Italy is without doubt the home of defending. The list of renowned defenders from Bel Paese is endless. Paolo Maldini, Franco Baresi, Gaetano Scirea, Fabio Cannavaro and Alessandro Nesta are just some of the legendary names that have represented Gli Azzurri.
As a new generation approaches for Italian football, their next great defender seems to already be turning heads across the continent.
Alessandro Bastoni was born in the small town of Casalmaggiore, Lombardy. At the age of seven, he joined Atalanta's renowned youth sides. The young defender made waves at the Bergamo club, eventually earning himself a €31million move to one of Italy's biggest clubs; Inter Milan. After spending spells on loan to both Atalanta & Parma, Bastoni has now finally secured his place in Antonio Conte's starting XI.
Liverpool's search for a new defender has been in the public eye since Virgil van Dijk & Joe Gomez's season-ending injuries. Rumours have now started to appear linking the Reds to Bastoni. Here, we'll take a look at the young defender, providing an analysis through statistics and how he might fit in to Jürgen Klopp's side.
Alessandro Bastoni: A Statistical Analysis
While there is far more to being a defender at a top club, defensive ability is vital to any target that Liverpool have. However, determining defensive ability through statistics can be hard. Players at teams that defend more often will have more tackles, blocks and interceptions than those at the top clubs. Below is a comparison successful tackles vs. dribbles and successful pressures. These are both key to being a defender at Anfield, as most defending will be done on the front foot or against the counter-attack.
Bastoni's defensive statistics aren't spectacular, but they are exactly what you'd expect and want from a CB at a top club. He is ranked 6th overall amongst Serie A defenders when defending vs. the dribble. Only Joël Matip has more Tackles Won per 90 (1.30 to 1.02) and only Ozan Kabak has more interceptions (1.01 vs. 0.89) & blocks (1.81 vs. 1.36) per 90 this season when compared to Liverpool's central options.
Alessandro Bastoni's defensive ability is incredible for his age. Inter Milan have kept the most clean sheets (10) and have conceded the second least goals (26) in Serie A this season. Bastoni has been a key part of that defence, playing in 87.4% of available league minutes.
One area that is key for any central defender that Liverpool sign is their ability in the air. Liverpool typically struggled with long balls until Van Dijk came into the defence.
Opposition attackers often target Gomez as he isn't particularly strong in that department - just a 53.1% success rate before his injury. As can be seen in the graphic below, Bastoni is more than capable in the air.
He has won 69.7% of aerial duels this season. This is only bettered by Kabak at Anfield (71.2%). The Italian's ability in the air combined with his on the ground defending makes him an extremely attractive target.
Bastoni - a Ball Playing Centre Back
One of the areas that the Italian thrives is on the ball. The graphic below shows that he is one of the most progressive defenders in the league when it comes to passing the ball.
He completes 5.51 passes into the final third per 90 - the fifth most for defenders in the league. He is not only progressive on the ball, he's very secure with it too. He has completed 89% of passes this season so far.
Bastoni is not someone who shies away from the ball either, averaging the third most touches of Inter's starting XI per 90 (79.1).
Liverpool are a team that build from the back and need defenders who are not just secure, but extremely competent with the ball at their feet. The 21 year-old is certainly an option when it comes to a central defender who thrives with the ball at their feet.
Bastoni has already recorded three assists in the league this season, including this sensational pass in the Derby D'Italia. This assist is something that would appeal to Klopp massively. Bastoni notices Nicolo Barella's run early, whilst Juventus are out of shape.
He is then proactive and plays the ball off balance to release the counter. Liverpool have made a habit of releasing the ball over the top early from defence in recent years - i.e. Van Dijk's assist for Sadio Mané against Bayern Munich.
Positioning & Suitability for Liverpool
While there is no doubting Alessandro Bastoni's ability as a defender - there can be questions asked on his suitability to Liverpool. The Italian is utilised as the left sided centre back in Conte's 3-5-2 system and as can be seen in the heat map below, he operates almost as a LCB/LWB hybrid as Inter's wing backs push up into the midfield/attack.
In Bastoni's career so far - while still very young - he has yet to have any significant game time in a back four. His only real experience with one central defensive partner comes with Italy where Roberto Mancini utilises a 4-3-3 system, for which he has only made three appearances.
This would pose a problem for any potential transfer. Klopp rarely ventures away from his 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 system. Added to this is Bastoni's reliance on playing as the LCB. This is Van Dijk's role in the defence, the almost undisputed position in the team.
Any transfer for the Italian would likely mean he would be third choice (not to be expected for someone expected to cost upwards of £45million) or mean that the Dutchman would be shifted to the RCB position.
When factoring in Bastoni's inexperience out of a back three and reliance on playing as the left sided defender, it would seem unlikely that Liverpool would sanction any move this summer.
In terms of talent, experience at the top level and potential upside, there are few better options out there than Alessandro Bastoni. Added in the financial difficulty rumours that keep appearing when discussing Inter Milan, and a transfer could seem likely.
However, this isn't a transfer that makes sense for Liverpool (right now). Bastoni doesn't have any real experience as part of a back four - something that won't change at Anfield for the foreseeable future. He would also be challenging Van Dijk for a starting place, something that Liverpool probably don't need to think about for a while yet.
The Italian is clearly an incredible young defender, anybody who has watched Inter Milan this season will know this. To someone, he is worth the £45million he is valued at on Transfermarkt.com. But for right now, he doesn't make too much sense for the Reds.