Earlier analysis had tipped Nicolo Barella as the best young Italian player born in 1997 between 2012 and 2013, and his move to one of Italy’s elite has felt like a long time coming. Inter have secured Barella’s services for the 2019/20 Serie A season on an initial year-long loan deal with an obligation to buy at the end of it, effectively signing the midfielder up for the next five seasons.
At 22-years-old, Barella has already made 84 appearances in Serie A for Cagliari and already begun to establish himself within the Italian National Team. After making his debut in 2018, Barella has gone on to make seven appearances and score two goals for La Nazionale.
This scout report and tactical analysis will detail the Barella’s playing style, addressing his strengths and weaknesses whilst speculating how he’ll fit into Antonio Conte’s tactics at Inter ahead of the upcoming Serie A season.
Cagliari often utilized slight variants of three-man midfield formations this season, predominantly favouring either a 4-3-1-2 or 5-3-2 system. Barella was often selected as one of the wider central midfielders, which suited his box-to-box style.
Barella’s box-to-box style is reflected in his statistics across last season as well, averaging 2.8 tackles, 1.2 key passes, 1.2 dribbles and 1.5 shots per game in Serie A last season. These stats, alongside examining the player’s heatmap, already suggests that Barella is comfortable playing an extremely active role within the team’s midfield despite his tender age.
Barella demonstrates flashes of tactical intelligence in his game as he moves about the field, often adapting his style to where he is on the pitch at the time. Barella’s dribbling ability means he’s comfortable making forward runs out to the flank in order to aid the team’s possession and his passing ability also means he can adapt to deeper roles as well.
As the above image illustrates, Barella’s active application has translated into the youngster operating in two very different roles within the space of five seconds. In one scene, Barella is providing an underlapping run onto the wing in support of a teammate further up the field; and in the other, the midfielder has dropped in between the centre-backs in order to aid the buildup.
Barrella’s a very active passer of the ball, averaging 51.7 passes per game in Serie A last season at an 81.8% success rate. Barella also appears comfortable attempting a wide variety of passes, attempting 3.3 key passes, 1 cross and 4.3 long balls per game in the most recent EURO U21 Championships.
In his last Serie A game vs Udinese, Barella again demonstrated both his passing ability and vision.
Barella’s box-to-box nature is again highlighted here as the midfielder has shown up, attempting passes in both the deeper and more advanced areas of the pitch. What is also encouraging from this pass map is the number of attempted passes made into the opposition’s box which provides evidence as to the youngster’s vision on the ball.
Considering the relatively high passing success rate, as well as the range of passing Barella can offer, may suggest that the player could succeed in a deeper playmaking role later on in his career. This also perhaps explains the rumours linking the player with a move to Chelsea in January in order to work with Maurizio Sarri who favours a possession-heavy style.
A glaring weakness in Barella’s makeup is his shot selection. Barella is guilty of taking too many shots from outside the penalty area, perhaps wasting the team’s possession in the meantime.
Not only is Barella wasting plenty of chances by taking so many efforts from range, but he’s also struggling to shoot on target. Last season, Barella was shooting at a rate of only 0.3 efforts on target per game which must be improved upon if he’s to carry on in this box-to-box role. This does mean however that in the meantime, Barella is wasting a lot of possession in the final third of the pitch and this is perhaps coming at the expense of his creative passing numbers.
In the above example of Barella’s eagerness to shoot, the young midfielder attempts a shot through a sea of bodies instead of composing himself in time to spot any one of the three highlighted more reliable options. This sort of decision making will have to be improved upon in games where the stakes are much higher than what he’s used to.
Barella’s discipline may also be an issue at Inter where he will be expected to play in a much more structured role under Conte. The player may no longer have the freedom to roam as he does at Cagliari and will be forced into maintaining a central role where he will have to improve upon his creative passing numbers.
Where he fits in at Inter
Upon Conte’s introduction and the club’s desire to move Radja Naingollan out of the team, Barella will likely move straight into the first team alongside current first-teamers, Matias Vecino and Marcelo Brozović.
In this midfield, Barella would own most of the creative responsibility as Vecino and Brozović offer a more physical presence. In his most recent jobs, at Chelsea, Italy, and Juventus, Conte has opted for three-at-the-back formations and that looks likely to continue at Inter. This likely means that Barella will operate in a much more specified role than his usual box-to-box role and perhaps in a more consistent advanced role.
Barella’s flexibility, however, would allow Conte to switch between a 3-4-3 and 3-5-2 system which may turn out to be his biggest selling point for Inter if they are able to land some of their bigger summer transfer targets.
Inter have secured one of Italy’s brightest prospects at precisely the right time. Barella is coming in with plenty of experience yet with some flaws to iron out which if possible, would see his value skyrocket.
I have concerns about the potential role Barella may play at Inter, however, as he may be thrust into a more creative or advanced role where his numbers need to improve in order to fit in with Inter’s ambitions. Barella has all the potential however to make this move a success and under a renowned coach like Conte, I suspect this is a transfer that will prove to be mutually beneficial for both Barella and Inter.
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