First Look: Andrea Belotti

Andrea Belotti in action. Picture: Christian Hofer/Getty Images

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FACT BOX

Name: Andrea Belotti

Age: 21

Date of Birth: 20/12/1993

Nationality: Italian

Club: Palermo

Position: Centre Forward

Height: 5ft 11

Weight 11st 3lbs

Preferred Foot: Right

Carefully placing himself between the two English centre backs, he waits for his opportunity. Domenico Berardi collects the ball from a quick free kick and darts infield. It’s happened. Did you see him? John Stones and Ben Gibson certainly didn’t. That’s because he’s gone. A clever piece of movement to match a delightful dink over the top and he’s through. Right in that awkward area where neither goalkeeper nor defender want anything to do with the ball. Belotti wants it though. With the ball floating over his shoulder, he meets it acrobatically with the grace of a gymnast and the instincts of a predator. Right foot. Volley. Top corner. 1-0 to Italy

Italy have had some of the world’s finest strikers leading their line, with the likes of Silvio Piola, Luigi Riva, Roberto Baggio, Alessandro Del Piero, Filippo Inzaghi and Christian Vieri topping their all time goalscoring charts. But after the frustration and undelivered potential of Mario Balotelli, the lack of star quality in Ciro Immobile and Graziano Pelle as well as the constant injury problems for Stephan El Shaarawy, it’s time for somebody to step up from the youth ranks and bring glory back for The Azzurri.

Despite Italy’s disappointing group stage exit from the U21 European Championships, Belotti was one of the few players who really impressed for Luigi Di Biagio’s men. The Palermo striker only scored one goal, but he looked dangerous throughout, crashing a header off the crossbar against Portugal in addition to being denied on more than one occasion by some good saves against Sweden. After scoring 15 goals in 33 games for Italy at U19, U20 and U21 level, could he be the next young striker to make a difference for the senior side?

Born in Lombardy, Belotti started and spent the majority of his early career with second tier AlbinoLeffe after failing to impress on trial with Atalanta. Having progressed through the lower levels at the club, he was awarded his first professional contract in 2010 before finishing as the youth side’s top scorer with 13 goals during the 2011/12 season. His success at youth level was noted and Belotti was rewarded with a call up to the senior side before making his debut in March 2012 against Livorno.

The following season would be another fruitful one for Belotti, who ended the campaign with a respectable 12 goals, a tally which captured the eye of a few of the bigger sides. In August 2013, recently relegated Serie B club Palermo agreed a season long loan deal with AlbinoLeffe for the striker, which included an option to turn the move into a co-ownership. After scoring 10 goals in 24 matches throughout 2013/14, Palermo announced that they had triggered the option to acquire 50% of Belotti’s transfer rights from AlbinoLeffe, turning the loan move into a co-ownership. Just three months later, Palermo then confirmed that they had reached a £4.4m agreement with AlbinoLeffe for the remaining half of his rights, thus acquiring him on a permanent basis.

During the 2014/15 season, Palermo manager Giuseppe Iachini deployed a unique 3-5-1-1 formation, with the underrated Franco Vazquez playing in behind star man Paulo Dybala. Understandably, due to the form of these two Argentinians, Belotti found it difficult to cement a place in the starting eleven despite proving that he can score goals when picked consistently. He made 38 appearances for the Rosanero last season, but 29 of those were made off the substitutes bench in what was a frustrating campaign for the 21 year-old. However, in the nine games that the striker started last season, he scored five goals, a more than healthy return.

Belotti boasts a balanced range of attributes. Not naturally blessed with the size and strength of a typical target man, he uses his physicality intelligently in addition to a strong work ethic that provides a base for his teammates from which to feed. Not only can he play as a central hub, Belotti is happy to drift into the channels as well as having the nous to drop deep and look for the ball, almost playing the role of a false nine if he is struggling to make an impact on the opposition centre halves.

One of Belotti’s main strengths is that he is very effective in front of goal, taking the majority of his chances or at the very least consistently working the goalkeeper. Last season, he took 2.87 shots per 90 minutes averaging a shot accuracy of 51%, a statistic only bettered by Carlos Tevez and Gonzalo Higuain in Serie A. Belotti’s shot placement is also very good, finding the bottom corners of the goal for 28% of his goals, as well as firing 14% of his goals into the roof of the net. Surprisingly, 43% of his strikes which hit the back of the net are placed low and centrally, often fired underneath the goalkeeper from close range. A good example of this type of goal was a 93rd minute winner against Sassuolo on December 13, 2014, where the goalkeeper came out to try and close down the angle and Belotti simply slotted the ball underneath him with his left foot.

The modern game demands a defensive output from defence to attack and Belotti certainly fulfils this requirement, covering the pitch and working hard. Averaging an impressive 1.6 interceptions and 0.9 ball recoveries per 90 minutes, the striker is constantly pressing opposition defenders and midfielders into mistakes, often covering more than 20 or 30 yards to chase them back should they pass him. One highlight of his defensive work can be seen on June 18, 2015 when he sprinted from the edge of the 18 yard box to the halfway line before tackling Sweden’s John Guidetti, preventing a dangerous counter attack.

At 5ft 11in, he doesn’t exactly tower over defenders, but he is still a force to be reckoned with in the air. Last season alone, he won 174 aerial duels, averaging 9.3 per 90 minutes. Not only is he an effective outlet for throw ins and goal kicks, Belotti is also a danger in the penalty area. Boasting a fantastic leap and gritty determination to get to the ball first, the 21 year-old is a nightmare for defenders. Six of his last seven headed goals have resulted from corner kicks, powering two particularly excellent ones into the top corner against Napoli on September 24, 2014 and Pescara on March 22, 2014.

With the departure of Paulo Dybala to Juventus, opportunity has finally knocked for Belotti. However, he will need assurances from Palermo that he is to be considered an important member of their first team squad.

At 21, he is far from the finished article, but his potential is undeniable. If the Rosanero show as much patience with him as they did with a struggling Dybala just two seasons before then there is no reason why he cannot flourish. He has found the net regularly at every level both nationally and domestically, if given enough opportunities why should the step up to Serie A be any different?

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First Look: Andrea Belotti
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