The Scout: Francesco Acerbi – Sassuolo’s experienced centre-back
Reports continue to emerge around the potential transfer of Sassuolo’s Francesco Acerbi to Lazio, the gathering pace of which working to suggest that the biancoceleste are closing in on their second signing of the summer.
Indeed, LazioNews24 (https://www.lazionews24.com/acerbi-francesco-difensore-calciomercato-lazio-sassuolo/) suggest that only the economic negotiations between Lazio and Sassuolo require finalising. With Danilo Cataldi heading north as a makeweight, the cash element of the transfer is the only piece hanging in the balance.
With all eyes on the big-money potential departures of Felipe Anderson and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, the arrival of a 30-year old centre-back from Sassuolo would likely not set pulses racing. However, following De Vrij’s imminent departure to Inter Milan; for more money and a place on the bench watching Skriniar, there is a pressing need for Lazio to reinforce the defence. We take a look in detail here at Acerbi; understanding how he will fit at Lazio.
Acerbi is a fascinating character, and a great example of a player who has really had to fight to get to the top of his game. Grinding his way through lower leagues at Pavia and Reggina, the Lombardy native eventually made his Serie A debut for Chievo in the 2011-12 season.
Although limited to 14 starts, his performances were sufficient for Milan to buy out Chievo’s rights to the man co-owned by Genoa, amongst other finanicial contortions. Acerbi was unable, however, to dislodge the likes of Mexes, Zapata and Bonera from the Rossoneri starting XI, and departed after 6 months – first to Genoa, and then back to Chievo on loan.
By the age of 25, at a critical stage in his footballing career, Acerbi was one of the many footballers in Italy struggling to establish himself in Serie A, not in the least thanks to the chaotic system of co-ownership and loans that was eventually banned by the FIGC in 2014.
Enter Sassuolo. The Neroverdi secured promotion to Serie A for the first time in their history in 2013 and set to work on reinforcing the side that had dominated Serie B under the managenent of Eusebio di Francesco, with Acerbi an early arrival in July of 2013. However, Acerbi’s greatest challenges were yet to come.
In pre-season, a tumour was discovered in his testicles which required surgical removal. Acerbi recovered quickly and started 13 games before failing a drugs test in December, the player citing the influence of medication associated with his prior ailment. It was subsequently discovered that Acerbi was suffering from testicular cancer, and had to undergo chemotherapy. He showed incredible strength and determination by continuing in his journey to full recovery (per Football Italia https://www.football-italia.net/46478/acerbi-ready-return), which was confirmed in March 2014.
From then on, Acerbi cemented himself in Sassuolo’s backline as they defied expectations by establishing themselves in Serie A – making over 30 league appearances in each of the last 4 seasons with the club. An ever-present in the league, he was one of only 8 outfielders who started all 38 Serie A games for their club this season.
Strengths / Weaknesses:
To start with, not many footballers manage to play every minute of every league game in a club season – illustrating Acerbi’s durability and reliability.
WhoScored.com list some key strengths of his: Aerial Duels (at 192cm you would expect as much), concentration, and interceptions. Lazio fans, used to the likes of Bastos, Wallace and Luiz Felipe being prone to lapses in concentration, will be pleased to see Acerbi excelling in this department.
It’s also comforting to note that WhoScored do not register any significant weaknesses in his game. With regard to interceptions, he ranks 6th in Serie A, and is as high as 3rd for clearances.
There were some key performances in the past season where these attributes were apparent – the away win against Inter in May, and narrow wins-to-nil against Fiorentina and Verona the previous month.
How would he fit in?
In terms of playing style, much of Francesco Acerbi’s characteristics are those you’d typically associate with a centre-back; ‘Plays the ball off the ground often‘, ‘Likes to play long balls‘, ‘Clears the ball out of defence often’ – but with one clear outlier: ‘Likes to dribble’. Given the De Vrij-shaped hole in Lazio’s back three, a ball-playing defender with a sense of when it is appropriate to either play out from the back or clear the lines is sorely needed.
How likely is this deal to land? The CIES Football Observatory value him at €9m, which for a tenured centre-back just turned 30 and four years left to run on the contract, seems reasonable. As per the introduction to this article, it’s suggested that any deal will involve Danilo Cataldi heading up to Sassuolo in a player-plus-cash deal, the precise amount of cash involved to be confirmed.
With the aforementioned strengths top of mind, it looks as if Lazio have an intelligent, capable defender in their sights who may be able to temper the enthusiasm of some of the younger members of the back-line, and aid their development. As Stefan Radu ages, the defence will require a leader over the next few seasons, and Francesco Acerbi seems a great fit.
We’ll be keeping a close eye on this one – it’s not one of the more glamorous transfer sagas this summer but could turn out to be just what Lazio need.