Age: 23 (08.01.1998)
Club: U.S. Sassuolo Calcio
Goals & Assists: 4 ⚽️ 2 🎯
Sassuolo finished comfortably in 8th place in Serie A level with AS Roma with 62 points respectively. Tactically they set up largely in a 4-2-3-1 formation playing a possession based style utilising Locatelli in a double pivot alongside #8 Maxime Lopez. Locatelli has spent the past 3 seasons at Sassuolo initially on a 1 year loan deal before signing permanently in the summer of 2019 for approx. €13.5m. During his time at Sassuolo, he has represented the club 99 times predominately in a deeper defensive midfield role. Locatelli who wears the #73 for Sassuolo isn’t a traditional CDM who simply breaks play with good pressing, tackling etc. he is an orchestrator from deep who’s integral to build up play. Locatelli has a good balance of a competitive & combative defensive player with the guile plus creativity of an attacker.
Locatelli’s contribution to Sassuolo has drawn attention from across Europe mostly notably from the likes of Manchester City, Manchester Utd, Chelsea & Juventus. His form for Sassuolo has earned international recognition with Italy resulting in 11 caps to date, & is a key member of the European Championship 2021 squad. With a positive display for Italy in the Championship Europe’s elite clubs could show a greater interest in Locatelli & his abilities.
Locatelli’s combative nature is very much evident in his ability during aerial duels to physically impose himself. His strength in these duels is aided by the ability to leap strongly in both a standing or in a running jump. With his upper body strength during aerial duels, he is difficult to unbalance which enables him to remain strong in contact when challenging directly with an opponent. Additional aspects that aid in his ability to challenge aerially is his positional play & anticipation which provides the opportunity to be in the right area to challenge effectively.
Whilst Locatelli has good positives in his aerial ability he does need to improve the quality of his heading as his technique can prevent a better connection with the ball. This was evident in the European Championship match Italy vs. Turkey where his initial headed technique left him requiring a second attempt to regain possession. As per the example below, Locatelli engages in a duel with #6 (Tufan) where he initially does well to leap strongly, controlling his opponents’ ability to clear the ground. His technique, once he meets the ball, isn’t clean resulting in the ball being pushed back into the air, but he anticipates where the ball is moving to. In the second attempt #6 moves with Locatelli, but fails to engage leaving a free header which although resulting in another poor contact Italy was able to regain possession. Seizing on a lapse in concentration from Turkey, Italy can regain possession through #4 Spinazzola before moving the ball on Inside Forward #10 Insigne.
Another example within the same match game from a Turkey clearance of an Italy set piece where Locatelli anticipates the trajectory of the clearance & moves into position. Turkey’s #9 Karaman moves out towards the ball anticipating there will be a second ball, which happens due to Locatelli’s technique letting him down. Although his heading in the initial phase is disappointing his concentration ensured he quickly gets into a position to challenge #17 for the second ball. Once again his upper body strength enables Locatelli to control his opponents’ ability to leap, then intelligently flicking the ball back towards the Turkey area into the path of Italy’s #3 Chiellini.
Whilst his technique can prevent Locatelli from connecting cleanly his presence in situations is largely positive & can result in retaining possession or instigating an attack. Against Lazio, he demonstrates once again his concentration as he watches the flight of the ball. He is able to assert himself on his opponent as he takes his forward momentum with him as he leaps into the air to challenge #94 Akpa Akpro. His aggression in the challenge provides him with the force to dominate the duel & winning his header to push the ball into the path of Sassuolo’s #23 Traore to set off a counter.
Locatelli is a strong competitor in aerial duels with good anticipation & concentration levels to engage in challenges across multiple phases if necessary. Whilst he certainly has his positives there is room for improvement in his technique when heading. Should he improve on his overall technique & timing when heading there could be greater benefits gained in both defending or attacking situations.
A particular strength of Locatelli is his ability to defend in multiple scenario’s effectively & with a high level of quality. In defensive situations, he is highly mobile & active in pressing with the view to regaining possession for his team whilst being solid in the tackle. With his high anticipation levels, he moves quickly to engage the opposition placing himself in the optimal position to engage the attacker. Whilst he is quick to press & uses good levels of aggression in the tackle he demonstrates patience to not over commit. His concentration levels are also high as he patrols the spaces in front of the back 4 to cover any potential gaps that the opposition look to expose. His desire to press quickly ensures that Sassuolo can regain possession in the opposition half with great regularity, providing countering possibilities.
During the Lazio game, Locatelli sits deep in Central Midfield taking up a good body position as he focuses on Lazio’s #11 Correa. He observes that neither chasing teammates are in a position to challenge effectively for the ball, but makes small adjustments as he anticipates where #11 will drive into with the ball. His patience & positioning enables him to move into the path of the attacker before tackling strongly resulting in a clean regaining of possession. The strength in the tackle along with his timing enabled Sassuolo to remove the danger from a developing situation where #11 had a clear path towards the back 4 & goal.
Another aspect of Locatelli’s defensive play which is impressive is his determination to drive back into position when out of possession using his pace to close any space. A prime example of his determination to not only get back into position but to regain possession was epitomised in the below sequence against Juventus. As a Sassuolo attack breaks down the ball is cleared into the left hand channel towards #44 Kulusevski, Locatelli is behind the play after joining the unsuccessful attack. As Juventus #44 heads the ball into the path of #10 Dybala, Locatelli accelerates to close the space while #10 controls the ball before moving forward. The pace & determination demonstrated ensured that he closed the space to challenge the ball carrier. His strength in the physical duel provided the advantage to unbalance #10 & slow down his progress before he stretching out a strong leg to dispossess his opponent. Locatelli’s concentration levels are impressive as is his endeavour to challenge for possession as it breaks loose after the initial successful challenge.
His determination to not yield possession of the ball easily is evident as he slides in strongly in an attempt to secure the loose ball against #44 who followed the play infield. Locatelli’s aggression in the tackle prevents #44 from winning the initial loose ball, but he is also quick to get to his feet to regain possession in a 2nd challenge as it breaks loose once again. Unfortunately for Sassuolo, they are unable to create an opening against Juventus after Locatelli’s hard work, but his contribution was vital in preventing Juventus from countering dangerously.
Whilst Locatelli defensive contribution is very positive in his desire to pressure the opponents quickly it can lead him to commit needless fouls giving away set pieces, or diving into challenges where difficult to regain possession. As in the match against Turkey where #5 Yokuslu is about to receive the ball in space Locatelli accelerates quickly in an attempt to pressure possession. He demonstrates a good turn of pace & desire to close #5 intending to regain possession & trigger a counter direct against the Turkey defence, but arrives too quickly. As a result, he is unable to control his approach to #5 who is aware of Locatelli’s momentum taking him to his left, therefore feints in that direction before shifting to his right & drawing the foul enabling Turkey to reset from a set piece.
All in all, Locatelli is a highly performant defensive operator for both club & country who offers a highly mobile midfielder able to cover the back 4 efficiently. His strength & control when tackling ensures that the opposition is disrupted in their buildup play as well as attacks. His mental ability also makes him a big asset as his determination, anticipation & positioning provide him with opportunities to intercept regularly.
An area of Locatelli’s game that could benefit from further development is his ability to drive forward with the ball consistently. He is a highly technical player with very good control & comfortable taking possession in tight spaces but can provide the opposition with the chance to dispossess him when dribbling at pace. Should his overall dribbling develop further into greater close control moving at pace with his upper body strength would drive his team forward with more consistently.
Although Locatelli prefers to dictate play from a deeper position he demonstrates that he can also be a dynamic foil for the attack as he joining from deep. Due to his technical, tactical & mental ability he provides Sassuolo with a player comfortable in a box to box role where they are provided opportunities to attack consistently. This was clearly demonstrated against Lazio where Locatelli was a figure utilised effectively predominately in the left hand channel to create overloads. As per the below Sassuolo’s #6 Rogerio receives the ball in the left flank & attracts Lazio’s #29 Lazzari across to pressure #6. Locatelli is aware of the space behind in the left hand channel providing #6 with a pass into space to stretch Lazio & draw players out of position. Locatelli takes control of the ball & has the presence of mind to slow the pace of play drawing in Lazio’s #92 to challenge before accelerating towards the byline. He uses his strength to hold off #92 whilst maintaining close control of the ball with him looking to drive at the opposition area & draw additional defenders. Locatelli’s driving run condenses the Lazio defence in the left hand channel before attempting to play in Sassuolo’s #23. Unfortunately, the anticipation of #23 causes the move to breakdown & Lazio are able to clear the danger.
Locatelli can have lapses in control which can lead to him losing the ball in advanced positions resulting in a slowing down of the attack or loss of possession. In the Lazio example below, Locatelli demonstrate his creativity & close control with the ball to create space but also the inconsistency he can have when dribbling. As Locatelli receives the ball in the inside left channel he allows the ball to come across his body drawing the attention of the defender. He is aware of the incoming pressure feinting a cross into the area pulling the defender into a position to block a cross before performing a tight “Cruyff” turn. The tight control & use of skill creates room for Locatelli who identifies the space between the cover left Wing Back & Centre Back to drive into. In this instance, Locatelli’s control when moving the ball out of his feet to drive into space is disappointing. His miscontrol under little pressure loses the attacking momentum & provides the left Wing Back the opportunity to regain possession preventing the attack from developing into a threatening situation.
Locatelli does look to draw fouls when dribbling particularly when receiving the ball in pressured moments & does so with smart positioning of his body when protecting the ball. Against Juventus Locatelli was able to do this on a couple of occasions to relieve pressure on the Sassuolo defence allowing them to reset & restart from a set piece. As per the example, Locatelli is receiving the ball with Sassuolo under pressure & aware that #14 McKennie is moving in quickly to challenge. Locatelli uses his body to protect the ball from #14 positioning himself directly between the man & ball, before slowing down play to control possession. He is conscientious of another approaching defender therefore lulls #14 to believe he will turn towards his goal, but drops his shoulder to move towards the Juventus half & progress forward. The movement from Locatelli draws in #14 catching him unbalanced leading him to scramble to contain his advance drawing a professional foul by pulling his shirt.
Dribbling isn’t the threat he utilises to unlock teams from deep although does have the ability to use his skill to create space when in possession or progress forward. His close control in tight situations is good which ensures he is comfortable taking possession of the ball under pressure. Should he develop his dribbling ability to add forward drives to his play he will add to his already dynamic skill set.
Locatelli looks to create space & orchestrate play from deep with Sassuolo engaging in short combinations to move the opposition around the pitch to create passing angles to exploit spaces. He will often drop into a deep role to collect the ball of the defence either centrally or in an auxiliary Left Back area to enable Sassuolo to spread wide on the pitch with the Full Backs pushing high.
Where he excels is in his ability to change the orientation of the attack & speed up the state of play using combinations before looking to break the lines of defence. Locatelli’s positional play & understanding of space is pivotal in his ability to dictate the movements of both Sassuolo & their opponents. His importance to the buildup play is highly influential as they set traps to release Locatelli & others for him to find between the lines. Against Parma, Locatelli positions himself between the opposition Centre Forwards as the ball is buildup slowly by the defence before he moves into a position to chip into #17 Müldür. Once Locatelli moves to the ball this has set a trap to draw Parma to press & open spaces to exploit. As #17 receives the ball Parma press leading to the ball to be played back into the feet of #21 Chiriches & drawing the Left Centre Forward to press. Locatelli finds himself in plenty of space to receive the ball before turning quickly & playing into space in the right channel for #17 to break past the first line of defence. #17 is unable to advance & plays into Locatelli who has the awareness to position himself in space so that he can receive the ball. Parma look to press him once again but he is resistant to the press showing great vision to chip the ball into the right hand channel breaking the press. His decision making is good as he is aware of the midfield pushing up, exploiting their forward momentum to accelerate into space to support #25 Berardi. Unfortunately, the move breaks down after Locatelli moves into space with the ball drawing out the Parma Left Centre Back & passing back into the feet of #25 who loses possession.
Another example against Parma, Locatelli positions himself between the opposition first line of defence & away from the midfield 3 creating space for himself to operate within. As they build up across the defence Locatelli is consistently looking over his shoulder to build a picture of what is ahead of him. Once again Sassuolo set the trap to draw Parma into pressing so they can release Locatelli with the ball. As the ball is circulated to #17 Parma Left Centre Midfield breaks from the bank of 3, resulting in a pass back into the feet of #21 before playing into Locatelli how is now is space as #21 is pressured too.
Once Locatelli is found in space he has the vision & quality to spot #92 Defrel drop into midfield away from his maker playing through the lines setting Sassuolo onto the attack. Locatelli’s ability to pass & move proved to be a consistent problem in the Parma game as he orchestrated the Sassuolo buildup which consistently unsettled the opposition structure. His ability to find space between the lines ensure that the well placed defensive lines were disrupted as placed himself in the optimal position to punish any spaces.
Locatelli is very comfortable in a slow paced buildup & possession based style where he is required to come deep & accentuates his technical ability when passing the ball. His ability to control the tempo is possible with his composure in possession along with his vision & quality striking the ball. As was demonstrated against Juventus where he drops deep to receive the ball from the Goalkeeper Consigli in a 3rd Centre Back position. While he is waiting for the ball to reach his feet Locatelli is already scouting ahead to picture the state of play so that he can make any quick decisions if needed. He is happy to build up slowly travelling forward before playing into central midfield, combining with Sassuolo #14 Obiang in a short exchange. As he interchanges passes with #77 Kiriakopoulos Juventus have behind drawn across to the left hand side. Locatelli has the vision & technical ability to quickly move the ball out of his feet switching the ball into the open right hand channel for the unmarked #22 Toljan breaking 2 lines of the Juventus defence. Locatelli’s pass immediately changes the point of the Sassuolo attack & ensures the Juventus defence are having to scramble into position to prevent a wide overload.
With time & space, Locatelli was afforded he demonstrated how he will look to probe the opposition moving them around the pitch with passes between the lines before stretching play. That being said Locatelli likes to take the ball in tight situations as confident in his resilience to the opposition press, as per the below where he wants to take the ball whilst between 3 Juventus players. As #77 plays back to the defence Juventus drop into a midfield 5 with Locatelli dropping deep to collect the ball. As he progresses he observes the position of Sassuolo’s #23 behind the Juventus midfield & plays with pace an accurate & probing pace into his feet. The pass draws the midfield of Juventus to press quickly, concentrated into the left hand side & becoming compact as the ball is returned quickly into Locatelli. As he receives the ball he has a simple pass into the #22 who is free in the Right Back position, but he spots that #25 is unmarked in the flank. Locatelli switches the ball bypassing the midfield line of defence, unfortunately for Sassuolo Juventus Left Back #12 is alive to the danger to cut out the developing danger.
Locatelli is a dangerous player in possession & very comfortable in a possession based system where players are encouraged to take the ball in tight situations. His ability to remain resistant to the press is impressive as he using his spatial awareness to consistently find space to exploit the opposition by moving between the lines & then picking passes as he aims to progress play.
In conclusion, Locatelli is an exciting talent who can function in multiple roles due to his tactical, technical & mental ability. He primarily performs a deeper role for Sassuolo where he is responsible for recycling possession & probing the opposition with smart passing through the lines. Locatelli has demonstrated at an International level with Italy that his workrate plus willingness to consistently join the attack & determination to defend makes him a dynamic box to box midfielder too.
With Locatelli now 23 he is showing very positive signs of development & an ability to perform consistently at a high level. His performance at club level is now translating to the International team where he is becoming a pivotal member of the 3 man midfield. With his performances continuing to impress there is much interest in his service & this summer could see significant change for him. Locatelli would certainly suit a team that looks to control possession & would benefit from his passing ability. His calmness of composure ensures he can orchestrate play with patience but acutely aware of when to change the orientation of play or state of play with probing passes between the lines.
Those that could be interested in his services are Juventus but big interest could come from the English Premier League with Manchester City, Manchester United & Chelsea. In particular, the English sides are looking for dynamic Defensive Midfielders to dominate in 1v1 situations & retain possession. Locatelli could provide this as a strong defender &highly proficient technically with superb vision to break the defensive lines of the opposition with precise dynamic passing.