It has been only eight weeks since the Serie A started. But the signs for Brescia have been really positive. The newly-promoted side has given stiff competition to the likes of Juventus, AC Milan, Napoli and Fiorentina. It isn’t the only thing that would have impressed them. They will be delighted by how Sando Tonali has started his Serie A adventure.
Last night’s goalless draw against Fiorentina was another positive sign for the Italian midfielder. There was a moment early in the game that captured everyone’s attention.
Tonali made a run from deep inside the box, evading 2-3 challenges. He even shrugged off Franck Ribery in the process. The run oozed power, pace and determination. The pace at the end of the run found Alfredo Donnarumma, who set up Florian Aye.
Aye scored and social media went crazy. But the goal was disallowed as the ball had got the faintest of touches from Tonali’s hand. Despite that, it told a lot about Tonali for those who had never seen him before.
Another incident from Brescia’s loss to Napoli stands out. The Partenopei were leading 2-0 and enjoying themselves. Until Tonali received the ball around 28 yards out. In typical Andrea Pirlo-esque fashion, he found the top corner with a sensational drive. Sadly, that goal too was disallowed.
Tangible achievements like that are only meant for those who watch the highlights of games. But Tonali has been Brescia’s best player this season, even though Donnarumma has scored four times already.
Playing right in the middle of a diamond 4-3-1-2 shape, Tonali is a hybrid of a number six and number eight. Brescia like to defend narrowly out of possession and having Tonali in the heart of things is key.
He isn’t a prolific tackler or interceptor. Neither is he a Kevin de Bruyne, who can ping as many as 4-5 key passes per game. Tonali does a bit of everything. Be it tackling, intercepting, creating from deep and making runs forward- he can do it all. Albeit, from deeper positions.
He wasn’t exactly in sublime form against Fiorentina. Erick Pulgar and Gaetano Castrovilli were always on him. But against Napoli, Tonali ruled the defensive midfield area.
He won three tackles- the third highest in the game. He made three key-passes (via Whoscored) in what was a rather complete performance. It was a game that showed exactly why Tonali deserves to play for a bigger team.
His performance against Juventus was even more special, despite his side losing after going a goal up. The youngster won one tackle, making three interceptions. He boasted a dribble success rate of 100 percent was not dribbled past even once against top opposition. On top of that, he even played 2 key passes.
He was, again, the best player for the side. Battling performances like these bring up direct comparisons with Inter’s Nicolo Barella. They make everyone think that Antonio Conte would love a midfielder like him.
Tonali has made 1.3 tackles per game for Brescia- fourth highest for the club. He’s also made the fifth-highest interceptions per game- 0.9. But he has made the highest key passes per game- 2.3. Not just that, the 19-year-old has made the second-highest dribbles per game too- 1.6 (via Whoscored).
His tenacious approach to the game sees him pick up 2.3 fouls per game. For a team that relies on physically dominating opposition in midfield like Inter do, Tonali fits right in. In their loss to Juve, it was clear that the Nerazzurri’s lack of quality midfield options let them down. Stefano Sensi’s injury lost them the game.
Tonali is a bit more technically and creatively sound than Barella. The latter has played only 0.8 key passes per game and has made 0.9 dribbles per game. But Barella has won 1.5 tackles per game. He likes to win the ball back and circulate it forward to Sensi, Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez.
That helps Barella keep a better passing percentage than Tonali too. But since Tonali is a mix of Barella’s battling style and Sensi’s technical adeptness, he brings an added feature to the Inter midfield.
There is unpredictability in Tonali, unlike the other two. He has variety in his play, even though Sensi is a defensive midfielder originally. Tonali can add a gritty presence that can win the ball and take it forward- something Barella is limited at sometimes.
He can replace either of them well, even though he’d play deeper than Sensi. But if Inter had him against the Old Lady, they might not have lost the game. Juve would never have imposed themselves in midfield.
There will be competition from Juve, who have been linked with the teenager. That could only be an option if Sami Khedira or Blaise Matuidi leave next summer.