Roberto Gagliardini is the Bergamo-born kid who began his footballing career as a child in his hometown club, Atalanta Bergamasca Calcio. Also known as Atalanta. Gagliardini wasn’t the one who stood out in his youth, he didn’t participate in any youth internationals and he wasn’t much of a goal scorer. But he, nevertheless, advanced through the youth ranks and got a permanent spot in the first team squad as a 19-year old prior to the 13/14 season. His debut came the same season in Copa Italia where he gained a place in the team who beat Sassuolo at home. But after that game, a loan spell at Cesena, in the beautiful province of Emilia-Romagna, loomed around the corner.
Centre midfield hasn’t always been the obvious position for Gagliardini. The season before he got promoted to the first team, he did numerous appearances as a winger. Even his Cesena debut came as a winger where he also scored a goal, not very usual for the young guy from Bergamo. His first international call came right after his first game with Cesena and it was the Italian U-20 national team who wanted his duties.
In the remaining 24 games of the season he started 16, all of them as central midfielder, and he was a big part of that Cesena who secured promotion to Serie A. He also managed to get a red card in the first playoff semi-final against Modena, which had him placed on the bench for the rest of the playoffs. Gagliardini returned to Atalanta at the end of the season and was a part of Atalanta’s first team squad until the first of September the same year when he once again went on loan to Serie B, this time to Spezia. The 14/15 season wasn’t the best one for Gagliardini and he returned to Bergamo and Atalanta at the end of the season with 14 appearances, where only eight were starts.
The following season, 15/16, saw a new loan spell for Gagliardini and it wasn’t much that indicated on him ever getting a fair chance in the first team. With 13 starts in the first half of the season for Vicenza, he returned to Atalanta and made his awaited Serie A debut in the last game week of the season at home against Genoa. The season ended, the preseason took off and Gagliardini with it. He became key for Gasperini’s team and formed a feared midfield-duo together with the wanted youngster, Franck Kessié.
With his uncompromising style he made himself a name and with only 14 Serie A appearances he signed for the blue and black giants from Milano, Inter.
One could imagine that a move away from the hometown for a young and inexperienced player would leave marks at the pitch, even more so when the move is to a club with the dignity of Inter. But the truth is that his performances have been just as good as his first half of the season, if not better.
At Atalanta, Gagliardini played as one of two central midfielders in Gasperini’s 5-2-3. This is not far away from the role he has been given at Inter, the difference is that Stefano Pioli does regular changes in the way he sets the team up from start. Either it’s a 4-2-3-1 or a 3-4-3, where the latter basically is the same as Gasperini uses in Atalanta. Conclusion, he always plays with one player besides him at the center of the pitch; it’s the offensive midfielders be or not to be who varies.
Describe Gagliardini as a player isn’t very easy. His biggest asset though is his ability to always pursue excellent pressing, a clear sign of an understanding of the game that is well developed and something that suits Pioli’s high-intense football. This also makes him to a player that intercepts a lot of the opposition’s attacks, which often makes way for counter attacks for his own team. He is a player a lot of coaches would love to have in their team, especially in defense. He is physical, runs a lot, never gets tired and always plays with the highest of intensities.
If we take a look at his numbers at Atalanta compared to his numbers at Inter, we can see a clear improvement:
Interceptions per 90 minutes
Inter: 2.8(Top five among midfielders in Serie A)
Tackles per 90 minutes
Atalanta: 2.2 per 90 minutes
Inter: 4.4(Top twenty among midfielders in Serie A)
Dispossessed per 90 minutes
Inter: 0.8(Top eleven among midfielders in Serie A)
Won aerial duels per 90 minutes
Inter: 3.0(Top three among midfielders in Serie A)
These are very impressive numbers and are further proof of his physical skills and intense, but controlled, way of playing.
There is room for improvement though and one of the areas is the ability to control the game. Gagliardini averages 56 passes per 90 minutes at Inter compared to 33.5 at Atalanta, but it’s more about two different ways of managing a football team rather than an extreme improvement from Gagliardini. But at the same time, Gagliardini isn’t the kind of player who is supposed to control the game with his passing skills, because his passing is not good enough. Gagliardini is a dynamic player, a perfect role-player who covers a lot of spaces and makes life hard for the opponents. His short passing game is more than decent though and he got the ability to get himself out of narrow areas.
It is obvious that Gagliardini already is one of Pioli’s key players. He gives Inter an extra dimension in, mainly, their defense where his transition from attack to defense is world class and that’s the kind of player Inter has been missing. Gagliardini has made the starting eleven in all the games he has been available except one, against Lazio in Coppa Italia. Lazio, 2-1, won the game. The record in the remaining eight games is, where Gagliardini has played the full 90 minutes in all, six wins and two losses. The losses were against Roma and Juventus.
A Gagliardini on the rise is now going to help his Inter to claim that top five spot, which means European competition next season, an important part for Inter who are aiming towards their glory days. The supporters have every reason in the world to be optimistic with a player like Roberto Gagliardini in their team.