Despite this small blot on his record, Locatelli’s passing has come on leaps and bounds this season and a few years of Guardiola’s tutelage should be enough to get him up to scratch.
After nearly a decade of effortless success, Fernandinho’s Manchester City career is finally drawing to a close.
His contract is set to expire at the end of the campaign and even if he does pen fresh terms, one more season is likely all that City can ask of the 35-year-old.
Despite his declining involvement, he remains an important member of Pep Guardiola’s squad. His absence in midfield last season was harshly felt and it was telling that he recently started in the Manchester derby.
Replacing Fernandinho is not going to be an easy task. City have already tried it once, bringing in Rodri for over £60m two summers ago, but with the Spaniard looking increasingly like a different sort of player, they may be tempted to dip into the market once again.
Recent reports suggest that they are interested in Sassuolo’s Manuel Locatelli. Aged just 23, he has already been capped multiple times for Italy – but is he really what the Citizens are looking for? NoRM analysed all the relevant stats to find out.
At his peak during the 2017/2018 season, Fernandinho was unquestionably the best defensive midfielder in the world.
Operating as City’s deepest midfielder in their famous 4-3-3, he balanced the roles of playmaker, destructive ball winner and anchor man to devastating effect.
If City want to return to their peak, discovering a player capable of doing all of this is necessary. Therefore, we are looking for a midfielder who can not only excel defensively but also possesses significant playmaking ability and positional discipline.
Does Locatelli fit the bill? Let’s take a look…
Capable of breaking the lines with short and long passes, his playmaking ability has particularly stood out this season. During the 2019/2020 campaign, he averaged a progressive passing distance of 296.7 yards per 90 minutes, ranking him 155th in Serie A.
This term, his numbers have spiked dramatically. After 17 league games this season, he was averaging over 400 yards per 90, a figure eerily close to what Fernandinho posted during City’s Centurions campaign.
Locatelli makes 50+ yards switches to Sassuolo’s wide men look ludicrously easy and his ability to drill hard, low passes through the opponent’s midfield is also worth a mention. While he prefers to pluck away in deep positions, he is often involved in the final stages of the attack as well, racking up well over two shot creating actions per 90 after 17 league matches this season.
Of course, while Guardiola has somewhat surrendered his obsession for possession this season, playing in midfield for one of he teams will not always consist of Hollywood passes. In order to move the opposition out of shape, the Citizens’ deepest midfielder is often used as a bounce board for recycling possession.
This is an area that Locatelli may require some refinement in. Last season, he successfully received 95.5% of his passes. An impressive stat – until you realise Fernandinho has averaged closer to 98% when playing in midfield during his recent career. It may seem like a marginal difference but being sloppy in possession can have significant knock-on effects for a team like City.
After his first 16 Serie A games this season, he was leading the way for tackles + interceptions, registering 71 in total.
Even more impressive, especially for a centre-midfielder, is that he tackled 50% of the dribblers that unwisely choose to take him on during this period. Locatelli also featured in the top ten for blocks at the end of gameweek 17.
Like with his progressive passing stats, his defending has dramatically improved this season, providing further evidence of his exciting potential.
If he comes close to matching the same level of performance for the rest of the campaign, Locatelli will not only match Fernadinho’s 2017/2018 numbers, he will easily surpass them.
The only area in which there might be a few question marks is his defensive discipline. At times Locatelli plays like, well, a 23-year-old out to prove himself, storming into advanced positions to try and inspire his team to victory.
The fact that he is far better than the majority of his teammates partly explains this, however, to fill Fernandinho’s shoes he will need to be develop increased defensive discipline.
What else can Locatelli bring Manchester City?
While it may not suit him well to an anchor man role, one of Locatelli’s other strengths is driving forward using his pace and strength.
Not only is he strong physically, he also possesses a wide array of flicks and feints, as well as lightning fast feet, which allows him to evade opposition midfielders in close quarters. This box of tricks makes him a real handful for the opposition and it little surprise that only three out-and-out midfielders had carried the ball for more yards progressive yards than him after 17 Serie A games.
He has also displayed an appetite for an eye-catching goal during his career so far, most notably when he fired an unstoppable effort past Gianluigi Buffon aged just 18.
These two traits suggest that, as well as being well primed to step into the void left by Fernandinho, Locatelli may also excel in a more advanced role at the Etihad Stadium. This makes snapping him for a reported £30m a complete no brainer for Guardiola’s side.