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Simone Torricini writes a comprehensive scout report on Marco Benassi, Torino’s young captain
Regarding youngsters, here in Italy we are living the ascendant phase of a transition period after experiencing throughout during the last years a real crisis suffered nationwide. Serie A’s teams did not invest in their youth sectors, and there were too few managers who believed in the utility of homegrown players.
Fortunately since a couple of years things have been changing, and Italy has begun launching the careers of several potential cracks. Strikers like Andrea Belotti and Federico Bernardeschi, goalkeepers like Gianluigi Donnarumma and Mattia Perin, defenders like Daniele Rugani, Alessio Romagnoli and Mattia Caldara, and obviously a lot of midfielders. We could talk about the former Pescara man Marco Verratti (who now is living and winning trophies in Paris), whose career began few years previously, but there are also several home-grown Italian midfielders. These are the cases of Lorenzo Pellegrini, Roberto Gagliardini and Danilo Cataldi, but also that of a mezzala who has often been (and is still) underrated: Marco Benassi.
His role within Mihajlovic’s 4-3-3 at Torino is so central that his coach – also considering his other qualities – decided to give him the captaincy even if he is not yet 23. Luigi Di Biagio – U-21’s coach – took the same decision when Benassi joined the Azzurri two years ago. So it’s rather easy, after reading this short introduction, to understand how to analyze his features and his style of play on the field.
Born in Modena, Italy on the 8th of September 1994, Benassi began his career playing with the youth teams of his city, before he moved to Inter Milan in 2011. After spending two years with the Primavera under the leadership of the former Panathinaikos coach Andrea Stramaccioni, Benassi joined the first team at the age of 18. During his first season with the Nerazzurri he played 13 games scoring a goal (his first as a professional), but with the opening of the summer window he was sent to Livorno on loan.
Then came the move to Torino the following year, as Gianpiero Ventura was building the basic structure in order to create a green and Italian roster which developed during the following year. He instantly became important for his coach despite his young age, and spent two seasons with him reaching 69 appearances and scoring 7 goals.
At the end of the 2015/16 season Ventura left Torino to accept the managerial role offered by the FIGC: he replaced Antonio Conte after Euro 2016, and the Granata’s president Urbano Cairo therefore appointed Sinisa Mihajlovic as his successor. The Serbian changed the previous style of play, as he has imposed his 4-3-3 rather than stick to Ventura’s 3-5-2: Benassi has become a key player in the new tactical shape. Since the beginning of the season, he has played for 1943 minutes at the time of writing; only Barreca, Belotti and the goalkeeper Hart have earned more game time.
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And that’s not all. As I wrote previously, Benassi has not only the captaincy with Torino, he’s also the captain of the U-21 side: playing in his natural role – that of mezzala – he has scored 5 goals in 22 appearances with the Azzurrini; 7 in 42 if we consider also his career with U-18 and U-19 selections. Reflecting on his great experience with the youth teams, it is strange that he hasn’t made his debut with Italy’s first team. Anyway, also considering that both Conte and Ventura called him up for some recent stages, it will arrive soon.
We must say that Benassi is not the typical mezzala, the #8 whose tendency is that of constantly participating in both the offensive and the defensive phase. He is different, for example, from those box-to-box midfielders like Nainggolan, Strootman or Gagliardini: we can see it from the kilometres covered, but also from the single heatmaps and from the numbers linked to the contrasts – only 1.5 per match. Torino’s captain is usually the more offensive between the two mezzali Mihajlovic decides to line up, and probably, the most offensive in general between his midfield teammates. As you could see previously his usual position is that of the right mezzala, and it’s important to observe that one of his main needs is a pivote proficient in linking up with him. Benassi’s qualities are quite associative, and it seems his performance increases with the rise of the quality of the squad.
You will hardly see Benassi passing the ball with a long trajectory, because of his tendency to play in short distances. Even if it’s surely one of his personal characteristics, the only 1.2 long-ball per match could be a consequence of the features of Torino’s wingers. Iago Falque, Ljajic and Boyé, in fact, like to cut inside towards the ball, rarely searching for the depth to stretch defences.
We can observe his offensive qualities by taking a look at Serie A’s shots and passes rankings. Benassi – who has scored 5 goals and provided 2 assists in 24 appearances – is also the 10th midfielder of the league in terms of shots attempted (1.8 per match) and the 12th in terms of successful assists. Not to mention the 1.1 key passes per match, another stat which confirms his offensive contribution to the squad.
Benassi is 1.84 m (6 ft) tall, weights 78 kg and is quite good both in acceleration and in sprint, even if his technical qualities are definitely more influential on his style of play compared to those linked to his physique. Through the gif below we can observe how the Torino youngster is able to combine them to gain numerical superiority, also starting from a position which is different from the one he usually covers.
Benassi’s probable best quality is the ability in finding free spaces on the field, mostly during the offensive phase. He’s not static neither is he always on the move, as he spends several moments of the match running slowly, sometimes even strolling, but he is one of the best midfielders in Italy in seeing the space in front of him.
The gifs below represents one of his brilliant insertions during the current season. Torino were playing at home against Milan and the Granata were already leading 1-0.
But I could also mention another goal, scored by Benassi at the Palermo’s Barbera Stadium. Considering only the 2016/17 season, Torino’s Captain has scored 5/5 goals from inside the area.
His pass percentage (83%) is quite good for an offensive mezzala, but there are some details which changes our opinion on that potentially higher stat. Firstly Benassi plays with an average of just 32.6 passages per match, less than the majority of his colleagues in other teams (Zielinski and Milinkovic-Savic – to take a couple of examples – play respectively with 38.8 and 38.4 average passages per match). Then, as I wrote during the explanation of his style of play, Benassi doesn’t have the tendency to play long passes.
Anyhow we must also underline that, compared to midfielders like Pjanic, Nainggolan, Kondogbia or Parolo, Benassi has the best average value regarding lost possessions: only 0.9 per match, while the other midfielders are all around 1.3.
Last but not least, we must mention his right foot, one of the deadliest of the Serie A. Benassi recently admitted he had played as a centre-forward when he was younger, something that should come of little surprise to those who have seen the goal below.
Benassi himself recently said he need to improve his defensive attitude to continue his process of growth. Actually the next step he should try to reach is that of enriching his skillset and gaining continuity throughout the full 90 minutes.
The first sensation I felt after listening to one of his interviews was that of him being more than the classical good guy. Surely he’s already mature, both as footballer and human, but if he’ll want to reach the gotha of modern midfielders, Torino’s captain should also improve in his presence during the phase of buildup. Even because Iniesta – who Benassi indicated as his main source of inspiration about fourteen months ago – plays with the slightly higher average of 94 passes per match.