A leading stats outlet recently claimed Aston Villa forward Nicolo Zaniolo has ‘no significant strengths’, but is that really true?

The 24-year-old Italian was the focus of a social media post by WhoScored earlier this week, where they listed his apparent weaknesses – which included passing, finishing, discipline and retaining possession – after writing that he had ‘no significant strengths’.

The post immediately sparked a reaction from supporters, with some poking fun at Zaniolo and others attempting to defend the player, believing it to be an unnecessarily harsh dig at a 24-year-old in a new country and league.

It’s fair to say that Zaniolo is a divisive player; Roma fans will shed no tears for their former forward, still embittered following his sudden exit in February of this year, whilst Galatasaray supporters are more supportive and would be happy to see him back in Istanbul.

He’s also no stranger to off-pitch drama either, recently playing a minor role in the recent Serie A betting scandal, having placed bets on card games on unregulated platforms, and this too has formed a narrative of a troubled player.

Zaniolo joined Aston Villa from Galatasaray on loan in the summer on a €5m loan deal with a €27m conditional obligation to buy clause attached. He hasn’t exactly lit up the Premier League, failing to directly contribute to a single goal since his arrival, but has he been as bad as WhoScored claims?

To start, it’s undeniable that the Italian forward has shown clear weaknesses at Aston Villa this term, namely his passing and finishing. In the Premier League, he’s averaged 22.64 attempted passes per 90 minutes, completing just 64.4% of these, horrifically less than his peers in a similar role.

He also has been painfully blunt in front of goal, failing to find the back of the net once despite averaging 3.45 shots per 90 with an xG of 0.29 per 90. Considering his ability to produce decent chances on paper, tuning up his finishing could pay off dividends for himself and Aston Villa.

His dribbling and take-on abilities are fairly lacklustre, but he is decent at carrying the ball up the pitch, averaging 4.03 progressive carries per 90. The 24-year-old also produces sufficient defensive numbers for his role, averaging 2.11 blocks per 90 and 1.15 clearances per 90, but his tackling is poor.

The graph and statistics above paint the picture of a confused attacking midfielder. He can get into dangerous positions and he has the confidence to shoot on goal, but his troubling decision-making and struggles linking up with his teammates severely hamper his game.

There is also something to be said about his usage under Unai Emery, who has mostly deployed Zaniolo as a left midfielder in a 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1 system. This isn’t where he shined for Roma and may explain why he’s looked so disappointing this term.

In the 2021-22 season, he scored eight goals and providing nine assists across 42 games, including the winner in the Europa Conference League final against Feyenoord. Jose Mourinho lined up the Italian as a second striker or on the right wing, his more natural positions.

This graph looks significantly different to the one examining his time at Aston Villa so far, although some similarities show aspects of his game that haven’t changed despite switching sides on the pitch.

For Roma in the 2021-22 season, Zaniolo was far more confident driving the ball up the pitch and playing an active role in the build-up play, seen with his better take-on success rate, higher average of progressive carries and larger number of progressive passes received.

These differences clearly suggest the 24-year-old has a level of confidence in the centre or on the right of the pitch that isn’t comparable on the left, which may explain why Mourinho never utilised him in that way.

The following season, Zaniolo struggled with form at Roma and then forced his way out of the club in the January transfer window, ultimately making the jump to Galatasaray. At both clubs, he again stuck to roles in the centre or right side of the pitch.

What these graphs also highlight is that Zaniolo does have some inherent weaknesses he needs to work on. His finishing is clearly insufficient considering the high number of shots he takes, his passing play is painful and his defensive contributions are nothing to write home about.

To publicly ridicule Zaniolo in such a manner seems a baffling choice, especially considering the known toxicity of social media and alleged interest in supporting mental health in football.

The Italian does have some strengths to his game, and now he’ll have to find a way to bring those out whilst playing in a new position in a new league in a new country.

A small task for a 24-year-old who was recently subjected to wild and unfounded accusations from a gossip columnist with a criminal history, right?

Words: @ApolloHeyes

6 thought on “Does Zaniolo really have no significant strengths?”
  1. Overrated lazy player Shud be no where near the Italy national side same with scamacca another donkey of a player

  2. Agree Scamacca and Zaniolo both have great attributes but they can’t read a game or use their physical strengths to their advantage or even combine with their teammates which is a main component in a team game, during a match they play as if they are playing on ttheir own.
    so in my opinion they are both not smart players, there are lots of players out there with more grey matter between their ears who would love to have their physicality and use it far more to their own and the teams advantage.

  3. On Wednesday, Villa put on the best performance by a Villa team in my lifetime. They were superb. They outplayed Man City in every department. And guess what? Not only did zaniolo not start, but he wasn’t even trusted by emery to come on as a sub. Those long lay offs have clearly taken their toll.

  4. Zaniolo and Scamacca average players who wouldn’t make the French B National team (if there ever was one)

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