During Italy’s contest with Spain at the Under-21 Championships earlier this year, Azzurrini midfielder Davide Frattesi stood out as a cut above the rest.
Technically proficient, a distinct transition threat and live wire out of possession, I was stunned to discover that he had little to no Serie A pedigree. Frattesi would make four appearances during that tournament, notching three assists as Italy were bundled out by Portugal in the quarter-finals.
While the midfielder was yet to state his name in the Italian top-flight, he had made huge strides in Serie B. Formerly of Lazio and AS Roma at a youth level, Frattesi made the €5m switch to Sassuolo in 2017. He’d make his senior debut in the Coppa Italia against Atalanta in December 2017 before being loaned out for the 2018/19, 2019/20 and 2020/21 campaigns.
After a stint with Ascoli, Frattesi prospered in the second tier with Empoli and Monza. In 2019/20, he scored five times and added another four assists with Empoli. At Monza, where he played his football last season, he scored eight times from a box-to-box midfield role.
Manuel Locatelli’s exit to Juventus opens a door
Following success in the second tier amid persistent excellence for Italy’s Under 21’s, Sassuolo opted to keep Frattesi on their books for the 2021/22 season.
The exit of Manuel Locatelli to Juventus opened the door for Frattesi, and the 22-year-old has repaid Alessio Dionisi for the faith Roberto De Zerbi’s successor has placed in him. Frattesi has frequently partnered Maxime Lopez in the midfield pivot of Sassuolo’s 4-2-3-1 and after ten Serie A games, only goalkeeper Andrea Consigli, captain Gian Marco Ferrari and lynchpin Lopez have notched more league minutes than Frattesi (811).
He’s come from absolutely nowhere to quickly establish himself as an imperative spoke in Dionisi’s wheel at the Mapei.
First Serie A goal
It took Frattesi nine games to score his first Serie A goal. With Sassuolo leading Venezia 2-1 midway through the second half, the opportunistic Italian made a trademark burst from midfield to exploit a gaping void between Venezia’s left centre-back and left-back.
He was spotted by the drifting Giacomo Raspadori, whose wonderfully weighted pass allowed Frattesi to carry on his momentum upon reception. His first touch took Pietro Ceccaroni and Ridgeciano Haps out of the game as he made his way into the box before finishing smartly with his left foot as Haps failed to recover.
It was the sort of darting run Nicolo Barella makes in his sleep (see Barella’s goal in Inter’s 2-0 victory over Juventus last season) and Frattesi does in fact boast an eerily similar profile to the Azzurri superstar.
Upon his emergence into the Sassuolo first team, lazy comparisons were made in the local media between Frattesi and Locatelli. Dionisi, meanwhile, described Frattesi back in August as a player who has “different characteristics” to the man he’s replacing but insisted the young Italian has “important growth margins”.
Breakout performance against Juventus
Frattesi, who calls former AS Roma stalwart Daniele De Rossi his “idol”, would follow up scoring his first Serie A goal with a superb display away at Juventus as Sassuolo recorded a historic victory.
Throughout the contest, it was clear what role he plays for the Dionisi. He doesn’t have much of a say in the Neroverdi’s flexible and proficient build-up play inculcated by De Zerbi. With Maxime Lopez the metronome, Frattesi functions higher upfield in a bid to create positional superiorities between the lines and help his side transition to attack.
This role is depicted by the fact Frattesi ranks in the 64th percentile of all midfielders in Europe’s top five leagues over the past year for progressive passes received (2.22 per 90 minutes). While an adept dribbler and passer, he’s not yet developed into a high-volume ball progressor and this is mainly as a result of his function in Sassuolo’s possession play. There’s a greater emphasis upon getting him in favourable positions in and around the opposition’s box.
Frattesi sits in the 89th percentile and 90th percentile for touches in the opposition box (2.55 per 90) and carries into the penalty area (0.44 per 90).
His breakout display against the Bianconeri was ignited by yet another unstoppable penetrative run from deep. This time, Matthijs de Ligt succumbed to the exuberant Italian’s momentum as Frattesi received Gregoire Defrel’s lay-off before striding beyond the Dutchman and finishing excellently beyond Mattia Perin.
It’s the type of sequence and strike we can expect to see plenty more of throughout Frattesi’s career.
After netting the game’s opener on Wednesday, Frattesi was then part of Sassuolo’s impressive defensive effort, albeit against a rather toothless Juventus. The Italian was everywhere attempting to disrupt the Bianconeri’s already stuttering rhythm. The stats don’t do his ubiquitousness justice, for Frattesi would end the game with two tackles and interceptions, three blocks and 11 pressures – of which just one was successful, highlighting he still needs to add some shrewdness to his defensive repertoire.
Frattesi’s performance was injected into the consciousness of calcio, and it appears Italy have yet another midfield star on their hands.
As we noted earlier, the 22-year-old’s stylistic resemblance to Inter and Italy’s Barella is uncanny. Both are blessed with three lungs, both occupy similar zones on the pitch, both strike the ball wonderfully and both have mastered the penetrative burst in behind defences. They’re wily, opportunistic midfielders.
For a while, Davide Frattesi had gone quietly under the radar despite persistently manifesting his distinct quality at a youth level and in Serie B. But now, at the start of the 2021/22 season, the 22-year-old midfielder is beginning to blossom at the highest level.
The Italian’s certainly in the optimal environment to prosper.