Kaustubh Pandey provides a detailed scout report on Cagliari’s promising Italian midfielder, Nicolo Barella
In a country that is as passionate for the beautiful game as Italy, the hunger for success always runs high. Since their 2006 FIFA World Cup triumph though, nothing of note has gone the national team’s way. They’ve been knocked out in the group stages of the competition in both the World Cups after the one that saw them beat France in the final around 11 years ago.
But for a country as prominent in the footballing fraternity as Italy, success never seems too far from where they are now. They did do well in the 2016 Euros under Antonio Conte, reaching the quarterfinals of the competition, only to be ousted by Germany on penalties. And while Conte may have left for Chelsea, the amount of talent that is coming through in the current Azzurri is just as talented as the ones in Germany, France or Spain.
One important part of this upcoming bandwagon is Cagliari midfielder Nicolo Barella.
Who is Nicolo Barella?
Born in Cagliari, the capital city of the Italian island of Sardinia, Barella was picked up by the Cagliari youth academy at a very young age. And over the years, the 20-year-old has done very well in progressing through all the junior sides at the club, first representing them back in 2012 in the Primavera A during the 2012-13 campaign.
He made 10 appearances in his debut season, scoring twice. A season in the Primavera B followed, when he made 18 appearances, playing in the heart of the park for the Cagliari Primavera outfit. The following season, Barella made his debut for the senior side, before captaining the U19 side twice in the Primavera B division.
His Serie A debut came against Parma in April, 2015 but the midfielder had become a regular face on the bench for his childhood club, which had sacked three managers that campaign. Appearances against Cesena and Udinese followed and the future seemed bright.
The next season proved to be a breakthrough one for the Italian, despite the rossoblu’s relegation to the Serie B after having finished third bottom of the league. Barella made 16 first team appearances in the 2015-16 season, often playing as an attacking midfielder and as a left winger as well. His impressive performances helped the side finish top of the Serie B, helping them restore the first division status. He spent the second half of the season on loan at Serie B side Como, making 21 appearances.
Last season, Barella made as many as 28 first team showings in the Serie A as a 19-year-old, playing as a central midfielder and as an attacking midfielder in an almost equal share. Cagliari finished 11th, with Barella emerging to be one of the best players throughout the campaign.
On the international stage, Barella is quickly climbing up the ladder of recognition. Ranging from the U15s outfit to the U20s one, the youngster has made appearances at all levels, with his debut for the Under-21s coming this past September. Barella was a regular part of the Italy U20s side that took part in this past summer’s Under-20s World Cup in South Korea.
What is his Style of Play?
Originally a central midfielder by trade, Barella’s vital ability to bomb forward with the ball makes him versatile enough to play anywhere in the three behind the striker as well. He may not be the quickest or the strongest, but he has the tenacity to dominate the heart of the park at will.
And it can very well be said that young Nicolo Barella is a complete midfielder, who is a jack of almost all the trades, but a master of none.
What are his Strengths?
One big advantage that Barella brings to the plate is his box to box nature and his engine, which can help him be equally active in either of the boxes to do a job for the side. It is his tenacity and hunger to always be on the ball and be at the center of things that makes him so.
Another thing that tenacity makes him do is recover balls in the heart of the park, despite a frame that isn’t too imposing- 5 foot 7 inches tall and weighing only 68 kilograms. This season, the Italian has won 2.9 tackles per game, making 1.4 interceptions per game too. He isn’t a typical defensive midfielder who sits in front of the back four and shields the defense, but likes to bomb forward with purpose very often.
Despite being a rather diminutive midfielder, Barella uses his body well to retain the ball and keep it away from the opposition players. Not just that, but the threat that this 20-year-old carries on the break when carrying the ball forward is substantial. This season, he has completed 1.4 dribbles per game and last season, he made 1 per game.
Above, watch how Barella’s impressive balance on the ball and directness helps the rossoblu find the back of the net on the counter-attack with perfection. After having picked up the ball in midfield, Barella does very well in running directly at the opposition, before setting up an on-rushing attacker to grab an impressive assist.
His tendency to give his all and cover every blade of grass on the pitch has often drawn comparisons to a former team-mate of his- Radja Nainggolan, who now plies his trade with Roma. And while Barella is well aware of these lofty comparisons, his performances don’t show signs of dipping.
What are his Weaknesses?
One slightly concerning aspect of Barella’s play is his tendency to be rash in the challenge and pick up unnecessary bookings. Last season, he picked up nine yellow cards and one red card throughout the season and has already picked up two yellows this season at the time of writing. Being aggressive is an important part of his repertoire, but a youngster such as him has to be careful with not crossing the line with it. It’s always good to have a bit of fire about oneself, but it can sometimes let one down too.
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