Italian Midfielder: Nicolo Zaniolo
Nicolo Zaniolo’s adaptation to life in Serie A has been nothing short of impressive, as the youngster’s made the step up admirably from under-19 football at Inter Milan to first team action with AS Roma.
Joining from Inter, where he starred for their Primavera side, as part of the deal that sent Radja Nainggolan to the Nerazzurri, the 19-year-old’s hasn’t looked out of place at the professional level. Indeed, since being thrown in at the deep end by Eusebio Di Francesco to debut vs. Real Madrid in the Champions League, a match he shone in, he’s gone from strength to strength.
In what’s been a breakout campaign for the prodigious talent, he was even called up to Roberto Mancini’s Italy squad in September despite not having featured in Serie A.
While his defensive intensity and aggression has been notable, which has been underlined by his physicality, dogged pressing and robustness in the tackle, his offensive work has been a standout.
Nicolo Zaniolo’s excellent press to block options
An intelligent mover, which he emphatically showed in the match against Fiorentina, where he persistently found space to receive in despite being man marked by Jordan Veretout, this aspect of his game has been crucial towards his success. Displaying his tidy awareness and spatial understanding, the timing of his movements has been key to him catching his markers off guard.
Nicolo Zaniolo’s clever movement
Nicolo Zaniolo’s nice run in behind
Moreover, if he’s been tightly tracked, he’s shown the nous to drag his opponent away to manufacture passing lanes for others.
Developing his relationships with his teammates with every passing week, he’s demonstrated how well he’s reading his teammates’ tendencies by performing shrewd rotations with them. With this component being a key element in Di Francesco’s philosophy, he’s clearly coming to grips with this nicely, as his work with Lorenzo Pellegrini has been especially notable.
Once in possession, the Tuscan born prospect has caught the eye too. Blending a sharp first touch, dynamic dribbling and a swift ability to change pace and direction, this has ensured he’s been a tough man to dispossess. Blessed with a keen eye for a pass and the execution to pull off some incisive through balls, expansive long balls or intricate link play, he’s creativity has, and will continue, to be a top asset for the Giallorossi.
Nicolo Zaniolo’s superb back heel flick
Strong and extremely challenging to outmuscle, the 190cm Zaniolo has held his own in battles of strength and in aerial confrontations too. Be it when he opts to drop deep to connect play and is pressed, holding the ball up or working in close quarters, this has complemented his technical qualities perfectly.
Another noteworthy area of his armoury that we haven’t seen too much of yet, but will surely draw praise in future, comes from his ferocious shooting prowess, as his power, placement and capacity to get so much whip on the ball should be a weapon to watch out for.
Having now played in 10 matches, Zaniolo insightfully reflected back on his amazing openings months with Roma, explaining: “I had a bit of difficulty with the speed of things; in the Primavera you can react to the game quickly but amongst the best players you need to think before the ball gets to you.”
“With Luca [Pellegrini] and Justin [Kluivert] I have a great relationship, we have shared a lot of experiences and spent time together and they have also helped me to settle in. It is important for us young guys to feel like the club and the coach has faith in us.”
Meanwhile, William Vecchi, a former youth coach at Inter has been full of praise for his former charge. “In my opinion, he’s a midfielder with quality and also a runner, like Gerrard or Lampard. He must believe in himself more and be more consistent in training.”
Although it’s just the beginning of his career at the highest level, all the signs are extremely positive that Zaniolo will become a star in the Eternal City. He just needs to keep learning, gaining experience and making the most of his opportunities, just like he’s been doing, and he’ll be well on his way to fulfilling his tremendous potential.
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