If you know what you’re looking for, there’s a lot you can tell about a player from a single game of football (crucially, if you know what you’re looking for, you also know what you *haven’t* learned about a player from a single game as well). In the ‘One man, One game’ feature, I do just that.
Federico Fazio is an interesting case. At Tottenham Hotspur for 2014/15 before being kept off the wage books (presumably, at least partly) for the following two seasons, he was regarded as a flop in London, and had become something of a butt of jokes. Fast forward to 2017, and – first on loan, and then permanently this summer – at Roma he has emerged as one of their starting choices, displacing Antonio Rüdiger as the main man on the team-sheet alongside Kostas Manolas last season.
Opinions of players do swing wildly, but generally on a more short-term timescale, and often based heavily around one or two isolated moments in high-profile matches. With Fazio, the feeling – both with the mockery and the redemption – is, unusually, that his image has been altered by the long-term trends of his seasons in England and Italy.
So then, what’s the boy actually like? Is either reputation fully justified? We’ll look at a match for Spurs this week, and then one for Roma next week, and see where the balance lies from there.
The game against Chelsea on New Year’s Day was a late-Christmas cracker of a tie, Spurs winning 5-3 at White Hart Lane and giving Jose Mourinho’s side one of their three losses during that title-winning season. Fazio was partnered alongside Jan Vertonghen, and the most notable part of his match was probably this:
Now, this looks quite bad. In fairness, Chelsea laid a good trap and got the maximum result from it. In hindsight particularly, he should have received the ball in a more open stance, preferable controlling the ball in such a way which doesn’t take away valuable time and force him more centrally into the pitch (and Chelsea’s trap). Had he let it run across him, he could have poked the ball out to Walker. Even after his poor first touch into the belly of the Blue Beast, he could have nudged it to square to Dembele, or preferably booted it in that direction out of play, instead of trying to poke it through Eden Hazard.
But anyway, mistakes happen. Not ten minutes later, he proved that he had learnt from it, passing quickly twice within the space of a minute to avoid coming under pressure. He looked, in terms of centre-backs who the Top Four clubs are likely to want in their starting line-up, competent on the ball, although that word – competent – is said here with a pause and an exhalation, searching for a more adequate word to convey that competent is, in this particular usage, 55-45 in the derogatory-complimentary split.
This is something that I’d have to watch more of to confirm, but I got the vibe that his passing vision was limited (for a player of the level he’d be aiming at) – he played some nice passes, to relieve pressure, but there was something of the sense that they had been in front of his eyes, rather than him finding them. For example, on the less positive side of the coin, midway through the first half he tried to play a pass through Chelsea’s midfield line, but it was rather broadcast and easily intercepted, springing a counter-attack for his opponents.
His footwork, for a potentially elite level player, also seemed a little clunky – or rather just a lack of elite fluidity and balance instead of a distinctive clunkiness. Were he to need to change direction quickly throughout a match to track forwards, I feel he’d be caught out by a yard or half-second a couple of times, maybe.
[Here he takes a little bit of time getting into the back-stepping, at which point he maybe looks the slightest bit off-balance, and takes a little bit of time transitioning out of it as well.]
However, it’s only fair to say something positive, and I’m not even saying this just to be kind. Fazio seemed to have a good understanding of when to squeeze the space in the hole between defensive and midfield lines, which I think had the potential to combine well with Jan Vertonghen’s more natural reticence and may (without having analysed a match there yet) be part of why he has succeeded at Roma.
With the type of football that the Italian side play – much more fast-paced and liable to leave a couple of holes between the lines than Spurs’ very organised and structured defence – a good instinct of when to squeeze and when not to would likely come in handy. What worked less well, in combination with Vertonghen, was their natural instincts playing out in how they kept the defensive line, with it being a little off at times, though not majorly so.
- Neither amazing nor awful on the ball, nothing special technically
Suspicions; would like to see more to confirm whether they’re there or not:
- Limited passing vision
- Below-elite foot/bodywork
- Good at squeezing space between the lines
- Decent positional sense
Need to see more on these defensive aspects:
- Ability to shepherd players
- How able he is to use various physical attributes