With Chelsea and Manchester United looking at him, Nicolo Barella is a wanted man right now.
The 21-year-old Italian midfielder, valued at around £45m, is said to be the subject of interest as the Blues look to reinforce their midfield before the second half of the season push on the domestic fronts and in the Europa League.
But Chelsea will face competition to bring him to Stamford Bridge. As well as along with Inter Milan and Napoli, Manchester United are also linked with the young midfielder. And when you think about it, Moussa Dembélé’s impending departure should really lead to Spurs taking a look as well.
It seems there’s no rush, anyway. His club, Cagliari, say they won’t consider selling him till the summer at least, at which point buyers are typically more eager to enter the transfer market.
Barella is a box-to-box midfield dynamo; the kind of player who can thrust forward into attacking areas but also has the capability to harry opponents and win the ball back with great regularity. He is a high-energy player and one that could thrive in England.
Given the quality Barella possesses, arguably enough to feature for anyone in the Premier League, we’ve had a look at how he compares to each of the top six club’s best box-to-box midfielder; or, at least, the midfielder whose role he would likely play in should he join that side. All metrics discussed will be per-90 minutes.
Georginio Wijnaldum (Liverpool)
Wijnaldum has operated this season at the base of midfield, usually in a double pivot. He is by skill-set a classical box-to-box midfielder, however, and his ability to shuttle the ball through the midfield with it either at his feet or with a pass is notable.
The Dutch midfielder’s 54.73 passes completed is much higher than Barella’s 41.27 and at a very impressive 91% completion rate compared to 81% for the Italian. But defensively, Barella’s 2.77 successful tackles dwarfs Wijnaldum’s 0.64.
It’s clear that the Italian is a more combative midfielder, while lacking the finesse of Liverpool’s Dutch No.5. He probably would suit the Liverpool midfield in the short-term but would add a skill-set that will, in time, be covered by Naby Keita (who wasn’t chosen for this comparison because he’s still adapting to life in Liverpool, so the numbers wouldn’t be representative of his talent).
Fernandinho (Manchester City)
Fernandinho is a masterful midfielder, playing at the base of Manchester City’s midfield he may seem on paper to be a defensive midfielder but because of the offensive nature of Pep Guardiola’s side, his skill-set would be best compared to someone like Barella.
Thus, when you look at their metrics there are a lot of similarities. Fernandinho’s 0.8 chances created is close to Barella’s 1.24, and they both have one goal. They’re both prolific tacklers, and their interception (1.5 vs. 1.53) and dribbles completed (0.8 vs. 0.79) numbers are also very close. Where they differ is in the passing, with Fernandinho completing (65.45) more than Barella is attempting (50.82), an obvious result of playing for Guardiola. Though the Italian could probably play fairly well in Fernandinho’s role in the City side.
Moussa Sissoko (Spurs)
Sissoko has emerged from the wilderness for Spurs to become a dynamic and critical box-to-box presence for Mauricio Pochettino. His work is essential in unleashing the London side’s more creative players, even if Sissoko himself isn’t that creative (0.76 chances created, less than Barella’s 1.07). The two men have similar passing numbers but Sissoko is much less of a factor in the final third, taking just 0.21 shots and not scoring at all; while, of course, Barella’s solitary strike came from an average of 1.24 shots.
Despite appearances, Sissoko isn’t much of a tackler, attempting just 1.38 and winning 0.9 – these are both way down on Barella’s huge 2.77 won. The Italian also makes more interceptions but is blown away when you look at dribbling, where Sissoko attempts 2.25 and wins 1.38, while Barella has only attempted 1.53. The Italian would bring a different kind of style to the Spurs midfield, but his energy and zest for tackling would mean he’d probably fit right in under Mauricio Pochettino.
N’Golo Kanté (Chelsea)
Kanté is obviously one of the world’s pre-eminent defensive midfielders. A relentless hurricane of pressing and movement. He’s adapting well to the box-to-box role Mauricio Sarri has asked him to play this season, even though at times he seems a bad fit for it.
Kanté’s passing is more secure than Barella’s, completing 51.06 passes at an 88% completion. He’s created a similar amount of chances to Barella, but has taken markedly fewer shots at 0.5 compared to 1.24. Yet, conversely, he has scored more goals (3) than Barella (1).
N’Golo Kante has scored multiple goals within a single Premier League season for the first time:
Finding his scoring boots under Sarri. pic.twitter.com/dOm63qaI3p
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 30, 2018
In terms of tackles and interceptions, and hold onto your hats here, Barella absolutely destroys Kanté so far this season. A symptom of Kanté’s initial discomfort with the system perhaps, but his 1.65 tackles attempted can’t get near Barella’s tackles won of 2.77, let alone the 4.13 he’s attempted. And interceptions wise Barella is ahead 1.53 to 1.37 too.
It’s clear that Barella’s comfort with the system make him a better initial fit than Kanté. Though the possibility of playing both together (two dynamic box-to-box presence for the dynamic Premier League) could be Sarri’s ultimate aim, at least in the medium-term.
Ander Herrera (Manchester United)
Ander Herrera has barely played this season; just 928 minutes compared to Barella’s 1592, but in terms of looking at their stat profiles one can see why United are linked with him. Herrera has attempted more passes, sure, but a lot of other metrics are close.
Herrera’s 0.87 chances created is actually down on Barella’s 1.07, but their shots are close enough (1.16 vs. Barella’s 1.24). Herrera is the only midfielder who can come close to Barella’s tackling ferocity, attempting 3.69 and winning possession cleanly with 1.94 compared to the Italian’s 2.77 from 4.13. Herrera’s interceptions (2.91) dwarf Barella’s 1.53, but that is a reflection of United’s lack of play with the ball under José Mourinho.
Life is different under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, but with his love of tackling and willingness to drive forward you can see how Barella could take Herrera’s place in the side, especially as the Spaniard has yet to sign a new contract.
Lucas Torreira (Arsenal)
Lucas Torreira has been one of the revelations of the season at Arsenal, showing a combative side that, with time and proper support could allow the Uruguayan to dominate the division’s other midfield talents.
Metrics-wise, he has considerably more passes than Barella (59.8 vs. Barella’s 41.27) and while he has created fewer than half the chances the Italian has and has taken fewer shots, too, he’s scored twice, which is more than Barella.
Torreira’s 2.55 tackles attempted and 1.54 tackles won aren’t close to Barella, but no one could doubt the Uruguayan’s tenacity and defensive prowess.
Basically, Barella could play for Arsenal but his presence at the Emirates would merely be another instance of the Gunners replicating a skill-set (although for once that wouldn’t be an attacking midfielder’s skill-set) rather than addressing a need.