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Ranking Roma’s Youth, #3: Lorenzo Pellegrini

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With the right partner in Cristante, Pellegrini can move into a double figures in any category.

A.S. Roma v Liverpool - UEFA Champions League Semi Final Second Leg Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

Most of this countdown post will be an elaborate re-hash of what I’d written on Lorenzo Pellegrini in the midfield review. I’ve already shared how I feel Pellegrini is the best ‘96-born talent in the league today, and it’ll doubtlessly open it up to the idea of being hyped of the kid because he’s Roman.

But I’m not Roman myself nor pretend to be, I just feel he’s legitimate quality. His assist rate last season shows why the club are confident he can replace Nainggolan’s output, just by giving Lorenzo more gametime alone. Though Lorenzo dropping a place in the U-23 countdown, from last season, shows how others have reached expectations faster while Pellegrini took a year to sit deep behind Nainggolan.

Real Madrid v AS Roma - International Champions Cup 2018 Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

Number Three: Lorenzo Pellegrini

Age: 22

Position: Midfielder

Current Club: AS Roma

Rank Last Year: #2

Future Comparison: Any one-touch maestro midfielder you want to name. I’m just tired of naming Barcelona midfielders.

Who is He?

Lorenzo Pellegrini is the kid Rudi Garcia envisioned as a box-to-box player starting from deep in a double-pivot. And while I love Rudi’s passion and gambling on Pellegrini’s Serie A debut, I didn’t love Garcia for his footballing vision. Let’s wind it back a little to why Lorenzo is still making up ground on his deep-lying defensive game to this day: Pellegrini took an extended leave from training for heart problems, during his Primavera days. It was thought that missing such a crucial stage in his physical development, as a tall lanky teenager, was the source of where his problems in mastering the defensive side of his game began. Despite this, he became an attacking midfield maestro under Eusebio Di Francesco at two different clubs, and his offensive output certainly justifies his inclusion in the team.

What Can He Do?

Pellegrini has thrived under the tutelage of Eusebio Di Francesco’s attacking positional play midfield instructions ever since the pair first met at Sassuolo. EDF’s regime emphasises quick-one touch play, vertical passing, runs into the box to get on the end of chances, and intelligent cross-over moves with midfield partners to open up space. Lorenzo Pellegrini was young enough to take those instructions to heart, becoming the symbol of what could be the Nazionale’s identikit mezzala player for the next decade.

There’s not really anyone better in Roma’s midfield for moving play quickly up the pitch than Lorenzo. He receives the ball, he looks to lay it off or pass it vertically, and follows every pass up with teamwork - immediately looking to draw the attention of his opposing man onto him, to free up a teammate.

Now that Pellegrini is potentially paired with Bryan Cristante (another identikit Azzuro of the future), the duo from the same generation of midfield engine men can strike up a partnership of cross-over moves to help one another out in getting on the end of passes, assists and goals. In last season’s Roma team, Pellegrini really suffered from no one else being up to speed with the instructions drilled into him for years. To be fair to the others, Pellegrini also lacked the maturity and composure to know when to slow the game down and find a compromise with his team-mates.

What Can He Become?

In a hyper-offensive Roma side that efficiently presses the opposition back into their own half, Pellegrini can be trusted to unlock games with instinctive passing and shots on goal. The work he did in tight spaces in a Sassuolo shirt, before anyone had time to think or react to his next move, was originally what had people dreaming of Pellegrini making a return to Roma in the first place.

Since then, call it the anxiety of finding his role within his hometown club if you want, but he hasn’t quite yet replicated that kind of form. One thing is for sure: he’ll never be the fantasista midfielder with elaborate individual possession that builds up into a 30 second continuous highlight of him dribbling through defenders on his way to a commentator having an orgasm. He’s not in the mould of Totti. That’s just not his style of play, nor is it what modern football is asking of young players. But Pellegrini is capable of moments of magic and - even in a season where that modern brand of magic was scarcely present - he still guarantees keeping his numbers healthy and respectable for the team.

In a bit-part first season back in Roma, Lorenzo managed the most interceptions in the Roma midfield (36). He ranked 30th in Serie A for interceptions with 1.5 interceptions per game. His aerial success rate (51%) was equal to Bryan Cristante.

For this season, Pellegrini can go two directions. He can try to up his passing accuracy or he can just work on more killer passing. He registered 4 assists and 1.6 key passes per game - a better rate than Cristante at Atalanta last season - in 1812 minutes played for Roma and often coming off the bench. Imagine what Pellegrini can do with the more consistent starting appearances that he will undoubtedly have to fight for in this deeper squad.

As always in the background of his career so far, Pellegrini will have to work on his tackling. Only De Rossi had more failed tackles last season, and Lorenzo is both mobile enough and tall enough for that to be a glaringly worrying comparison. It’s a chink in his armour that he has to smooth out, in order to have a shot at being considered an all-round great in the future.