Lazio is the latest club to try and reap the rewards of Hellas Verona’s factory of young defenders by targeting Nicolo Casale.
In recent years, the Venetian club has developed and sold other talented players like Marash Kumbulla, Matteo Lovato, and Amir Rrahmani, and after a strong start to the season, Casale is rumoured to be joining the Biancocelesti on loan with an obligation to buy set at €10 million.
Casale currently fulfills two roles in Igor Tudor’s 3-5-2. First, he can play as the central, deep-lying centre-back, a position that comes with immense responsibility as the last defender before the goalkeeper. When tasked with man-marking Dusan Vlahovic against Fiorentina, the Italian played this role phenomenally. Casale kept the star striker off the scoresheet and did not allow him a shot on target.
The defender can also play a somewhat more progressive role as one of the wide centre-backs. Here, he is more involved with the play, stretching wide to provide an option when Verona builds from the defense. In the channel, he can play forward passes into the midfield, while still being a critical component on the backline.
As a defender, Casale is tall and physical, the ideal combination for a centre-back. He wins a high rate of tackles and interceptions, and he is rarely bypassed on the dribble. With a valuable skill set, Casale functions as a pure defender and brings consistency to his backline.
However, the 24-year-old does have numerous faults. Despite his physical play and considerable height, he can struggle to win aerial battles. Relative to other centre-backs, the defender is not dominant in the air in either the attacking third or the defensive third. He also lacks athleticism, which can be problematic against quicker forwards. Mobile centre-backs are vital to protect against diagonal runs behind the defense, and the former Verona man does not possess this attribute.
Casale’s play against Vlahovic perfectly exemplifies what he could bring to the Biancocelesti. After a start to the season rife with defensive inconsistencies, Lazio needs a strong “defender’s defender” who is capable of shutting down elite opposing forwards, and Casale is just that.
While the center-back may not break into the starting eleven at first, he would be a quality depth option behind Francesco Acerbi and Luiz Felipe. Acerbi is 34 and has dealt with significant injury problems over the last two seasons, so retaining a high-calibre replacement is crucial.
As defensive reinforcements are critical to Lazio’s success this season, Nicolo Casale would be a promising signing. The centre-back would be an able-bodied substitute who can develop into a full-time starter in the future.