AC Milan’s enduring search for a right-back may have ended after all. This position in defense considered to be one of critical importance in the summer triggered a supposedly relentless yet futile pursuit of Barcelona-owned Emerson. After tediously tussling to sign the Spaniard, Milan opted for the frugal route by signing Diogo Dalot on loan from Manchester United. Versatile defender Pierre Kalulu arrived from Olympique Lyonnais as one for the future. But, an altogether different player staked his claim on the position he has been trying to own since 2015-16. He is the polarizing, homegrown youth academy graduate, Davide Calabria.
The 24-year old Italian fullback’s impressive performances have raised many an eyebrow. Following several seasons of blowing hot and cold, Calabria appears to have finally found his groove. His mechanical consistency in the storied red and black of Milan this season has made him one of the first names on the team sheet, rendering him practically undroppable. Heading into 2021, Calabria is the most featured right-back in Serie A.
Back to basics
Calabria can be best described as a modern fullback, full of energy and verve with a penchant for making overlapping runs and participating in attacking plays. This season, however, Calabria seems to have transformed into an orthodox fullback with a deep focus on the defensive aspects of his game.
As of 1 January 2021, Calabria has registered the most tackles of any player in Serie A (50), 10 clear of second placed Lisandro Magallán. Calabria also leads the board for the number of tackles won (30) as well as the number of dribblers tackled (25).
Calabria made the most tackles of anyone on the pitch (10) in the 2-0 win over Fiorentina on 29/11/2020
A monster in defense, Calabria isn’t one to sit back and wait for an attacker to take him on. Much like the rest of the team, Calabria presses doggedly in an attempt to cause possession turnovers. This hustle has made him the best in Serie A at recovering loose balls (167).
Off the ball, Calabria is most effective while occupying predominantly wing-back positions on the pitch, with defensive assistance from right-wingers like Alexis Saelemaekers and Samu Castillejo. He currently holds the joint-most tackles in the defensive third (27) along with Fiorentina’s Nikola Milenković and is the best tackling right-back in the middle-third (16).
Areas of improvement
Given that the current Milan squad is one of the youngest in Europe’s top five leagues, energy levels within the side are remarkably high. Stefano Pioli is leveraging these spirited players to transform Milan into a team that presses with high intensity. As a prominent member of the first team, Calabria is no exception.
Keeping in line with the footballing philosophy of the side, Calabria presses tenaciously in every game. This has led to him applying the most successful pressures of any defender in the league, especially in the zones that he principally occupies.
Such extensive and manic pressuring can create vulnerabilities though. While Calabria has improved as a defender, certain weaknesses in his game have also become all the more pronounced, such as his deficiency in dealing with 1v1 situations. Consequently, Calabria has been dribbled by the most in comparison to any other defender in Serie A (19).
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