As loan spells go, Pizzi’s fourth during his four year spell with Braga that took him to Atletico Madrid wasn’t exactly successful. Making the bench 22 times and only being summoned off it on half of those occasions, he managed just 226 minutes of game-time in total, suggesting manager Diego Simeone didn’t quite trust the Portuguese winger and had made a mistake in bringing him to the Vincente Calderon.
Yet, Atletico sprang a surprise last summer, splashing out £11 million on the midfielder, before immediately loaning him out to Deportivo La Coruna, where Atletico’s decision to invest in Pizzi is being vindicated with a series of impressive performances on the left-wing.
Pizzi, full name Luis Miguel Afonso Fernandes, started out with his home-town club C.D Braganca in the Portuguese 3rd division. Despite still being a junior in the under-16s, Pizzi made 4 appearances for the minnows before signing for Braga, the club based in the city of Minho, where the emerging winger received his education.
After signing him in 2008, Pizzi was loaned back to the Portuguese third tier with Ribeirao, playing 25 times before heading out to S.C Covilha, playing a level higher in the Segunda Division, playing 14 matches for them and scoring four goals. Another loan move followed, but this time to top division side Pacos Ferreira, with whom he made 42 appearances in which he scored 8 goals, including a hat-trick against Porto in the only game the eventual champions failed to win. He returned to Braga, making 2 appearances in the following season before Atletico made their own temporary move.
A year with Simeone seemed to have impressed the Argentine enough for him to press ahead with a permanent deal and his form for Deportivo this season suggests he has a bright future ahead should he go back to Madrid in the summer. Playing on the left, he assisted Deportivo’s fight against relegation with 8 goals and 6 assists, starting each one of the 33 games he has been available for.
Style, Strengths and Weaknesses
It was Spanish coach Jose Louis Oltra who bought Pizzi to the Riazor, but his December sacking and his consequent replacement Portuguese manager Domingos Pacienca helped Pizzi further, after being one of the shining lights in Deportivo’s disappointing season beforehand.
The winger is deployed mostly on the left, he has started 30 games there so far this season, but he likes to drift right across the front-line, stretching defenders trying to mark him by interchanging with Juan Carlos Valeron and Riki in attack (together, Riki and Pizzi have contributed for 63% of Deportivo’s 46 goals this term). Possessing quickness of thought and close control, the talented 23 year old has become a huge hit with the support at the Galician club.
What leaps to the eye about Pizzi’s contribution is the massive 84 chances he has created for his team-mates at a rate of 2.6 chances-created per game. He has made 1269 passes in this La Liga season, registering a success rate of 81%, suggesting Pizzi is not only a conventional winger, but an attacking player comfortable on the ball, adept at drifting between the lines and threading passes between his markers. Despite that, Pizzi has also shown he can take his man on the outside by producing 2.2 accurate crosses per game according to WhoScored.com
The Portuguese, who has one cap with the national team coming in a friendly against Gabon, fits in superbly with Pacienca’s 4-2-3-1 system, starting in a withdrawn position and possessing the attributes to beat his marker in a variety of ways despite his lack of physical prowess, he stands at just 172cm and weighs a slight 66kg. His smaller frame means he suffers when it comes to the aerial battle, as he has won just 12 of his 34 duels in the air so far this term, a rate of just 35%
As well as creating chances for others, Pizzi can show a more direct route to goal, cutting inside and getting shots away, 42 this season, of which 70% have been accurate. He is also a dangerous free-kick taker, scoring a brilliant set-piece goal against Barcelona earlier in the season when Deportivo were defeated 4-5. His attempted dribble rate of 1.3 per game shows how ambitious and positive he is in terms of attacking play, whilst the amount of fouls he has received, a total of 62 fouls suffered, suggests how much of a handful he can be for defenders.
For such a mercurial attacking talent however, Pizzi will have to work on his discipline as he is in a worrying fifth place on Deportivo’s aggression tally, picking up 5 yellows and 1 red, which is uncharacteristic for a nimble-footed winger. La Coruna’s struggles at the foot of the table may have contributed to this however, with frustrations boiling over in the younger members of the squad.
With Atletico still in full ownership of the 23 year old, it is highly likely that he will be back at the Vicente Calderon next year in a more regular spot than he received in his first spell. Having made it clear they will sell Falcao in the summer, Atletico will require a direct attacker capable of running the line and Pizzi has shown he can fit that bill at the highest level. Furthermore, Champions League commitments will demand Simeone making use of a bigger squad, so expect the young winger to take up more of a role next year.
Falcao leaving Madrid will be a massive blow to Simeone’s Copa Del Rey winners, but the emergence of Pizzi to accompany the likes of Diego Costa, Arda Turan and Adrian Lopez gives Les Colchoneros supporters plenty to be optimistic about next season. In Pizzi, they will be getting a complete winger, able to cross, shoot and set-up chances regularly with a superb range of vision and excellent technique, being able to link intricately with the other talents in the squad.
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