Alessandro Bastoni is proving to be quite an asset for Inter | Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images
It’s becoming harder and harder to find that truly elite calibre of player who ticks all the boxes in the increasingly demanding game as it develops. Clubs now want defenders who are also fine passers, dribblers, and general technicians in moving the ball forward.
A ball-playing centre back these days is almost as trendy as John Cena’s jean shorts; the undisputed height of fashion.
If the Italians know anything, though, it’s fashion. If ball-playing centre backs are the current trend, Inter’s Alessandro Bastoni is leading the catwalk as of late.
Bastoni signed for Inter in 2017 after breaking through at Atalanta, but had to earn his opportunities on loan despite signing for a €31m (roughly £28m) fee. After a season at his previous club and a term with Parma, Bastoni returned to the blue side of Milan for the 2019/20 campaign.
His performances developed over the course of last season and despite largely being used in rotation by head coach Antonio Conte, an impressive string of performances in the latter stages of the Europa League set the tone for this season, where he’s slotted seamlessly into the first XI.
He’s already made seven appearances this season despite returning a positive coronavirus test in October, and most recently earned full international honours during Italy’s 4-0 win over Estonia. There’s a long season ahead for the 21-year-old, but a consistent campaign could see his stock rise tremendously in a short amount of time.
Despite being a central defender, Bastoni excels with the ball at his feet. He’s eager to take risks and move the ball out of defence, and does so with sharp short passing and competent long passing skills. More excitingly, Bastoni is frankly a bit mad and loves to bring the ball out with mazing dribbles down the left flank. He’s good at it, too, which is exactly why Conte has warmed to him this season.
Bastoni made his senior Italy debut against Estonia | Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images
He finished the 2019/20 campaign with 88.9% pass success in Serie A and this season is currently averaging at 1.4 dribbles per game in the Italian top flight, which is testament to the faith instilled in him by the Nerazzurri head coach. And while watching him moving forward makes for exciting viewing, he backs it up in defence.
Bastoni is an aggressive defender and isn’t afraid to step out and tackle high up to snuff out any danger early on. Having such confidence and the ability to tackle cleanly and competently at just 21 is seriously impressive. It means he’s sometimes caught positionally, which isn’t helped by a slight lack of pace, but again at just 21, these are all attributes that have the chance to develop with more time and minutes on the pitch.
He currently plays on the left of an established back three for Inter – because by law, all Italian sides must use wing backs – but his strengths would make it easy enough for him to shift into the left side of a two centre back partnership in other systems. Playing alongside more experienced heads such as Milan Skriniar and Danilo D’Ambrosio is also a significant benefit; it enables Bastoni to play his expansive game without having to worry about being caught out, with his other two centre backs capable enough of shifting across and covering.
It’s still early days for the Italian, but all the signs are pointing in a positive direction. The season is a long one and Inter must make good on the fact that the race for a Scudetto is more open than ever, but Bastoni simply needs to focus on maintaining consistency and improving in key areas of his game.
There’s no top club in Europe who doesn’t want a young, progressive, left-sided centre back; Real Madrid will eventually need a replacement for Sergio Ramos, injuries have proven to Liverpool that they could do with greater competition at the back, and Manchester United are desperate for someone to sure up their defence.
If Bastoni can make good on these promising early signs throughout the season and continue to operate at an impressive level for his age, it won’t be long before he’s catching the eye of top clubs throughout Europe and making people’s shopping lists that bit more expensive next summer.