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Who’s Nicolò Fagioli and how did his talent change Juventus’ season?

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On the 7th of January, Juventus beat Udinese at the Allianz Stadium by 1-0. This was the team’s eighth consecutive victory, the last one before the crushing defeat against Napoli.

One of the highlights of the team in this sequence of good results is Nicolò Fagioli, a 21-year-old midfielder who played in six of the last eight games and delighted most of the fans with all his quality and elegance, in addition to scoring 2 goals, one of them in the Derby against Intern Milan.

Who’s Nicolò and how did he become a Juventus future star?

Nicolò Fagioli is an Italian player born on February 12, 2001, in Picenza, a city in the northern part of Emilia-Romagna’s region (northern Italy),  that plays as a center midfielder. At 22 years (at present time), measuring 1.77 meters, and weighing 71 kilos, Nicò (one of his nicknames) is a versatile athlete that can also play other roles in the midfield.

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He became a player back in 2011 when he was a little 10-year-old boy, and his first experience in football was playing for the youth team of his hometown club. Sadly, Piacenza was bankrupt and Nicò had to move himself to its biggest rival, Cremonese, a few months later. At the Grigiorossi (one of Cremonese’s nicknames) he began to quickly develop, attracting the attention of other clubs like Inter Milan and Juventus.

First chance at Juventus

After almost 4 years at Cremonese, Fagioli decides to move to the team he loves and starts with Juve’s under-17 team moving, soon after, to the Primavera team. In the year 2018, after good performances in the season with the U-17 team, he was called up by Massimiliano Allegri for the summer tour of the United States and received a few minutes in the first team during the tournament (picture below) where he, also, scored one goal by a penalty against MLS All-Stars.

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Even in the 2018-19 season Nicò was promoted to the U-23 (Juventus Next Gen, currently) and made his debut against Carrarese for the Lega Pro (Italian third division). He played five games for the second team that season, and won the Third Division Coppa Italia’s in 2021 (photo below), continuing to improve himself as a player and catching the attention of the first-team coach.

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His trajectory was destined for success from the beginning, as Allegri himself said in a press conference before the match against Sassuolo in Serie A:

“We have a boy from 2001 called Fagioli. It’s a pleasure to see that boy play football, because he knows football, the timing of the game, how you get clear, when you pass the ball and how you pass it. Really, it’s a pleasure to see him play”¹ – Massimiliano Allegri

Debut as a professional Juventus player

Called up to the first team by Mr. Andrea Pirlo on 27 January 2021, Nicò made his debut in the Coppa Italia match against Spal and in Serie A on 22 February 2021 against Crotone. At that time he became an effective member of the first team, even finding himself on the bench on the day of the victory in the Italian Super Cup, celebrated on his social networks with a photo together with Ronaldo (picture below).

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In the 2021-22 season, after the return of Massimiliano Allegri to Juventus after two years, Nicò found himself without space in the starting lineup and, in need of continuity, he was sent on a one-season loan to his former club and coach Fabio Pecchia, who called him to Cremonese, in a family environment where he grew up. The choice was perfect! Fagioli had an excellent season being one of the best players at the club, helping Cremonese’s promotion to Serie A Tim as runner-up in the Lega Serie BKT (Italian second division) and was also named to the Lega Top Eleven team of the season (images down below).

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When, after years of development, he finally returned to Juventus this season, hoping to receive a Mr. Allegri on the main team (more on that later).

Fagioli’s style and attributes

Style

In this part of the article, we’ll have to use a lot of match frames (figures) to illustrate Fagioli’s attributes

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Fagioli is clearly a future star and also on the rise, but in this part of the article, we’ll focus on what attributes and style make us believe so.

We can start taking a good look at his heatmap (Figure 1) in which we’ll notice that he’s a player totally able to play on both sides (left or right) starting from the center, despite his lower data records in the actual season, at Juventus. Another important observation to get in mind is that he often moves inside the second third area, which allows him to participate in both build-up phases (first and second).

Figure 1 – Fagioli’s heatmap during Cremonese and Juventus seasons (data collected from sofascore.com).

As regards to his playing role (Figure 2), in most part of Nicò’s career so far he played as a central midfielder with build-up duties or as an attacking midfielder, participating in the build-up second phase, which corresponds to almost 47,8260% and 38,4058% of the times, respectively.

Figure 2 – Quantitative of Fagioli’s historical roles of play during his career (data collected from transfermarkt.com).

Attributes

Among his attributes, some of them call our attention:  the pass, whether short or medium (Figures 1, 2, 3, 4, and 7) or even the long one, managing ball possession under pressure (Figures 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12) and, also defensive tackle actions (Figures 13, 14, 15 and 16).

Nicò has also very impressive game vision (Figures 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 17), mobility (Figures 6 and 18), body turning or profiling (Figures 10, 11, and 12) when he is dealing with pressure (something very unique that also reminds us Pirlo or Modric sometimes) and, very important, his “ambidexterity” while performing skills or managing the ball (Figures 9 and 12), this is one important attribute for midfield players, especially those who play as “builders” and who constantly expose themselves to pressure from opponents.

Other three good observations regard attributes that he doesn’t show constantly but we already saw, at least once, like his effect shot (Figures 17 and 18), Fagioli is an excellent kicker from short or middle distances, his defensive covering (Figure 16), that is also something important for Allegri’s teams and his approaching or entering the area (Figures 17 and 18).

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Figures

 3: 20 meters throw a pass at Cremonese (2021-22).

 4: Perfect through ball at Italy U-21 (2021-22).

5: Vision and Mid-range pass at Cremonese (2021-22).

6: Space attacking, perfect cross and assist at Juventus (2022-23).

7: Pass interception, the ball retains under pressure, through pass and assist at Juventus (2022-23).

 8: Russian Roulette to avoid losing ball possession at Cremonese (2021-22).

 

9: Ball possession retain and exiting of pressure and physical duels at Cremonese (2021-22)

10: Use of technical skill to exit a double pressure at Italy U-21 (2021-22).

11: Use of technical skill to exit tackle situation at Juventus (2022-23).

12: Use of technical skill to avoid tackle approaches at Juventus (2022-23).

13: Ball possession recovery at Cremonese (2021-22).

14: Ball possession recovery at Cremonese (2021-22).

15: Opponent pursuing and ball possession recovery at Juventus (2022-23).

16: Covering, double pressure, and ball possession recovery at Juventus (2022-23).

 17: Offensive and goal at Juventus (2022-23).

18: Technical skill move and goal at Juventus (2022-23).

And of course, there are some other attributes that he needs to improve like his strength, even knowing that he is not a physical midfielder, his aerial duels, this is something he needs to improve the most and, lastly, to shot more goal, because we almost don’t see him kicking to the goal, even though we know that his very good kicker.

Why Fagioli has become a technical reference for the team?

In the 2022 Summer Window, Juventus went after Pogba and brought the French midfielder to be the number 10 shirt and the team’s main reference. However, still, in the pre-season, Paul suffered a serious injury, which would keep him away for more than 6 months and leave him out of the World Cup.

Faced with a major problem in creating the team, Massimiliano Allegri initially opted for a physical midfield, composed of Rabiot and Weston Mckennie as mezalla and Locatelli as a regista. This formation had a very clear defect: the lack of creativity in the midfield.

This is because neither Rabiot nor Mckennie are able to contribute to the game output, which often made the Juventus team uncreative and sterile in the midfield, which resulted in defeats due to a lack of goals and a team unable to control the pressing when attacking.

The Debut in 2022/23

With the team’s situation worsening, Juventus needed to find a solution. Despite the good performances of Miretti and Rabiot, the midfield still needed to be more creative. Then, in the 70th minute of the draw against Salernitana, Allegri decides to finally give the young Fagioli a chance… The difference was immediate, in addition to Juventus having scored another goal, the team greatly increased the volume of play in the minutes that Fagioli was on the field, which made a large part of the Juvenitini around the world look at Fagioli with great attention.

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Two games after the match against Salernitana and one game after an embarrassing loss to Monza. Fagioli gets a chance against Lecce, this time in the starting line-up… And the 21-year-old once again overtakes the spectators, scores a beautiful goal, and puts in an incredible performance. But the peak for Nicolò was yet to come…

In the Derby against Inter, seven days after the great performance in Lecce, Fagioli presented himself to the world with a decisive goal and fantastic technical quality and elegance, proving himself as a great talent and a player with a great personality.

Gaining more and more confidence and drawing attention from the Juventus World, Fagioli became an absolute starter in Allegri’s team, which only won 8 straight victories thanks to the creativity that Fagioli added to Juventus’s midfield, the young Italian really changed the course of a season of a team that didn’t create anything until the game against Lecce.

Fagioli’s effect on Manuel Locatelli’s performances

On August 18, 2021, Juventus announced the signing of Manuel Locatelli from Sassuolo on loan with a purchase obligation set at 25 million + 12 million in bonuses, at the time the player arrived as the team’s greatest hope in the sector of the field in which the team needed most, the midfield…

However, contrary to what some thought, that Locatelli would immediately adapt to the new club, since arriving at Juventus the midfielder has not been able to find a regularity of great performances, experiencing some ups and downs despite having some great matches and showing a great emotional connection with the club. That’s mostly because, in addition to Juventus having a completely different style of play from Sassuolo, Allegri opted for most games of the 2021/22 season for a midfield formed by Locatelli and two physical midfielders, usually Rabiot and Weston Mckennie, which overwhelmed the Italian who in most games was the only creative piece of the team in midfield.

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Another issue that hindered the player’s first season in black and white was the uncertainty about his position. Having played the Euro under Roberto Mancini as a Mezalla, Allegri immediately had him signed as a Regista upon arrival. Although the role is not new for him, there is much debate about this not being the ideal position for Locatelli.

Fagioli’s entry into the team

In 2022/23, Locatelli continued to have some very good games and others below, which forced Allegri to solve this problem and give the team more creativity. Then, in September, everything starts to change for Locatelli… with Fagioli joining the team, Locatelli now had another technical midfielder to share the team’s creative duties. This allowed Juventus to control more possession in the midfield, as Fagioli would usually go back until the first building phase and close in on Locatelli, which allowed the team to leave the opponent’s pressure with the ball under control(something that Fagioli does really well as we could see in figure 12) and attack the back of the midfielders who jumped to press, in addition to giving more quality in the counterattack of Massimiliano Allegri’s team.

Situations like these completely raised Locatelli’s level. This is because, with Fagioli, Manuel was able to play again in a team that exploits one of his best characteristics: the associative game. Just like it used to happen in Mancini’s Italy and De Zerbi’s Sassuolo. All thanks to brilliant game reading and Fagioli’s talent.

Conclusion

Fagioli is undoubtedly a talent with a personality above the ordinary and who represents not only the future of Juventus but also the present. Juventus today needs Fagioli and the game against Napoli showed that very well. Without Nicolò, Juventus finds it extremely difficult to break lines and break through compact defenses, which makes the team suffer a lot to manage offensive actions.

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With the return of Paul Pogba, if Juventus wants to keep improving the team’s creative sector, Fagioli should be tested alongside Locatelli. And when the Frenchman is not well physically, which should happen due to the time in which the number 10 was injured, Nicolò should be his immediate option to play. It’s up to Allegri to make the right decision and avoid an even more catastrophic season.

 

 

1 – https://www.tuttosport.com/news/calcio/serie-a/juventus/2022/10/29-99155311/fagioli_quando_allegri_lo_esaltava_cosi_veder_giocare_questo_2001_e_un_piacere_

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