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Griffin O’Neill writes a comprehensive scout report about Manuel Locatelli, the AC Milan and Italy midfielder.
Riccardo Montolivio is an oft maligned character for Milan fans. The midfielder’s style of play is regarded as backwards and counter-productive, and with the veteran Capitan currently out injured, many fans will be calling for his permanent replacement by eighteen-year-old starlet Manuel Locatelli.
Born in Lecco, Italy on January 8, 1988, Manuel Locatelli started his career at Atalanta until he was picked up by AC Milan aged only twelve. After becoming a regular for the Milan U-19 team at sixteen, Locatelli was forced to adapt quickly due to injuries to many of Milan’s first team regulars. The 18-year-old was inserted into the first team setup last season and made the bench for Milan’s win versus Udinese last September. Locatelli made his debut in a 0-0 draw against Carpi in April and started his first game in Milan’s final league game versus Roma. He completed ninety minutes and impressed then-manager Sinisa Mihajlović greatly. After impressing current boss Vincenzo Montella in pre-season, Locatelli was included in Milan’s squad for the league and was given shirt number seventy-three. He was included on the bench for Milan’s first three league games, but was substituted into the game against Sampdoria in the fifty-seventh minute. Since then, Locatelli has featured in every league game Milan has had. He has also scored two goals, including the game winner against Juventus which gave Milan their first win over the Old Lady since 2012. Along with other academy graduates such as Gigi Donnarumma and Davide Calabria, Locatelli looks poised to become part of a youthful, Italian axis that can return AC Milan to their former glory.
Since making his debut for the Italy U-15 team in 2013, Locatelli has played for every youth team possible up to the U-21 level. He got his U-17 debut aged only fifteen, and then went on to play twenty-five times for them. After that, Locatelli played an integral role in the Italian U-19 side that were runners up at the 2016 U-19 European Championship. At the tournament Locatelli was named by UEFA as one of the ten best players and scored an immaculate free kick against Austria. After the Austria game, Italy’s U-19 capitan, Filippo Romangna, was asked to describe Locatelli, and he responded with one word: quality. After the tournament Locatelli was named captain, but this role may be short lived. With ever increasing playing time and multiple incredible performances to speak of, Locatelli looks sure to make a breakthrough to at least the Italian U-23 team by the end of the year.
Since he has been filling in for Montolivo, Locatelli has been assigned to play right in front of the back line and shield them from any danger. He is also responsible for recycling play in the midfield and launching counter attacks after the ball is won. This role is similar to that of Sergio Busquets for Barcelona. When he plays in this holding midfield position, Locatelli is able to make 1.6 tackles per game, which is .4 more than German international and World Cup winner Sami Khedira. While this stat may lead you to believe that Locatelli is an enforcer and a physical player, he is not. He is 6’1” and quite skinny. This forces him to play extremely smart and use positioning to its full advantage.
Locatelli isn’t afraid to get forward either. He likes to make late runs to the outside of the box and collect the ball there. Unlike most young players, Locatelli doesn’t freeze up and break down the move. He thinks quickly and either hits a shot or plays in a teammate. Locatelli is also good at helping to transition play from the back. He is a good facilitator and is very impressive at moving play forward and out of defense. This is the main reason that many Milan fans hope that he will keep his place in the team when Montolivo returns.
As mentioned before, Locatelli is very strong in the tackle and is extremely good at breaking up attacks. This proves extremely important because he plays in front of a defense that let in just as many goals as lowly Chievo Verona last year. When Locatelli wins the ball, he doesn’t become complacent with it either. He immediately plays the ball back upfield. This is shown by his 2.1 long balls per game, which is more than West Brom’s (a team built around the long ball) Craig Gardner. And these balls don’t just go to waste: Locatelli’s pass completion is an extremely good 81%.
Locatelli also has a thunderous shot on him. His goals versus Sassuolo and Juventus were both absolute thunderbolts. Added to the quality of these two goals is the fact that they were both game winners. Not very many people can claim that they have won their team two games, one being against the biggest team in Italy, at the age of eighteen.
Locatelli’s goal versus Juventus was special because of how technically beautiful it was. Locatelli picked the ball up from the right side, proceeded to open his body up and hit a wonderful strike with his right foot. He stroked the ball in off the bottom of the far post and gave Juventus keeper Gianluigi Buffon no chance whatsoever of saving it.
Another thing that is impressive about Locatelli is his modesty. After the Juventus game Locatelli was asked about all the hype surrounding him and about his teammate Gianluigi Donnarumma’s ascension to the Italian senior national team; Locatelli replied, “Right now, I’m just focused on the U-19s and nothing else.” This quote shows maturity beyond his years and that his head is in the right place. Another thing working in Locatelli’s favor is that his manager, Montella, is doing all that he can to shield Locatelli from the hype machine that has consumed many of football’s best talents.
Locatelli’s biggest weakness is his aerial ability. He isn’t particularly good at winning headers off things like set pieces and goal kicks. This ability is important for someone who is expected to sit in front of the defense and win headers against the likes of Mario Mandzukic and Edin Dzeko.
Another thing Locatelli struggles with is physicality. He isn’t the strongest of players, so he can sometimes get bullied around in midfield by bigger and more physical players. This problem leads to him getting fouled a lot, which does give Milan the ball back, but it can also lead to injuries. If Locatelli can improve his strength and gain a little more influence through the course of ninety minutes, then he has the ability to become one of the best players in a new generation of Italian stars.
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