Kaustubh Pandey writes a detailed scout report about Mattia Caldara, the Atalanta and Italy defender.
The Serie A, quite recently, has become the breeding ground for some of the best youngsters in Europe right now. It’s become a league that helps the youth to use it as the platform for showcasing their talent and go on to achieve bigger things in the future. Although, it hasn’t quite replicated the conveyor belt structure of the Eredivisie, but the Serie A’s rise in stature can be down to the rise to prominence of the previously smaller clubs, such as Sassuolo or Atalanta.
A majority of players from these clubs have either made their way to bigger Italian sides, or have sealed moves to the powerhouse European clubs to make sure that the world knows of their capabilities. Paulo Dybala is a shining example of someone who has taken big strides since departing Palermo two seasons ago for Turin, despite being a target for several big clubs such as Arsenal and Bayern Munich.
And the recent invigoration of Lombardi based club- Atalanta, has given rise several of their players proving their worth to the bigger clubs as Gian Piero Gasperini’s men are currently as high as sixth in the league While Ivorian versatile midfielder Franck Kessie is one who has got a lot of attention, another player has caught the eye of many across Europe. And he is none other than 22-year-old defender Mattia Caldara.
Who is Mattia Caldara?
Born in the city of Bergamo, a city in the north of Italy, Caldara has been Atalanta through and through since a young age. He is someone who joined the hometown club as a child and rose through the youth categories over the years.
It was at the age of 17 that Caldara made his debut for the Under 19s Atalanta side and it came during the 2011-12 season, when he started against the Udinese Under 19s outfit. The result was a 2-1 win and the youngster came up with an impressive showing to deny the Bianconeri Friuliani the result that they wanted. Two weeks later, Caldara was handed another start against Chievo, but the 1-0 loss could not make the occasion too special.
After appearing regularly for the Under 19s that season, Caldara made 22 appearances for the side in the 2012-13 season in the Primavera B and became a key part of their defense.
In the 2013-14 campaign, the youngster made 23 appearances in the Primavera B, despite being an overage player and this earned a call-up from the senior Atalanta side. He came on as a substitute in a Serie A clash against Catania and a loan spell at Serie B side Trapani awaited at the end of the season.
Caldara became a key part of the Trapani defense that season, making 20 appearances and scoring twice, as the Sicilian club finished 11th in the Serie B. Next season, another loan spell at Cesena proved how important Caldara can become for a side that allows him to start regularly. He made 27 appearances for Cesena, who finished sixth that season. Two impressive loan stints were enough to suggest that the then 21-year-old could become a key player for Atalanta in the coming years.
While, he is certainly living up to his potential this season, Caldara has also become a regular for the Italian Under-21s. He has appeared nine times for the Azzurri so far in his career.
What is his playing style?
It’s rare to see a defender be as physically and mentally mature as Caldara at the mere age of 22. He is six feet tall and weighs 75 kilograms, which is sound enough for a central defender in the Serie A. Although, there may be many defenders in the world, who may be stronger and taller than Caldara, but the young Italian knows how to dominate the opposition forwards and impose himself over them. And it’s due to the possession of numerous qualities that he succeeds in doing so.
What are his strengths?
One of the three qualities that help Caldara impose himself at the back is his immaculate heading ability and the power he has in his headers. It sometimes seems impossible for a side to penetrate the Atalanta backline aerially. And a solid defense, as compared to last season at least, is a key reason for their good league position- sixth.
Caldara has won an average of 59 percent of his aerial duels in the 11 appearances he has made this season, which is quite good considering his size. Due to that, he also brings to the plate an aerial threat while attacking. One of the three goals that Caldara has scored has been a bullet header and he always seems to carry a danger when he heads forward during set-pieces.
During their 1-0 win over Pescara recently, Caldara met Remo Freuler’s corner perfectly. The manner in which he headed the ball and picked out the space between the markers perfectly shows how adept he is at heading the ball. Another quality that the goal brings to the fore is Caldara’s positioning and reading of the game.
The young man has won only 1.4 tackles per game, successfully intercepting 2.8 times in games on an average. It’s his impressive positioning across the backline that makes him close out the opposition attacks, making sure that his reliance on tackling and intercepting is less. And it’s one quality that makes him a cultured defender too.
When impressive positioning and heading couples up with very good marking, the result happens to be Mattia Caldara himself. He doesn’t allow forwards a way past him, be it in terms of getting outpaced, outmuscled or dribbled past. And over the years, his tendency to use his body well has helped him a lot in that aspect.
In the instance below, he does let go off his marker for a second, but just before the cross is about to come in, he takes a look behind him. This helps him make sure where his man is and using his heading ability, he manages to clear the ball away to good effect.
What are his weaknesses?
Someone who does come close to reminding one of Juventus and Italy star Andrea Barzagli, Caldara may be a cultured defender but there are two aspects of the game that he needs to improve upon.
The first happens to be his tendency to commit fouls. This season, he has committed an average of one foul every game. Although it isn’t too alarming, his past disciplinary record suggests he does have a bit of a problem in that sense. At Cesena, he racked up two reds and four yellow cards in a season. He needs to make sure that those problems don’t crop up again.
Secondly, Caldara may seem like a centre-half who is complete to quite an extent, he needs to bump his passing accuracy a bit more. It currently stands at 82 percent, but there are times when he can lose concentration and give the ball way cheaply.
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