In every area of sport there are guys who deserve more recognition than they really have. After tracking Ligue 1 and the Premier League looking for underrated players, today it’s the turn of the Italian Serie A. These were not easy choices and we have left out some like Berat Djimsiti (Atalanta) or Antonio Candreva (Inter). But we are convinced that the productivity of the three footballers we are analysing is above their prestige within the league.
The first of these is Marlon Santos, the Brazilian centre-back who plays at Sassuolo. We’re talking about who was already supposed to have a bright future when he left his country. Barcelona signed him a few years ago, but he never had real chances in Spain. However, since he arrived in Serie A in 2018 his performance has been fantastic. This season he has been very difficult to beat, with an efficiency of over 79% in tackling actions, and all his metrics except those relating to aerial game are truly competitive.
What really sets Marlon apart is his skills with the ball. He is the centre-back who misses less passes in the Italian tournament (93.96% success rate) and one of the defenders in Europe’s top five leagues who make more ball progressions per 90 minutes (24.4); this means that he is a player able to move forward frequently, either through passing or driving. That’s why he has a significant influence on the creative phase of the Sassuolo, taking part in the build up of 0.45 xG. Like his passing figures, this average is top among players of his position. On the radar we can see he’s a player who doesn’t often use the long balls, but he does it with effectivity.
Now we stop to talk about a player who is less established in Italy. This is the case of Jerdy Schouten, the Dutch midfielder signed by Bologna last summer. Schouten has only played 778 official minutes in Italy, but he has been really productive when he has been on the field. In fact, he has the third best 90-minute recoveries rate in the league (4.97), second only to Gaston Brugman and Lucas Leiva in this aspect. He is a great interceptor and wins a lot of individual duels, with good numbers both in the air and in the defensive one-on-one.
We’re talking about a big player (1.85m), but one who also contributes when his team has possession. In this graph we see some of his metrics compared to those of the Serie A media who have played at least 700 minutes. Although he could improve his passing percentage, he is very accurate when uses long passes and participates in the build up of 0.54 expected goals per 90′. On top of that, Schouten had similar figures last year at Excelsior, with nearly 3,000 minutes played. Keeping in mind his age (23), he is a very interesting midfielder.
Our third name is Darko Lazovic, who was signed for free by Hellas Verona in the last summer. The 29-year-old Serb had always been a sideline player, but at other stages of his career he had alternated between different heights of the field and the two flanks. Taking into account the difficulty of being wing back in his non-natural foot side, one can say that it has fitted perfectly into the 3-4-1-2 Ivan Juric.
Lazovic suffers very few steals (0.57) and is remarkably efficient in one-on-one defending (80% success rate), but he is also a very dangerous player when he reaches the final third. He averages 1.03 key passes in play and has accumulated 5.7 expected assists (xA) in the 2,348 minutes he has played. As you can see in this picture, if last year he was producing more from set pieces and from more diverse areas, now he is focusing all his production on that left wing.
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