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This time, Evolution uncovers a player who hasn’t stolen headlines, but who has caught the eye of the most attentive Serie A followers: Udinese’s decisive super-sub, Stipe Perica.

With Udinese comfortably sitting in the middle of the table (11th place), 21-year-old talent Stipe Perica was bound to go virtually unnoticed. In today’s edition of Evolution, we consider just how underrated the young Croatian is, as well as suggesting the usual areas of improvement for the player’s development.

As ever, the use of comparison is helpful when trying to gauge a youngster’s potential. In viewing a player in relation to what could be a future (and better) version of them, we can come closer to understanding their current strengths and weaknesses. In Perica’s case, the most pragmatic of comparisons is one with his Udinese teammate Cyril Thereau. The two share not only the same club, but also the position on the pitch (centre forward) and a number of characteristics. Physically speaking, the two are almost identical, with Perica standing high at 192cm but weighing only 76kg and Thereau, similarly, being 189cm and weighing 78kg. The differences between the two, as we’ll go on to explore, perhaps highlights what Perica should work on to improve as a player. In fact, Thereau, a prolific (and very underrated) striker for Udinese, could be a goal for Perica to work towards, for the time being.

Super-sub Stipe:

When looking at strikers, it’s easy to get lost in their goal-scoring statistics, consequently overlooking their remaining assets and flaws. Still, we must take these goals into account, and very significantly so, in Perica’s case. So far this season, the Croatian has played 13 games for Udinese, but only two times was he a part of the starting eleven. Thus, with only 474 minutes played in total (via WhoScored) Perica has played just about the equivalent of five whole games. From this perspective, his 3 goals this season make him, ultimately, a very prolific striker. Curiously, all goals were scored as a substitute and two of these were decisive for the outcome of the game, making Stipe a real super-sub for the bianconeri. Both goals are incredibly descriptive of Perica’s characteristics as a player, so let’s take a look at them (as well as one goal from last season):

Udinese-Empoli: 2-0 (2016/17)

Perica’s first goal this season sealed Udinese’s triumph over Empoli, in a game where the outcome seemed all but certain. With Udinese on the counter, Perica received a long ball wide on the right, alone against one remaining Empoli defender. Lankily lunging forward, Perica resisted the tackle, got back on his feet and proceeded to seal the last nail on Empoli’s coffin. As we’ll go on to see with the help of stats, this goal shows Perica’s toughness, as well as his coolness in front of goal. In particular, his resilience when tackled emphasises just how sturdy of a player he is.

Torino-Udinese: 0-1 (2015/16)

The same resilience (and determining impact on the match) was shown last year against Torino. Check it out.

Milan-Udinese: 0-1 (2016/17)

As an old saying goes, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. Stipe’s second goal this season would probably be an ugly one, for the majority of “beholders”. But let’s resist these canons of beauty and, instead, let’s try to see what we can actually appreciate about this goal. In the 88th minute, Perica received a cross in the middle of the box. In spectacularly uncoordinated fashion, Perica striked the ball on the volley, catching Abate’s deflection and then the back of the net. Stipe’s fortunate game-winner was, admittedly, the most casual of goals, but it revealed one of Perica’s qualities: his goal instinct. In fact, the cross is a fairly feeble one and most strikers would’ve been likely to try and control the ball. Instead, Perica’s first intention was, and often is, to shoot for goal – it paid off. In a stadium that has seen many fortunate, instinct-led goals (Filippo Inzaghi anyone?), Perica was once again decisive for Udinese.

Guide to Thereaurising defenses:

And now, on to the announced comparison with Cyril Thereau. In relation to the Frenchman, but also as highlighted by the first GIF, we can spot one of Perica’s assets. The Croatian is a very tough player, who represents a constant hassle and disturbance for defenders. With 1 challenge won every 90 minutes, as opposed to Thereau’s 0.4, Perica is constantly pressuring the opposition’s defensive line, and efficiently so. Another stat that testifies his aggressiveness is his 2.8 fouls committed per 90 minutes (only 0.8 for Thereau.). While this might show a fault in Perica’s style of play (recklessness and excessive fouling), it also highlights how irritating he can be to play against. To a large extent, Perica should try and conserve this characteristic – his off-the-ball work is very efficient and makes him an ongoing challenge for the opposition.

Nonetheless, there are a series of things in which Thereau excels, and which Perica should definitely improve on. First of all, despite his impressive height, Perica loses  more headers than he wins (2.1 lost, 1.7 won per 90 minutes). The stats are virtually the opposite for 33 year-old Thereau. This is indicative of Perica’s current inability to make of his physicality an asset, something that the experienced Frenchman has instead mastered. For a centre forward, especially of Perica’s height, heading ability is almost a necessity. On a similar note, Stipe is also inefficient in his protection of the ball, which is also of paramount importance for a striker of his kind. Perica loses 3.2 balls every 90 minutes, whilst Thereau only loses 1.8 – this is significant difference. In order to be a reference point in attack for Udinese, Perica must also work on this skill. Finally, although this is certainly related, to some extent, to his limited game time, Perica must try be more involved in the team’s play. His lack of participation his highlighted by his mere 11 attempted passes per game, which are nothing when compared to Thereau’s 36. In recap, Perica should aim at further exploiting his physicality, in both heading and ball protection, and should try to get more involved in the team’s play.

This said, Perica is certainly a talent we should keep our eyes on. As he gets more game time for Udinese, and consequently more opportunities to show his qualities and work on his weaknesses, Perica will reveal himself as a determining player. Hopefully, he’ll soon upgrade from super-sub to super-starter.

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