In Italy, there is a forging suspicion Torino should have cashed in on Andrea Belotti when they had the chance. Instead, they opted for more resolute tactics, putting in a release clause of €100 million. This was the 2016/17 season and there was a justifiable case for doing so, such was the blistering form of the forward. But that form, little under three years ago, now seems a fleeting memory.
What makes his sharp decline all the more staggering is at just 26 years of age, Belotti should be rooted into the peak of his powers. Out of the national squad and out of the minds of Europe’s elite clubs after being linked with Premier League giants Manchester United, Andrea Belotti now finds himself at the forefront of Torino’s dogged battle for survival.
Is it all his fault? Or is it his club? In the composition of a scout report, we break down how one of Europe’s deadliest, most sought-after strikers became Serie A’s forgotten man.
Victim of Torino’s collective drop-off
After three consecutive top 10 finishes, including a 7th place finish last season, Torino now find themselves in a fight to stay in Serie A. Sitting in 15th position with no more than a two-point cushion, their fall in league standings strikes directly to the severe chasm in performance levels.
Torino’s defensive metrics are reminiscent of a team that hasn’t got a lot more to give. To put it simply, Torino’s intensity has dropped off a cliff; they are the foot of the table in distance ran, and only one player, Lorenzo De Silvestri, is in the top 70 players for kilometres ran per game (34th). Couple the lack of work-rate with the void of creativity, it’s perhaps no surprise they have regressed markedly. Scoring just 28 goals in their 25 games this season, the side are fifth from bottom in goals scored.
A player who has suffered more than any other is Andrea Belotti. The case below is just one of the countless that could have been taken from this season. This game in particular – which would turn out to be a 7-0 home thrashing to Atalanta – typifies the lack of quality surrounding the striker.
Belotti takes up a dangerous position between the two centre-backs. The angle of his run and body shape shows he wants the ball played in front of him. If found, this would give him a 1v1 situation against the goalkeeper.
But his teammate Simone Verdi is too slow to recognise the Italian’s movement, delaying the pass. This results in the ball being intercepted.
Although he remains a prominent casualty in the team’s demise, the Italian is still performing admirably. Once again, he finds himself top of Torino’s goalscoring charts, as he has been for three of the past four campaigns. He’s 12th in the league and possibly could be higher had it not been for a hint of misfortune, where he’s struck the woodwork three times.
To put his commendable tally into context, the next best Torino player on the list in Alejandro Berenguer, way down in 37th place. With nine goals to his name and still 13 games to go, Belotti is on course to beat his totals from the last two seasons, (10 and 15) if any play is to resume after the COVID-19 outbreak.
Sacrificing goalscoring instincts
With the aforementioned doubts over Torino’s ability to create in the final third, tactical analysis shows Belotti is now coming deeper to look for the ball, resulting in the striker providing more key passes than anyone else in the side with 12. But if you analyse his 2016/17 heatmap – where he accrued his highest career goal tally – there was a beautiful simplicity to his game.
The larger area of the heatmap was due to ability to get in-between the lines of the opposition, where he thrived in finding space in tight areas. This was then perfectly intertwined with his role out of possession, where he would act as the first shield of a defensive barrier.
The smaller heat group is the position Belotti picked up the ball when Torino were sustaining attacks. He would become an out-an-out number nine, utilising his natural predatorial instincts to perfection, seizing on crosses and finishing off the side’s chances.
The heatmap from this season suggests a more rounded, matured approach from the striker. The scatter-like dispersed graphic underlines a constant desire to be in the action. With 69 fouls against him, more than any other player in the league, Belotti relishes the physical encounters of Serie A.
But given his sustained plight in goals, this attitude is a direct paradox to his natural game. The contrast in temperature gradient in the box is undoubtedly an integral reason for his struggles. It doesn’t take much to work out that the less time a forward spends in the box, the less they’re going to score.
In the still image below, after growing frustrated with the lack of consistency from his teammates in finding him, Belotti begins to drop deeper to initiate attacks. Utilising his physical strength, the striker shields the ball with his back to goal, 30-yards-out. Notice how stationary his teammates are and the lack of passing angles given to Belotti.
Losing 5-0 at home with 35 minutes still to play, Belotti as captai, takes it upon himself to work a shooting opportunity of his own. He successfully manages to work an opening but it is a narrow angle and with his unfavoured left foot. The overload of Atalanta shirts and lack of Torino viable passing options forces the Italian into a tame shot.
Despite coming under heavy criticism for his role in the side’s ongoing failures, it is commendable Belotti continues to work in contrast to his natural allusive game, where his best work had often come from inside the box.
Taken from the 16/17 season, beneath is a case in point of the striker Belotti naturally is, and how Torino were able to get the utmost out of him. His sharp, dynamic movement gets himself free and central in the six-yard-box – the essential area for a striker of his type to function in. This results in the forward finishing off a well-worked team move with a simple header.
The over-reliant linchpin
It doesn’t take crossfire examination to realise Torino are over-reliant on Belotti. Even in his golden season and only accentuated further in recent times, the Italian has contributed a significant chunk of the team’s goals. In the standout 16/17 campaign, his 26 goals accounted for over a third of Il Toro’s 71. The following year, he was appointed permanent captain which only heightened the dependency.
His fitness record is impeccable. Featuring in every game this campaign and 92.9% of all fixtures from the past three seasons, Belotti is a striker that’s physically robust enough to deal with playing week in, week out. In spite of these statistics being widely regarded as a positive, it could be prudent to suggest this has played a role in his downfall. The relentless expectation of spearheading a wilting Torino side and the continual need for him to on the pitch has caused fatigue, mentally and physically.
This is particularly crucial for the style of frontman he is, where his poacher-like instincts rely on agile, sharp movements in the box. 73% of his career goals have come from that region, with 32% coming between the width of the six-yard box and 18-yard box.
Given the type of striker he is, he has to be near on 100% all of the time. In the most crowded, ruthless area of the pitch, where games are so often defined, any physical drop below his maximum could make all the difference. It could be the difference between him getting on his toes and expecting the cross, or missing it by inches. It could be the difference for when the ball is at his feet and he instead dithers on it, rather than firing a shot quickly.
The latter instance can be exemplified in this still image, where Belotti manages to get in-behind the Atalanta backline. He then has sufficient time and space to either square across the box for an onrushing teammate or score past the goalkeeper himself.
But Belotti stutters, allowing the Atalanta defender time to cut the pass off and close the shooting angle down.
When Belotti eventually does pull the trigger, his effort is blocked.
Failing to take chances at a premium
As stated, for all the staunch criticism Belotti comes under, he’s still performing well, albeit not quite on the same level as three years ago. Analysis highlights 70% of his shots this season have hit the target, a considerable increase on his career average of 46 per cent. Juventus’ Cristiano Ronaldo in comparison only clocks at 64%. Therefore, his inability to recapture previous season’s form is not down to the of loss of confidence in front of goal which is so often the case; in fact, he’s still able to do it at creditable regularity.
Instead, it’s rather the issue of not having enough chances to keep hitting the target. Torino are bottom for shots on goal and while Ronaldo’s accuracy is lower, he’s registered almost twice the amount of Belotti (90>47). And although shooting opportunities are a precious commodity, Belotti does fail to trouble the goalkeeper. Of his 47 shots, a scrape below 60% have been straight down the middle. This is likely due to where he takes those efforts from.
This season he’s been forced to take a considerable amount of shots from outside the box, as shown in the isolated example against Napoli. Note how the Blue shirts surround him and once again, he’s shooting from long range with his unfavoured left foot.
There is a claim for Andrea Belotti to simply admit less is more. Yes, it is admirable he’s now based his game on helping out the collective cause, but in doing so, it’s directly dismissing against his direct strengths, which when well-oiled and working to perfection, could have an even greater impact on Torino. When Belotti is not at his best, possibly hampered by his desire to aid the team further, they all suffer. Essentially, Belotti’s fortunes create a ripple effect for the entire group.
While he’s now doing a lot more work all over the pitch, it leads to the question as to how effective that work actually is. There is no disguising he is under enormous strain and is the figure of dependence at Torino. But at 26 years of age, Belotti should be in the midst of his peak years and sooner rather than later, is expected to fire Il Toro back to better days.