Italian football is littered with previous cases of puzzling transfers and the deal to bring Leonardo Spinazzola to Roma is no exception. The left-back makes the switch to the capital in a blockbuster deal including fees up to 29 million euros as well as the exchange of bright prospect, Luca Pellegrini. But just what are Roma getting for their money?
After two seasons on loan at Gasperini’s Atalanta, Spinazzola returned to Turin last season where he was limited to just 12 appearances across all competitions. A mixture of injury, as well as a hurdle in the shape of Alex Sandro, prevented Spinazzola from leaving his mark with the champions. A flurry of appearances towards the end of the season within the side and the national team, however, reminded suitors of the full-backs potential and encouraged the Roma entourage to involve Spinazzola in the swap deal for Pellegrini.
The first thing one will notice about Spinazzola is his athletic 186-centimetre frame. Standing relatively tall for a full-back, Spinazzola makes use of his strength and size when combatting opposition wingers. This makes him a capable man-marker as well as an aggressive presser of the ball.
The very next thing one notices about the Italian by watching him move about the pitch is his blistering pace. Spinazzola has remarkable acceleration off-the-line and a long stride which allows the full-back to travel large distances extremely quickly. His speed and size make him a physical match for many opponents and he uses his great athleticism to cover vast amounts of space down the flanks.
Although naturally right-footed, Spinazzola is almost equally as comfortable playing off his left foot, which has allowed him to cement his place on the left side of the defence. His ambidexterity and speed is a frightening prospect for most opposition full-backs. Spinazzola’s dribbling ability is a weapon the full-back uses to disrupt opposition defences, often running at opponents in 1v1 situations toward the byline.
Playing often like an elite winger, Spinazzola frequently makes runs into the opposition’s final third, always looking to receive the ball and play in a direct fashion. His advanced positioning and aggressive dribbles often turn opposition defences as he heads towards the byline where he can forge out cut-back or crossing opportunities.
This makes Spinazzola a potentially lethal weapon in his team’s offence as his ability to make it to the byline often forces opposing defenders to turn away from who they’re marking, leaving the potential for chaos to be caused inside the opposition’s penalty area. His aggressive positioning high up the pitch also demands that opposition wingers are forced to track back into these deeper positions.
This conditions the opposition into a more passive defensive shape with a larger backline and more stretched midfield line. Not only does this limit the opposition’s counter-attacking potential but it also threatens to open up dangerous amounts of space, high up in the opponent’s half-spaces.
Spinazzola’s defensive stats are weak. Throughout his time at Atalanta and Juventus, Spinazzola has barely averaged a successful tackle a game and his stats for blocks, clearances, and interceptions are even lower!
Now whilst a lot of this can be attributed to Spinazzola’s aggressive playing style and for the fact that he’s generally played for teams who dominate possession, these numbers are still ridiculously low. They suggest that Spinazzola is rarely present in defensive situations and there’s evidence to support this point.
Spinazzola’s defensive work ethic is rather lacking in this instance and his advanced positioning tends to demand too much of his fellow defenders. Playing so high up the field and often not sensing the right time to track back until it’s too late often leaves large spaces within his team’s backline, creating holes that the opposition can exploit.
Spinazzola’s offensive style currently makes him unsuitable for playing in a back four as he simply doesn’t carry his weight in defensive situations. If Spinazzola is to recognize his potential as an elite full-back he must begin to adopt a more conservative and balanced approach when playing as part of the defence.
One large concern for Roma will be Spinazzola’s unfortunate history of knee injuries. In his career so far, Spinazzola has experienced four separate spells on the sidelines due to problems with his knee. One even included surgery after tearing the anterior cruciate ligaments in his right knee which saw the defender on the sidelines for over five months.
For a player who relies so much on his pace, any potential chronic knee problems would seriously limit Spinazzola’s long-term impact for Roma or other clubs. If these problems persist, it would mean Roma has sunk a large percentage of their revenue this summer into a player who’s unlikely to ever realize their full potential or even hold any decent resale value.
Another matter to consider is how Roma have spent their money improving their defence after losing Kostas Manolas to fierce rivals, Napoli. Losing the Greek has left Roma with just a 32-year-old Federico Fazio and Juan Jesus, who’s so far never been able to command a starting spot in the capital. Adding Spinazzola to the left side of that defence presents a potential weak spot for opposition teams to exploit.
With Aleksandar Kolarov turning 34 this year and Davide Santon rarely impressing, Roma would’ve been keen to upgrade in the full-back position. Spinazzola, at least, boasts some redeeming attributes which makes him a fascinating tool in Fonseca’s arsenal ahead of next season and this alone may justify this transfer.
Gaping holes in the defensive side of Spinazzola’s game, however, as well as potential injury problems (all for the exchange of 30 million euros and one of Italy’s brightest young left-backs) still leaves me scratching my head at this deal. I have no doubt that in the games Spinazzola will play for Roma, he’ll more often than not prove to be an important asset however I’m sceptical as to how much the 25-year-old can improve Roma as a side.
I don’t see another club further down the line matching or overpaying what Roma spent on this player to bring him in and after losing Manolas, I feel Roma’s money could’ve been better spent on improving their backline. No matter how you look at it, from either a financial or tactical perspective, our analysis suggests this transfer really doesn’t make sense for La Lupa and leaves me worried for their final league position come May 2020.
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