After an impressive season with Atalanta in the 2018/19 season, Gianluca Mancini decided to join Roma on an initial one-year loan deal with an obligation to buy for €13m. This figure is substantially lower than what many would imagine being his actual value, so it was seen as a coup within the Italian media. Would he continue to perform at the high-level he set for himself at Atalanta?
Through an analysis of his performances this season, we will unravel how he has performed under new boss Paulo Fonseca, and if he has evolved his style of play to suit the tactics the Portuguese has introduced. Generally, we have seen improvements in most aspects of Mancini’s game, as he gets increased first-team game time under his belt. This is only his second season of regular football at the top level. What will be analysed in this scout report is how he has adjusted to Fonseca’s tactics and how he has developed in his defensive attributes.
In this tactical analysis, we will dissect Mancini’s performance across the 2019/20 season, how he has improved, and where he can improve upon.
Style of play
The Italian is a determined central defender who likes to tackle his opponents often, opting to be the ‘stopper’ of the two centre-backs, allowing for his partner to drop behind and cover. His anticipation and marking are impressive, especially as he is a player who enjoys getting in the face of his opponent and attempt to force them into a mistake.
Thanks to his aerial ability, he is a player who is a threat on set-pieces, which is very useful when your team has a set-piece specialist like Aleksandar Kolarov. He is not shy to attempt a long-ball, but it is to be noted that he is not exactly an ambitious passer and will tend to pass short to his teammates. When it comes to Roma’s style of play this season, he seems to fit pretty well. He has built up a relationship with Chris Smalling, and they understand each other’s movements fairly well by this point in the season, so it will be interesting to see if they make his signature permanent as well.
Roma tend to keep a high amount of possession and they like to control it in the opposition’s half. On top of this, they play a high line which supplements their aggressive pressing quite nicely. Fonseca’s favoured formations are 4-2-3-1 or 4-1-4-1 which suits Mancini’s strengths very well. They tend to attack down the middle and attempt through balls often which is complemented by the passing abilities of their central players in the build-up.
Passing and build-up
Roma do not focus on playing counter-attacking football like they used to. They prefer to play an aggressive and offensive style of football, complimenting their preference to attack at speed. Their desire to play through balls often, they sometimes struggle to maintain possession as they may like to. Roma’s centre-backs tend to play it safe with their passing, while their midfielders are more adventurous with theirs. This results in a team that keeps 53% possession on average, generally flexible to who their opponents are.
Mancini is generally located in the middle of the pitch, somewhere between his sides 18-yard-box and the halfway line. Often, he will drift out towards the right as Roma progress the ball up the pitch. The Italian helps during the build-up and is always looking for someone to come close to receive the ball and progress it forward. As Roma tend to attack down the middle of the pitch, Mancini sees a lot of the ball and has created typical combinations with his teammates which have been repeated numerous times across the season.
He is an important link between the defence and midfield, but he is not a defender who is prompted to hit a direct ball to one of Roma’s forwards. When Roma look to control possession, Mancini will settle in the middle of the pitch and do rotations with his teammates, typical passing triangles you see represented in many sides. As a result, the usual passing range that he plays at is shorter than many of the elite centre-backs in Serie A. His average pass length is 19.98m, which is comparable to Lazio defender Luiz Felipe, who has an average pass length of 20.04m. This is not to say he is generally a bad passer, but he is not tasked with ball progression in many regards.
Here, we see that Mancini has three passing options. One of which is a progressive yet risky option.
As the play continues, we see that Mancini plays it safe and passes it towards Bruno Peres. Peres is more technically gifted and dribbles to a point where he can pass it towards Edin Džeko.
Impact on their defensive approach and attacking contribution
As mentioned, the team’s 4-2-3-1 and 4-1-4-1 formations fit Mancini’s style of play really well. He is strong at numerous key aspects of Fonseca’s game and tactics, especially when it comes to his defensive contribution.
The greatest aspect of his game could be seen within his tackling ability. As discussed, he is useful, if slightly limited, in the build-up phase, but he is far more effective at recovering the ball for his side. Considering he plays for a side who look to keep possession of the ball, the volume of his defensive actions is notably high. He averages 8.02 defensive duels per 90 minutes at a success rate of 63.68%, which is comparable to centre-backs in systems which do not focus on keeping possession, yet he completes them at a higher success rate generally.
Above, we can see a throw-in occurring from on the left-wing for Sampdoria. Mancini is keenly aware of where his opponent will throw the ball and adjusts accordingly.
Eagerly, he strides towards his opponent and dispossesses him off the ball. With space beyond him, he has time to pick out a runner with a through ball.
Both offensively and defensively, he creates an impact when it comes to aerial duels. He combines his anticipation with his jumping reach to win aerial duels at a proficient rate, may not be outstanding, but certainly better than the average Serie A centre-back. It should be noted that he is going up against seasoned pros in Italy, while he has a mere couple seasons in this division under his belt. Over time, it is to be expected that he will improve on his aerial duel success rate. His stature of a 6’ 2” man leaves him in good stead naturally to win these aerial battles. As a result of this, he attempts 4.18 aerial duels per 90 minutes at a success rate of 67.68%. If we compare this to fellow Roma centre half Federico Fazio, who attempts 4.28 aerial duels per 90 minutes at a success rate of 56.52%, we can begin to understand the value that Mancini adds to the Roma squad.
Here, we can see a corner about to be taken by Kolarov. Three Roma players make a run towards the near post, dragging attention away from their two imposing centre-backs, Mancini, and Smalling.
Thanks to the diversion, Mancini can jump ahead of his opponents and make a decent connection with the ball. Unfortunately, in this scenario, he heads just wide of the goal frame. Still a great opportunity, nonetheless.
Though he is naturally averse to attempting to progress the ball through the midfield, Mancini can still produce a long ball when he sees necessary. He does not produce a high volume of long balls, but the ones he does attempt are longer than the average endeavour. From viewing how he plays across the season; he usually will not play the direct pass into the midfield from the defence. Instead, if he sees a forward racing through on goal, he will strive to find them with a pass. This is reflected in his average progression within his progressive passing, standing at 336.38m from 7.43 progressive passes per 90 minutes. Fiorentina centre-back, Nikola Milenković, who also produces 7.43 progressive passes per 90 minutes, only has an average progression of 272.61m.
Above, we see Mancini spot the possibility to penetrate the opponent’s defence with a well-timed and placed through ball towards Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
As he continues to run forward, he plays the long-range pass towards Mkhitaryan, which is met by the Armenian. Unfortunately, his first touch was not so eloquent and is dispossessed by the goalkeeper.
At 24 years old, Mancini is growing into a role at Roma which suits his style of play nicely. He is a good defender who is capable of producing a high volume of defensive contribution at a competent success rate. His ability in the air is improving with time, and we can expect him to be an elite presence in the air in the years to come. When placed at centre-back, he is a consistent performer for Fonseca. Being brought for just €13m, Roma can easily make a profit on Mancini, if they were to sell him now to a side such as AC Milan. If not, they have a capable defender who has age on his side to grow into a top-level centre half.