A historical rivalry separates Brescia and Bergamo. Nevertheless, Simone Panada, who was born in Brescia plays for Atalanta Bergamo. Their academy is one of the best youth systems in Italy which produced many interesting players in recent years such as Roberto Gagliardini, Mattia Caldara, Andrea Conti, Christian Capone, and Inter player Alessandro Bastoni.
The 17-year old is another big prospect in Italian football and is already dedicated as the Serie A club´s future midfield star. Since his first national team appearance in the U15 squad, he already played 54 matches for the Azzurri and already made his debut in Italy´s U19 this year. In 2019 he was one of Italy’s captains and one of biggest stars at the 2019 European Under-17 Championship, where the Azzurrini won a silver medal.
As you will see in this tactical analysis, he can become a complete player as he already has a very good basis. The scout report will provide you with a closer look at how he is a key player in Massimo Brambilla´s tactics.
Role in the system
Panada is a former centre-back. However, he now plays in central midfield and there, he can be used in any position. In Atalanta U19´s 4-3-3 formation, Panada is used to play in the defensive midfielder role.
If Brambilla changes the formation into a 4-1-4-1, Panada is the only holding midfielder in Atalanta´s line up. You can already assume his importance in the system knowing that he is the captain of the team.
As we all know from Atalanta´s first team, the youth teams of the club also play offensive orientated. The U19 squad try to press remarkably high up the pitch. Panada is in a key role here, as he is Atalanta´s midfield controller.
In the map below, you can see how often and how high he presses the opponent´s during their build-up play.
In the following image, Panada does not hold his position in the defensive midfield but presses high up the pitch on the same line as Atalanta´s forward. That is why Juventus do not have numerical superiority in their build-up phase anymore. Now, they face a 3-vs.-3 situation. So, Juve´s centre-back, who is pressed by Panada, has to play the ball back to the goalkeeper instead of initiating an attack.
The next image is an example of a counter-press. Atalanta was in attack but lost the ball. Now, the whole team stays offensive instead of pulling back. Again, Panada presses the opponent in possession, who has no option to build-up or to start a quick transition. He has to resolve the issue and Atalanta can start the game with a throw-in. In addition, they can use this time to get back into their usual formation.
As mentioned earlier, Panada is a learned centre-back. Playing in the defensive midfield nowadays, he uses his defensive skills to work hard all over the pitch. This is an attribute which is essential for Atalanta´s playing style. There are teams that can break the high pressing of Atalanta. In these cases, it is very important that the whole team tries to get behind the ball.
Panada is in a key role again, as he is the only defensive midfielder in the system. So, he has to run up and down the pitch during the whole 90 minutes. In his heatmap below, you can see that he is everywhere in the midfield area during a match.
He does not consider himself to be too good for a ground tackle. If it has to be done, he is also ready to risk committing a foul in the opponent´s half. You can see that in the image below as he consequently tackles his opponent in their half.
Nevertheless, he is doing that only if it seems to be really necessary. Otherwise, he rather stands out because of his good interceptions. He provides many key interceptions and clearances for his team thanks to his good anticipation sense and defensive reliability. Therefore, he often creeps up on opponents from their back and cuts the passing line well-timed in the very last moment.
The two images below provide a perfect example of this procedure. In each case, the opponents are on a counterattack trying to create a goal-scoring opportunity. Atalanta´s defence faces a 3-vs.-3 situation which is quite hard to defend. In the very last moment, Panada cuts the passing line and intercepts the opponent´s attack.
As you could expect of a 17-year-old youth player with a height of 176 cm and a weight of only 68 kg, there is a lack of physicality. This often leads to losing 1-vs.-1 situations and ends up in ball losses. Especially, his height turns out as a disadvantage in aerial duels winning only 1.48 per game.
But, also his usual duel rate is not at a good level: He wins only 55,48% of these per game. These ball losses are extremely dangerous, especially as he loses it in the own half during the build-up play. That can lead to a quick counterattack by the opponent.
You might assume that Panada is a player who just destructs the opponent´s attacks and is just working defensively. But that is not the case at all. His vision and sense for the game make it possible for him to control the rhythm of the game as he is really good at noticing the environment around himself.
He knows how to dictate the tempo of the match, he is creative and has the natural ability of an ‘orchestrator’ midfielder who can perform at all of the midfield positions linking up with ease and effectiveness. Therefore, he likes to play deeper in the midfield as the man who will be able to control the tempo of the game. Furthermore, he is incredibly good in combination play.
In the following image, Panada receives the ball from the right wing. He has lots of time and space as Juve is lying very deep. The young Italian lets Juve move out from their deep position. After that, he turns and plays the ball back out wide on the right wing. That is the way he dictates the tempo of the match, controls the opponent´s movement and decides, on which wing Atalanta will attack next.
Another example: Atalanta is in possession on the left wing. Panada is constantly asking for the ball and often, he is an additional passing option. In this situation, Panada drops in a big pocket of space in a central area. He demands to receive the ball. Because of the time he has, he can turn once again.
Now, he can use lots of space which helps him to shift the point of the attack onto the right wing. And again, he dictates the tempo, the movement of the opponents as well as the point of the attack.
Nearly every single attack of Atalanta starts with Panada as initiator. That is the reason why he has a high number of passes (55,98) and touches per match.
As already mentioned, Panada is a tactically intelligent and charismatic midfielder. He is gifted with good ball skills, mobility, distribution, vision, and the ability to read the game. His overview is one of his biggest strengths. 90,54% of his passes are successful. And that is a fact even he does play long-range passes very often as you can recognize by taking a closer look at the map below.
Panada likes to spread the play with good long-range diagonals. So, he can leave out unnecessary stations by switching the point of the game. At the same time, he forces the opponents to shift the side very unexpected.
The image below shows this procedure. Against deep-lying opponents, Panada steps up the field and is more in a playmaking position. He has the ability to overview the whole pitch and pick the best-positioned player. In this case, he uses a long-range ball to shift it to the left wing from where Atalanta can create a goal-scoring opportunity.
By participating in the build-up play, Panada drops deep to receive the ball. Often, he can exploit lots of space. So, he uses this time to take advantage of his overview again. Afterwards, he can use the width of the pitch and shifts sides with a diagonal long-range pass. The two following examples are a blueprint for this procedure.
Of course, there are also situations in which other teams press high up the pitch. In these situations, it is important for Atalanta to have Panada in a central position as he is a press-resistant player. He has always the control, even when under pressure, and knows how to be an important point of reference for his teammates, especially in the tensest games where he manages to stay calm even with increasing competition tones. The youngster stands out with great composure and retention skills under pressure.
In most of these situations, he tries to break the pressing by playing a short forward pass. However, this is only possible if his teammates are able to deal with the ball and are ready to receive it like in the example below.
If this is not the case, Paldana passes the ball to a centre-back starting a new build-up.
Alternatively, he has great composure and confidence on the ball to turn. Afterwards, he breaks the pressure shifting sides.
As outlined in this analysis, Panada is a candidate for another football product that comes from the Atalanta youth academy. Having the ball on his foot, the individual technique and the quality of football are the highlights of his profile. Another qualitative leap on the physical level would represent squaring the circle for the young midfielder’s career.
This was confirmed by Giovanni Bosi, Atalanta U17 manager: “Simone is of excellent quality and must also be convinced that he has excellent athletic means that would enable him to tear with more conviction and from the point of view of the Momentum to get even better.”
Therefore, he has to work to become not only a central midfielder but also a complete Mezzala. As an orchestrator and natural leader, he is already complete. He plays long and short, powerful and precise football to find his way. If he can improve his physicality, he has the potential to play a key role in one of the top European clubs in future.