Player Report: Valentino Lazaro.
Newcastle’s second addition of the January transfer window saw the introduction of 23-year-old Austrian international Valentino Lazaro to the first team squad. The right-sided player arrives on a 6-month loan deal from Italian giants Inter Milan, with Newcastle having the option to make the deal permanent in the summer for a fee in the region of £20 million, should he make a positive impact during the second half of the season.
Valentino Lazaro started his career with Red bull Salzburg, where he became the youngest ever player in the Austrian Bundesliga, making his debut at the age of 16, and then went on to move to Hertha Berlin where he made such an impact over his two year spell with the club that he attracted the attention of Inter Milan and was then the subject of a €20 million move to Italy. However, since his arrival in Italy, Lazaro has found it difficult to break into the first team, making just 11 appearances over the first half of the season, and only starting in two of those.
Internationally, Lazaro is very experienced for his age with numerous appearances at youth level and now he often starts in an impressive Austrian first team squad; having already collected 28 caps, and he has netted on three occasions whilst on international duty.
The pacey wide player will offer well needed quality and competition to Newcastle’s wing backs, as well as adding quality cover further up the pitch, having played regularly as both a right back and right winger so far in his career. Similarly to Newcastle’s first signing Nabil Bentaleb, Lazaro presents a relatively low risk addition for Newcastle due to it being a loan move with no obligation to make the transfer permanent, he is a young exciting player with an impressive pedigree and could be an important signing for the North-East club who have been heavily injury stricken over the winter period.
At 5ft 11, Lazaro is not a typical height for a fast-wide player, however, this can be an advantage as it allows him to have more of an aerial presence, both in attack and defence. With a slim build, the Austrian international is both pacey and agile and demonstrates good stamina despite tracking back and getting forward all game. Overall, his physical abilities should see him have no problems in the new league and he should be able to cope well with the pace and physicality of the Premier League.
Lazaro is capable of greatly impressing on a technical level, as a wide player he has quick feet is capable of changing direction with the ball very quickly to beat his man. His first touch is consistently good, and he can often use the pace on the pass he has received to take the ball round his opposite number and drive forward. The Austrian’s passing is for the most part crisp and accurate and he often injects pace into his team’s attack. In addition to this, he is an accomplished set piece taker who shares set piece duties with Bayern Munich star David Alaba in the national side and often found himself standing over wide free kicks and corners during his time at Hertha Berlin. He is confident on both feet, despite his right being his preference.
Defensively, in more advanced areas of the pitch, he is able to stand up his man and press well, as well as cutting passing lanes. However, further towards his own goal, Lazaro can be fairly complacent and passive and as a result can occasionally be caught on.
From a tactical point of view, Lazaro excels in some areas whilst leaving room for improvement in others. His versatility as either a winger, wing-back or full back makes him desirable for many managers. Attacking wise, he is the epitome of a modern full back, constantly bombing down the touchline to offer support to the players ahead of him and he enjoys most attacking success by getting in behind the opposition full back.
However, to this extent he could be a victim of his own success, often venturing forward and leaving his own team exposed to counter attacks. Furthermore, his defensive positioning when playing as a full back is often questionable, allowing the winger to get in behind him — fortunately he can often recover using his pace.
What Lazaro does do well, and what could be important to his new club, is provide an outlet for his team with his pace and pin opposition full backs and wingers back into their own half with his constant energy and overlapping runs. The commentator during one of the games I analysed summed his wide partnership with Salomon Kalou up well by stating that they are “Unquestionably dangerous going forward, but defensively awful” — perhaps this analysis is too blunt but it does demonstrate the point that Lazaro is much better when attacking rather than defending.
Whilst playing as a winger, Lazaro likes to make delayed runs into the box at the back post and can sometimes be seen drifting across the pitch to create space and involve himself more in the build-up play. He is also able to isolate full backs at times and use his quick feet to drive at them and work some space to fashion a cross. With some improvements being made to his defensive awareness, Lazaro is capable of becoming an excellent player.
With regards to Lazaro’s mentality, it is difficult to find fault. His agent says that Lazaro’s relationship with Inter head coach Antonio Conte was good and that Lazaro would be happy to return to Inter in the future if Newcastle opt not to buy him. There are no striking attitude problems or worries and it would appear that the arrival of the likes of Victor Moses at Inter have paved the way for Lazaro’s exit rather than any arguments within the club.
On the pitch, Lazaro has a good amount of energy and works hard for his team, perhaps being more eager to attack than track back but this area of his game can be improved. His concentration seems to be to a good level for a relatively young player and he is very well versed in first team football at a high standard so can read the game fairly well. As mentioned previously perhaps his biggest downfall is his defensive concentration and awareness at times that can allow the opposition to get in behind him, but then again, he is at the age where he can still vastly improve.
As seen below, Lazaro tends to excel in attacking areas of the pitch. With over 1.5 key passes / per 90, and just under a third of his crosses being completed, providing a good level of service for his teammates. Whilst his dribbling stats also show that he is often capable of taking the ball past his opposite number.
Defensively it is more of a mixed bag for the Austrian, whilst not giving many fouls away and making and average amount of tackles, rarely letting himself be beaten, his positioning sometimes means that he is unable to make important interceptions which can lead to the opposition creating chances in behind him.
However, on the whole his radar below shows a good all-round player and at 23 he still has much time to improve on those areas of his game that require more work.
How he could fit in at NUFC:
At the start of the season, Newcastle United seemed to have plenty of options for wing backs, with Matt Ritchie (30) , Deandre Yedlin (26), Emil Krafth (25), Javier Manquillo (25) and Jetro Willems (25) all capable of playing in that role. However, injuries have meant that all of them have seen their season disrupted, with Ritchie out for the majority of the first half of the campaign, Yedlin and Manquillo have been in and out of the team, Krafth has failed to live up to expectation (and as I write this finds himself out for 6–8 weeks) and the on-loan Willems has now been ruled out for the rest of his spell on Tyneside.
As a result, the Newcastle recruitment team have found it necessary to delve into the transfer market. As Steve Bruce said from the outset of this window, he only wanted to bring in players that would improve the overall quality of the first team squad and as a result you would assume that Lazaro has a much bigger role to play rather than just supplying cover. In fact, upon Lazaro’s arrival, Bruce stated that “Valentino is a quality player who’ll add to us in attacking areas of the field, where we need to improve. he can play in a few positions, but he is a natural winger with an excellent delivery.”
The improvement that he adds to the squad in attacking areas can be seen in the radars below. Despite rarely losing the ball and committing few fouls, Newcastle’s wing backs during the first half of the season have sometimes struggled to make enough of a positive impact going forward (perhaps primarily due to the injury to Matt Ritchie) and this is where Lazaro excels, by getting into aggressive, high attacking positions and delivering dangerous crosses into good areas. As a result, being a naturally right sided player, it would seem a strong possibility that Lazaro will be introduced into the right-wing back role of Newcastle’s set-up.
If we go back to Bruce’s opinion on Lazaro that “he is a natural winger” it is conceivable that wing back may not be the only position in which Lazaro could find himself, with the Austrian’s versatility making him a real asset for Steve Bruce and his coaching staff. Having watched him play, it is more than likely that we may see Lazaro at times provide competition for the more advanced wider midfield roles that the likes of Allan Saint-Maximin(22), Miguel Almirón (25) and Christian Atsu (28) occupy so far. Although Saint-Maximin has impressed greatly since his arrival and Almirón has also begun to enjoy life more having opened his goalscoring account for the magpies.
Overall, Lazaro will add welcomed quality to Newcastle’s wide roles, especially going forward and this could prove crucial in a team that fails to create many opportunities. The only concern that could be raised surrounding Lazaro is that he may be exposed defensively at times given the lack of possession that Newcastle have, however, he will likely be playing in a back 5 which would mean, should he make a mistake, he would have extra cover behind him than he was used to at Hertha Berlin. Furthermore, at 23 he is still young and can add a lot more to his game and from a Newcastle point of view it is a low risk move as it adds quality to the squad without having to initially pay a large transfer fee until the summer should he impress in a black and white shirt during the remainder of the season.
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Thanks for reading!