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Since his late debut for the rossoneri (30th of October), Mario Pašalić has been employed with ever-increasing frequency by Vincenzo Montella. Now, we know what kind of player he is. 

After joining AC Milan on loan from Chelsea, Mario Pašalić had to wait very patiently for his debut to occur. Sitting (not so) comfortably on the bench, or in the stands, for the first ten games of the season, Pašalić finally came on as a sub during Milan’s home victory over Pescara (1-0). Since then, he has gradually imposed himself as an important pawn in Montella’s chessboard. Having now seen a great deal of him, against opponents big and small, we can finally trace an informed profile of the player. Follow us as we try to uncover exactly what kind of baller Mario is.

Meet Mario Pašalić

Date of birth: 9 February 1995

Position: Center-Mid

Nationality: Croatia

Club: AC Milan

Height: 1,88 m

International caps: U-15 (2 app), U-16 (2 app), U-17 (10 app, 2 goals), U-19 (4 app, 2 goals), U-21 (13 app, 6 goals), Senior (2 app)

After the exasperating speculations linking AC Milan to countless players throughout the whole summer window, came the last days of August, known amongst Milan fans as the ‘days of the Condor’. The Condor, that is to say Milan CEO Adriano Galliani, is renowned for his last-minute blitzes on the transfer market and, like every year, he was expected to finalise a deal of some sort. Following the usual, utopic, talks of Cesc Fabregas and the like, on the 27th of August, Galliani struck a deal with Chelsea to acquire the yearlong performances of one of their midfielders. To the disappointment of most fans, the player in question was not the Spanish international; rather, it was Croatian mysterious-object Mario Pašalić, who joined on a dry loan. The majority of the fans reacted with the moaning that typically meets the purchase of any relatively unknown footballer: “Pasa…who?”

However, months after his shadowy arrival in Milan, the Milanisti have learnt to appreciate Mario’s qualities on the pitch. Before considering Pasa’s strengths (and weaknesses), however, it is worthwhile to look at what was said about the player prior to his arrival. In fact, though many rossoneri were unacquainted with the player, Pašalić was, and still is, considered one of Croatia’s finest youth products.

Forged in the Hajduk Split academy, Pašalić first made a name for himself back in 2013, when, at just 18 years of age, he scored 11 goals in 30 games for Hajduk – an impressive tally for a midfielder. His exploits at club-level, combined with his numerous goals for Croatia’s youth selections, ensured that Pašalić’s attacking prowess caught the eye of many amongst Europe’s elite. In 2014, Chelsea swiftly snatched up the youngster, who then spent two successful seasons on loan, with Elche first, and with AS Monaco second. During both these loan experiences, Pasa kept standing out for his goal-scoring attributes, collecting three for Elche and as much as seven for Les Rouge et Blanc. Halted halfway through his season with Monaco by a severe back injury, the youngster was, unfortunately, confined to the sidelines for a period of almost nine months.

Thus, he joined Milan with the reputation of a young, but unaccomplished, prospect, with the fame of being a goal-scorer, but carrying a potential injury problem. Since these first premises, he has gone on to reveal many more traits. Let’s get to it.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Although Pašalić’s preferred position has historically been that of attacking-midfielder, one of his main qualities is precisely that of adaptability. As demonstrated this season, Pašalić can, to varying degrees of comfort, occupy any midfield position, be it deep-lying or more advanced. In Montella’s 4-3-3, he conventionally features in the role of mezzala – the Italian term used to describe the two positions on the side of the playmaker, in this type of formation. Ultimately, this position is the most suiting to Mario’s characteristics. As a mezzala, Mario shines for both his defensive abilities and for his ability to occupy wide spaces and create goal-scoring opportunities for himself. Effectively, Pašalić is a modern box-to-box midfielder, who possesses the necessary physicality and technical means to fulfil a variety of duties. In fact, standing high and broad with his 188cm and 86kg, Pasa is a real aerial challenge, both when he pushes forward and when he is required in defence. His tactical awareness also proves extremely useful at both ends of the pitch. In attack, he frequently exploits the opposition’s gaps and enables his teammates to find him in the right spot. Likewise, when defending, he is often able to break attacking play, due to his afore-mentioned understanding of the game.

Bagging two goals for the rossoneri so far, the player also seems to have confirmed his afore-mentioned passion for scoring – especially if we consider that this season has seen him occupying a more defensive position than in the past. Another trait of his, which is intrinsically related to his scored goals, is Pašalić’s personality. Although he is often criticised for appearing dispirited and anaemic, Pasa has shown, on multiple occasions, that he can react positively when times get tough. In fact, both his goals in the Serie A have been decisive for his side, the first coming in a tight 2-1 victory over Crotone and the second in an even-tighter 1-0 over Bologna. In the latter, Pašalić’s display had been sub-standard for the whole game, but he was still able to snatch the match-winner at the last breath – in my eyes, this is proof of resilience and of great character, as Brendan Rodgers would put it. Another demonstration of the player’s no-nonsense mentality came during the Supercoppa final against Juventus. On said occasion, Pašalić comfortably slotted home the rossoneri’s winning penalty – a powerfully struck effort to beat none other than Gigi Buffon.

Pašalić celebrates his first goal for the club, against Crotone. [GETTY IMAGES]

Inevitably, however, Pašalić also has a series of weak points, one of which is common to many ‘modern midfielders’ of today. Required and expected to fulfil basically all duties, players like Pašalić run into the risk of being able to do everything, while not shining for any particular reason. Yes, he can defend decently. Yes, he scores a few goals – but sometimes Pašalič gives the impression of not adding anything in particular to the team’s play. Often, the Croatian’s performances appear as somewhat anonymous, worthy of no more than a ‘six’ as a rating – a symbol od mediocrity. To some extent, this can also be blamed on Pašalić’s historical positional inconsistency, derived from having played in so many different roles. Versatility often does come at a price. Pašalić’s other weakness is his inability, at times, to use his physique to the fullest extent. He is truly a mastodon, but is frequently bodied by much-less imposing players – perhaps, sometimes, it comes down to a lack of experience, which will no-doubt be achieved with time and with increasing game-time.

Despite having mentioned these weaknesses, which might make him appear as a very average player, Pašalič mustn’t be underrated for his off-the-radar work. As previously mentioned, his impressive tactical awareness shouldn’t be overlooked. This happens frequently, seeing as it’s an aspect of one’s game that is not always easily noticeable. Overall, Mario is a valid player and slowly but surely on his way to becoming a finished product. If he can capitalise on his goal-scoring prowess and on his explosive physicality, while still maintaining his defensive and tactical traits, Mario can indubitably establish himself as a top-level midfielder – be it for Chelsea or for Milan, if and when he decides to stay in Italy. Verdict: ‘Pasawho’ is slowly, but surely, turning into Pasawow’.

You can follow my football chit-chat and stories via my Twitter: @FedericoManasse

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