There are not many young fullbacks who have managed to assert themselves in Serie A this year. Injuries have also deprived the League of some of the best players in this position. Milan’s Andrea Conti had a marvellous season at Atalanta before his move, but went down early with an ACL tear; Emerson Palmieri is rehabbing last year’s knee issue and might struggle to re-take his job considering the strong performances of Aleksandar Kolarov. Massimiliano Allegri’s reclamation project, Mattia De Sciglio, has been temporarily interrupted by a big ankle sprain. Roma’s newcomer Rick Karsdorp has been sidelined since the start of his Italian career by a meniscus ailment and he suffered an ACL tear on his debut.
The two more consistent players have been Elseid Hysaj and Leonardo Spinazzola. Hysaj is only 23 years old but he immediately became a staple at Napoli. Maybe not the flashiest fullback, but he is extremely diligent and has great chemistry with José Maria Callejon on that flank. He is averaging 2.8 tackles, 1 interception, 1.9 clearances, 0.9 key passes per game, 0.1 crosses, 1.4 long balls per game per WhoScored. His offensive game is limited, but he fits in fine in a team with so many quality attackers, where he is assigned to defensive duties first and foremost.
Spinazzola pushed hard this summer to return to Juventus, ending the two-year loan spell early, but Atalanta managed to keep him and he continued to impress on the left. His growth in the past two seasons after being a journeyman in the lower leagues has been remarkable and Gian Piero Gasperini deserves a lot of the credit for finding him a role where he could thrive. A dynamo, he is averaging 2 tackles, 0.5 interceptions, 1 clearance, 2 key passes, 2 dribbles, 1.5 crosses and 3 long balls per game per WhoScored: he should not disappoint when he takes his talent to a bigger stage next season.
There is a clear drop-off after these two names. Inter signed Dalbert from Nice this summer, but his defence has been a little too shaky for Luciano Spalletti’s liking and so far the manager has preferred Yuto Nagatomo over him. On the other flank, the coach has stated that the other newcomer, Joao Cancelo, is nowhere near ready to play as a fullback because he is too offensive, so Danilo D’Ambrosio will continue having a firm grip on the job.
There are some interesting names in the less heralded teams, but neither is a slam-dunk prospect. Adam Masina seemed poised to make the jump to Sevilla this summer, but the deal fell through: he has been constant since emerging from Serie B, but he has not progressed much and still makes some blunders at times. Sassuolo’s Pol Lirola is excellent going forward, but struggling teams need big defensive contributions and that is his Achilles’ heel, so he has found himself behind the veteran Marcello Gazzola in the pecking order when Cristian Bucchi veered back from 3-5-2 to 4-3-3. He is owned by Juventus as well. Playing time has been hard to come by for another promising youngster, Torino’s Antonio Barreca, who has been slowed down by injuries. On a more positive note, Atalanta’s Hans Hateboer might not be as good as Conti, but he is still a very useful player with a ton of upside.
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