As a Napoli fan, I’ve experienced a blend of pleasure and monotony watching Empoli yoyo back and forth between Serie A and Serie B over the last six years. Following promotion from Serie B and the departure of Alessio Dionisi at the conclusion of the 2020/21 campaign, I expected history to repeat itself this season.
Much to my surprise, Aurelio Andreazzoli’s side have been one of the most entertaining to watch as a neutral. Despite the lackluster form since the start of the new year, their early season successes were more than enough to keep them in the Italian top-flight for another season as they finished 14th in Serie A.
One player who continuously caught my attention throughout this campaign was Andrea Pinamonti. His presence was instrumental for the club’s survival, acting as the leading goal scorer with 13 goals and 2 assists, with his form earning him a €20 million move to Sassuolo who have plucked him away from Inter to replace Gianluca Scamacca following his departure to West Ham.
Andrea Pinamonti was born in Cles, Italy, located in the northern province of Trentino. A lifelong fan of Internazionale, the Italian’s boyhood dreams became a reality as he climbed through the Primavera. Accolades include a Primavera youth championship, Primavera Coppa Italia, first team debut for Inter at the age of 17, and most recently a Serie A title.
In the typical fashion of the modern-day football landscape, Pinamonti was labeled the next big thing to rise through the Italian ranks. With unprecedented and unjustified short-term expectations, fans were quick to label the young Italian as one who wouldn’t live up to the hype.
Unable to break into the first team on a regular basis at Inter, the club sent him out on various loans to further his development. This includes Frosinone for the 2018/19 season, Genoa for the 2019/20 season, and Empoli for the current season. A common denominator amongst all loan spells; all clubs were expected to hover around or find themselves in the relegation zone.
Frosinone was just promoted from the second division and finished their campaign 19th, Genoa finished their campaign 17th, and Empoli just returned to the topflight this season. In the sole season he remained at Inter, the 2020/21 campaign, he only amassed 169 minutes in the league.
Listed as 6’1’’ and 158 pounds on Wyscout, Pinamonti is well built to handle the physical demands of Serie A. Despite his lean look, he plays above his weight by using his wide frame and physical prowess to bully defenders with his back to goal.
Furthermore, his Wyscout heat map for the 2021/22 Serie A campaign displays a tendency to favor the right side in build-up play, while occupying a more center-left position once entering the penalty area.
It’s important to note the structure Empoli have deployed. For most of the season, the club has lined up in a 4-3-1-2 which converts to a diamond midfield when building out of the back or restructuring defensively. In some recent matches, they have pivoted to a 4-3-2-1, with Pinamonti operating as the lone striking option up top.
Below, we will see a graph that displays Pinamonti’s percentile rankings against other Serie A center forwards for the 2021/22 season.
To start, Pinamonti is seeing 0.35 goals per 90 and 0.35 xG per 90, ranking in the 44th and 56th percentiles respectively. This drops off once we remove his three penalties taken, which were all converted, to 0.23 non-penalty goals per 90 and a npxG per 90 of 0.26, shifting his percentiles closer to the 1st quartile.
His shot per 90 output of 2.78 ranks in the 58th percentile, but his shot % on target leaves far more to be desired. While these metrics may look subpar or mediocre at best, it’s important to note two things.
First, Empoli are typically of inferior quality when compared to the competition they face. As a result, their fast-paced counterattacks often create chaos for the opposition, but Pinamonti finds himself yearning for better service.
Second, Pinamonti is still just 22 years of age and has shown continuous improvement from his days on loan at Frosinone and Genoa. Since he did not accumulate meaningful minutes in the 2020/21 campaign at Inter, the visualizations displayed below will highlight his loan spells.
Across goals and xG, we have seen an overall improvement year on year. Although his per 90 metrics took a slight dip when comparing his time at Frosinone and Genoa, the 2021/22 season has been his best. Furthermore, we can see that Pinamonti is one assist shy of his career-high while accumulating a career-high xA.
This includes a high of 0.07 xA per 90 in the 2021/22 season. Lastly, I would note the consistency between his goal tally and cumulative xG, meaning he is actualizing his goals at a rate that is expected and we should not expect any upcoming regression.
The images above display non penalty shot locations by season. Below are some takeaways:
- Across all seasons, he has displayed a tendency to shoot with his right foot. However, his goal scoring tally includes 7 with his left foot and 8 with his right foot, excluding penalties. This kind of balance makes him more unpredictable for a defender.
- Despite strong aerial numbers, Pinamonti is not effective at scoring with his head.
- He has scored most of his goals from the left half of the pitch, which makes me question the tactical decision or player-driven decision to drift right prior to entering the penalty area, as displayed by our Wyscout heat map. Focusing his play on the left side may prove more beneficial.
- A very consistent non-penalty shot on target % ranging between 26.67% and 28%. This is an area that must see improvement to reach the next caliber.
- One of the most important factors is shot location. We know the chances of scoring goals naturally increase by getting into more dangerous areas. We can see his cluster of shots has gotten much closer to goal this season than in seasons prior. In addition to this, the percentage of shots outside the box by season continues to drop from 26.7%, to 24%, and settling at 18.3% so far in the current campaign. While this is a solid improvement, there is still work to be done as his npxG/Shot ranks in the 21st percentile.
Our percentile chart also showed very strong aerial metrics, with his 3.44 aerials won per 90 ranking in the 81st percentile and his aerial win rate of 43.6% ranking in the 71st percentile. While there isn’t a specific metric provided through FBRef that quantifies the quality of play with back-to-goal, I often use this as a proxy to help identify physical players who implement this style. In this case, it perfectly highlights one of Pinamonti’s greatest strengths, hold-up play.
His ability to receive a direct ball higher up the pitch and shield off defenders plays a crucial role in Empoli’s build-up. This allows for his teammates to join the attack, whether on a counter or as a support outlet for the team to establish possession. Although I do not have the metric displayed in my percentile graphic, Pinamonti’s 8.73 progressive passes received ranks in the 71st percentile.
Since I do not have access to x,y coordinate data outside of the shot information available through Understat, I will use in-game footage to help paint the picture I’m describing. A link to a YouTube video with some clips can be accessed below:
Upon receiving the ball, Pinamonti is exceptional at positioning himself in such a manner to prevent defenders from making a clean tackle on the ball. To do so, they are often forced to foul or commit a second defender, allowing for Empoli to gain advantages in other areas of the pitch.
To take this aspect of his game to the next level, he should focus on improving his distribution. As displayed from our percentile graphic, Pinamonti’s pass completion percentage ranks in the 5th percentile. While the difficulty of a pass is inherently greater with a defender draped around you, I believe this improvement can be made in two ways:
- Look to receive balls in more central areas opposed to areas along the sideline. When receiving along the sideline, his passing options are extremely limited and he’s more susceptible to turning the ball over. A more central area will offer a greater number of outlets, allowing for more successful passes.
- At times, Pinamonti may look to fend off a player on his back longer than necessary. While this may attract an additional defender and provide Empoli with an open man, he must be quick to capitalize on these opportunities before the passing lane is closed.
Defensively, most of Pinamonti’s work comes in the attacking third of the pitch. In line with Empoli’s high press, which ranks 3rd for pressures in the attacking 3rd per 90 in Serie A, Pinamonti applies 8.73 pressures per 90 in that zone which ranks in the 86th percentile. He plays a much more passive role as the ball progresses closer to his own goal, as he must function as the outlet should Empoli regain possession.
With seven matches remaining in Empoli’s season, the chances of the 23-year-old Italian striker notching his first domestic double-digit goal tally looks extremely likely. Although he is set to return to Inter once his loan spell concludes, I believe his best option would be to depart the club on a permanent basis. He is not at the level required to get regular minutes at a top Serie A side, nor do I think his ceiling reaches those heights.
However, this is not to say a step up isn’t warranted. In the short term, I believe he would be a perfect fit for a mid-table Italian club. One squad that stands out is Sassuolo. They have built a reputation for developing young talent and will have a large vacancy to fill once the departure of Gianluca Scamacca becomes a reality.
In addition to this, he would act as the perfect focal point for the agents of chaos deployed around him. In the long term, I believe Andrea Pinamonti’s ceiling would be a Europa League caliber club in the top 5 leagues, with a focus on Italy, Spain, or France.
By: Kosta Marcopolous / @KostaMarc
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / NurPhoto