Daniel Boloca: Sassuolo’s Hidden Gem in Midfield

Club: Sassuolo
Nationality: Romania / Italy
Position(s): CM, DM
Preferred Foot: Right
Height: 6’2”/188cm
Age: 25
Strengths: passing, technical security, spatial awareness, press resistance, dribbling, distance shooting
Areas for Development: goal output, defensive ability


Sassuolo played their first-ever Serie A season in 2013/14, narrowly staving off the drop by two points. In the following decade, they have emerged as a rock-solid mid-table team and even managed to qualify for Europe after finishing sixth in 2015/16. The Neroverdi have achieved stability and success despite selling a litany of key players such as Davide Frattesi (Inter), Manuel Locatelli (Juventus), Giacomo Raspadori (Napoli) and Hamed Junior Traorè (Bournemouth).



And yet, Sassuolo’s time in the big leagues could be coming to an end sooner rather than later. The Emilia-Romagna side currently sit 19th in the table, one point behind Frosinone, two behind Hellas Verona and three points behind Empoli. And whilst they sit one point away from safety with seven matches left, they’ll have to get through a daunting schedule featuring Inter, Milan, and Lazio, and they’ll have to do so without their all-time leading scorer Domenico Berardi, who is sidelined for the rest of the year.


If Sassuolo do manage to stave off relegation, Daniel Boloca will likely have a massive role to play. Born in Chieri, Italy to Romanian parents, Boloca developed at Juventus’ academy before leaving in 2017 to join Slovak club Tatran Prešov. He returned to Italy shortly after, bouncing around various clubs in Italy’s fourth division, before garnering the attention of Spezia sporting director Guido Angelozzi. He agreed on a three-year contract with Spezia, only for the deal to be cancelled after they earned promotion and after a change in club management led to Angelozzi’s exit.


After several months without a club, Boloca joined Frosinone in November 2020 just a few days after Angelozzi was named the club’s new sporting director. He would emerge as a key figure in midfield, playing a vital role in their promotion in 2022/23 under Fabio Grosso, before making the move to Sassuolo in the summer of 2023. The Neroverdi paid a fee of €10 million for Boloca, who has taken little time to fill Frattesi’s void in the center of the pitch.


A press-resistant midfield technician, Boloca understands the game like a veteran, capable of anticipating and snuffing out opposing attacks and dictating the flow of possession. He has incredible technical security and is skilled at dropping deep to receive from the goalkeeper or center back before turning and progressing the ball forward. He is constantly demanding the ball and is always looking to take responsibility and change the game with his in-possession skills.


Armand Laurienté — Sassuolo’s French Spark in Attack


He leads by example and oozes composure in possession, never shying away from the ball and adept at drifting past opponents with ease. His dribbling prowess and close control allow him to escape tight spaces, but he also has the power to drive into space and progress play. However, it’s undeniable that Boloca’s main strength is his passing ability.


A deep-lying playmaker, Boloca is the midfield metronome of Sassuolo — between short passing exchanges, cross-field switches, through balls, long passes, he has everything in his locker. Not only is his passing range top-drawer, but his pass accuracy as well. He completes 91.0% of his passes on average, and this season, he has showcased his skills against Italy’s top sides, completing 35 out of 38 passes in their 2-1 win vs. Inter before completing 36 out of 37 in their 4-2 win vs. Juventus.


He is completing 33.6 accurate passes per 90 in Serie A, second only to Gian Marco Ferrari (35.4), although it’s clear that these numbers would increase in a possession-based team (Sassuolo’s 44.7% average possession puts them 14th in Serie A). One area where he could improve is his goal output. Whilst he’s shown impressive shooting technique from distance, so far he’s only scored two goals this season — a 44th-minute equalizer in a 1-1 draw vs. Bologna and a last-second consolation goal in a 3-1 loss at Atalanta in the cup.


Boloca’s goal output is influenced by his role because he’s often utilized as a deep-lying playmaker which means he’ll be on the ball and receive the ball from a deeper position rather than pick it up in and around the box, but with his unique skillset, he could evolve into an elite 8 who contributes in all phases.


Player Analysis: Uroš Račić


Another aspect of Boloca’s game that could improve is his defensive ability. The 25-year-old midfield has great spatial awareness, physical strength & long reach with his rangy legs. This makes for a great foundation to build a world-class defensive midfielder, and it’s clear that he has the defensive nous to become a difference-maker here: he is successfully tackling 64.9% of his dribblers per 90, ranking in the 98th percentile among midfielders in this department.

However, he needs further exposure in this role at a higher level with top-level coaches in order to fulfill his potential. Boloca’s spatial awareness allows for him to anticipate passes and make interceptions, whilst he also has a decent timing of tackles, but these could all use some improvement.


After losing Frattesi to Inter and Maxime Lopez to Fiorentina, Sassuolo did their due diligence and replenished their midfield with the €10m signing of Boloca, a deal that would also see central midfielder Abdou Harroui (€2.5m), left back Riccardo Marchizza (€1.5m) and goalkeeper Stefano Turati (loan) heading the other way to Frosinone. It has been money well spent, with Boloca emerging as the latest sensation to make his mark at the Mapei Stadium – Città del Tricolore.


Player Analysis: Nedim Bajrami


Boloca made his international debut for the Romania national team on November 17, 2022, replacing Răzvan Marin in the 84th minute in a friendly against Slovenia. One month later, Italy manager Roberto Mancini called Boloca up for an Azzurri training camp, with Boloca publicly declaring his preference to play for Italy over Romania. Whilst he is yet to debut for Italy, if he keeps on performing like this, Luciano Spalletti may have no other choice but to select him for national team duty this year.


Whether or not Sassuolo manage to avoid the drop, it seems increasingly likely that Boloca will be playing in an even bigger club next season with the likes of Roma, Fiorentina, Milan and Napoli reportedly keeping tabs on him. Just a few years after looking set for a journeyman career in Serie D, Boloca is thriving in the center of the pitch for Sassuolo, and he could very well be headed for an Azzurri call-up sooner rather than later.


By: Ben Mattinson / @Ben_Mattinson_

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Alessandro Sabattini / Getty Images