against teams that play in a low-block.

Locatelli averages 9.55 passes out of the press, which is the third best tally in the league, only behind Nicolo Barella and Luis Alberto. While that shows how good he is technically, the 23-year-old is in the top ten for tackles won in the midfield this season and he also makes 1.59 interceptions per 90 minutes. The former Milan teenager makes 10.8 recoveries per 90 minutes, which shows how quick he is to win back loose balls in the heart of the park.

This paints the picture of Locatelli being the perfect deep-lying midfielder who has enough defensive prowess to play as a defensive midfielder in a possession-based system too.

Because of the variety of traits he has, along with a modern-day strength, it is easy to see why clubs would want him and especially those clubs that like to keep possession of the ball.

Football has slowly moved to an era where there is a lot more emphasis on keeping the ball, pressing high up the pitch and making quick transitions from midfield.

Locatelli isn’t just very suited to that style of play, he is suited to being an antidote to that approach from an opposition team, which makes him a very rare commodity in football. He understands what the game is these days.

Interest from Manchester City though, presents a rather intriguing chance for the Lombardian. It presents a dilemma about whether he should stay in Italy or move to England and play under Pep Guardiola, who has been on the lookout for some midfield reinforcement since the departure of David Silva last summer.

Man City have adapted well to the exit of Silva and have been closer to being a team that dominates attacking transitions instead of being a team that dominates possession.

Having Silva in the team allowed for better control in advanced areas and without the Spaniard, there is more emphasis on playing quickly and being more direct. Ismael Bennacer was linked with a move to the Etihad and as much as the Algerian may have helped the Citizens become more possession-dominated, Locatelli would allow them to do the same.

Having said that, Juventus are a very interesting option closer home. In their loss to Inter, Andrea Pirlo’s midfield showed signs of being bleak out of possession and it looked as if they are often suited to a midfield three while in possession. The likes of Rodrigo Bentancur, Arthur, Weston McKennie or Adrien Rabiot, are all very good midfielders, but they’ve historically been used in a midfield three.

Pirlo’s system relies on building from the back in a rhombus shape and then looks to play direct passes to the wide players, who are usually in 1 vs. 1 situations against the opposition full-backs.

If not that, the two midfielders are tasked with carrying the ball in advanced areas, going past the opposition’s midfielders. For that role, Locatelli is probably the best in Serie A.

Even though he suits both Man City and Juventus, Locatelli is still 23 and has many years of top level football in him.

Going to England may be an ambition for many, but going to Juve or returning to Milan would be a safe option for the Italian at his age. All suitors, however, must deal with Sassuolo’s €40m request if they are to sign the 23-year-old.

If Locatelli opts to stay in Serie A, he could have more assurances and require less adaptation. It would be a step-up to play for Juventus or Milan, but he’s absolutely ready for it.

Even if he joins a bigger Serie A club in the summer, he will still have time to move to England and shine in the future. Because all in all, the boy is special.

Have your say...
Seriously though, for every Locatelli there are 10 Cutrones or Paloschis. The real problem is not having any buy back or sell on clauses. Better the former.

Someone laughed at Locatelli coming back to Milan. For 40m yes it's too steep given Bennacer, Kessie and Tonali. BUT Bennacer has a 40m release clause becoming active this summer. If a big Spanish or English club comes along and dangles a huge salary maybe he leaves. And then...
on the 23rd January, 2021 at 1:48pm
Ah, Cutrone. CUTRONE. My kingdom for a Cutrone!
on the 23rd January, 2021 at 3:24am
@ Maldini

I'm not saying moving clubs makes it more likely for a player to progress just as I'm not saying staying at the same club makes it more likely. I'm simply saying that you can not say that Locatelli would've reached this level if he stayed at Milan. He might've gotten even better than he has so far, or he might've flopped but you don't know. There are so many internal and external factors that play a part in a players career it's impossible to say either way.
on the 21st January, 2021 at 5:52pm
@ LucaC123 I think it's the reverse. I think the more players move the more disrupted their development becomes and many end up as failures. I don't think Messi would've had the career he had had he left Barca. In fact he's never produced the same form for Argentina. That's Messi. Every underneath is the same. I don't why people think footballers are like barmen who can change jobs every 6 months. Even barmen need to get to know their bar!
on the 20th January, 2021 at 11:13pm
I don’t think locatelli will fail anywhere he is such a talent good on the ball and a great pass too he also is good without the ball...he wasn’t ready when he was at Milan to be fair he was young and Milan should have giving him more time at the moment he is better then any Milan midfielders.

Maldinis heir stop about cutrone man he is not a talent he doesn’t score enough he is not fast,he doesn’t dribble he has nothing he has proven Milan right to sell him and they got 18 mil good deal.
on the 20th January, 2021 at 7:34pm
Don't forget his performances for Italy. He has been outstanding. Providing some much needed steel and physicality. It is a great pity that Milan let him go. He would have thrived under Pioli and saved the club a lot of money because they wouldn't have to shelled out for Tonali. I hope they don't make the same mistake with Pobega.
on the 20th January, 2021 at 10:35am
He would fail and may never revive his career again if went to Juve or City
on the 20th January, 2021 at 10:02am
One thing you have to remember with all of these stories of players leaving a club "too soon" and then going on to improve drastically is that they probably wouldn't reach the same level if they had stayed. Loads of factors play a part in a players development, not just the amount of game time but the style of play, the various coaches & team mates they meet along the way etc. Would Lukaku, De Bruyne, Salah have got to the level they are now if they all stayed at Chelsea? Maybe, but probably not
on the 20th January, 2021 at 9:58am
milan sould sign locatelli,he is player that has develop a lot since he move to sassuolo,going to England is not a good option same as juve,milan is the club that he has grown in years back,he is young and can play in diferrent position in midfield,hurry milan get locatelli back,Tonelli is a good player we need him there no need to put pressure on him,he is young and had a lot off room for improvement,with all those injuries,players testing positive with covid19 locatelli has quality.
on the 20th January, 2021 at 7:05am
So Milan should keep hold of Tonali because by the end of this season he'll have had one full season under his belt. Any new signing won't. If I were Locatelli I would stay put. He's found the magic at Sassuolo. Hold onto it. Cutrone has struggled since he left Milan. I think he'll eventually find a mid table team in Serie A and score 30 goals in one season, sign for Juve and become a failure and retire having played for 15 different clubs. It's the modern game. The modern game sucks.
on the 19th January, 2021 at 11:34pm
give up on Tonali and resign Locatelli. Like any relationship, the magic is now gone. It's very difficult to recreate that. That's why even top players who have returned to clubs have not produced the same magic. Because the secret to success in football or anything is finding the precise conditions. And when you find them you need to hold on tight because those conditions do not come around all of the time. The most successful teams have held onto their players for decades.
on the 19th January, 2021 at 11:31pm
Locatelli cried when he scored his first goal against Sassuolo. YOU CAN"T BUY THAT. He did nothing wrong. He did everything you would need from any player, especially a youth player. He was better than Biglia. But still Biglia was picked ahead of him. And then Milan went to find somebody, anybody to replace Biglia. That player was Bakayoko who moved on after one season. We now have Tonali, who has been far less impressive than Locatelli was three years ago. Now that's not to say I want Milan to
on the 19th January, 2021 at 11:29pm
an tell to children who are chasing the same dreams we had. That dream that after eight years we could look each other in the eye and say, we did it.

“You were the perfect incarnation of what it means to be Milan. I wish you the best, because you deserve it. Life forces us to make choices and we have to take them. I hope for you that this is the right path. I am convinced that with your determination and hunger, you’ll give your all and prove yourself in England too. " YOU CAN'T BUY THAT.
on the 19th January, 2021 at 11:22pm
Had Milan backed Locatelli he'd be coming into his 6th season in the first team. You can't buy that. He and Donnarumma, Calabria and Cutrone would have continued to build on their understanding from the youth team. That would give the team a boost both technically and spiritually. Look at the comments by Calabria and Locatelli when Milan sold Cutrone: Locatelli said: “Brother, I still can’t believe it, but this is the harsh reality. From kids making their debuts to the senior squad, a story we
on the 19th January, 2021 at 11:20pm
lol, why is Milan brought up as a destination in the last paragraph?

Otherwise, nice piece. Think he's a pretty clear upgrade in Juve's midfield next year.
on the 19th January, 2021 at 10:15pm
the premier league has no real investment in developing a player like locatelli so many of the clubs are so immensely rich they would simply just buy another player in the same position if locatelli didn't succeed.

even with 2 years left on his contract sassuolo will probably ask for a large fee one which will put off the majority of italian clubs. he might stay for one more season anyway.
on the 19th January, 2021 at 9:23pm
Locatelli is a good player, but not that good for a big club. It showed at Milan, and honestly his performances are not so great at Sassuolo. If he goes to a big club again, he will flop a second time because he is not that good
on the 19th January, 2021 at 6:02pm
We should have loaned him out rather than sell, oh well. Can't say I was very impressed with him at Milan, but I guess he just needed more playing time. We should loan out Maldini as well, he'll get no playing time here, but he actually is interesting technically, and I'd like to see him develop at a team where he has a better chance to play.
on the 19th January, 2021 at 5:38pm

Post new comment

Your email address is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
If you have your own website, enter its address here.
Maximum 500 characters.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Enter the characters shown in the image.
Your responses will be moderated, and sometimes edited, by Football Italia before appearing on the site. Your data may be made public and you accept our Privacy Policy. Please keep your comments clean and try to keep them relevant to the blog above. We reserve the right to reject views that we deem unsuitable for publication.