AC Milan have made another splash defensive signing, bringing in Italian international and longtime Roma defender Alessandro Florenzi. The wing-back is well-known in Italy for his outstanding tenure in the capital, but Roma have deemed him unnecessary over the last season and a half, sending him on loan to Valencia and PSG.
Florenzi is a versatile full-back and is most natural in the wing-back position, though he is capable of playing traditionally in a four-man backline. Out wide, he functions more as a distributor, compared to a more attacking player like Theo Hernandez, who wants to aggressively push the ball down the pitch with pace.
In the above clip against Barcelona, Florenzi displays his tremendous vision and accurate distribution when finding Ander Herrera. The Italian recognizes that Barca’s defense is caught out in transition and plays a perfect long ball to the Spaniard, sparking an immediate counter attack that ultimately led to a shot on goal for Kylian Mbappe.
These deadly long-range passes are a hallmark of Florenzi’s style. He constantly keeps his eyes down the pitch and is unafraid to launch the ball even far down the opposite wing. He averages 4.91 long passes per 90 minutes and has a strong overall passing completion rate at 81.7%.
Florenzi’s distribution is complimented by his elite crossing ability. The defender is adept at exploiting space on the wing and crossing from deep in the attacking third. His crosses are typically high-floating with a sharp dip, which should be effective for tall strikers like Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Olivier Giroud. Florenzi is prolific, averaging 3.68 crosses per 90 and 0.84 crosses into the box per 90, both of which are in the 90th percentile in the top 5 European leagues.
Perhaps his most underrated trait is his importance to build-up play. Florenzi often combines with interior midfielders, playing one-touch, give-and-go football that draws defenders out of position. Above against Angers, the outside-back does exactly this and makes a brilliant run into space that should have resulted in a chance for PSG.
Though an important component to building attacks, Florenzi’s offensive production has taken a significant step back in recent years. He has recorded just 5 goals and 4 assists over his last 5,400 minutes of league play, and his shot-creating and goal-creating actions per 90 minutes have fallen significantly since leaving Roma.
Defensively, Florenzi is decidedly not an upgrade over starter Davide Calabria. He is an ineffective tackler, and is often beat by dribblers, ranking in just the sixth percentile in percentage of dribblers tackled over the last year.
The defender compensates for his suspect tackling with intelligent positioning and acute spatial awareness. He is unafraid to step to the player on the ball and restrict potentially dangerous passes. The 30-year-old has also perfected his man-marking and tracks runs well.
While this sequence may not seem particularly telling, Florenzi (in pink at the top of the frame) actually shows off textbook defensive positioning. He avoids stepping to the ball simultaneously with Marquinhos and provides cover, keeping Maxwell Cornet in check. When the ball is played to the Lyonnais winger, he immediately cuts off the shooting lane and closes Cornet down, forcing a sloppy, misplayed cross.
Florenzi gives Milan tactical flexibility
It is difficult to envision Florenzi as anything other than a replacement for Calabria when a more offensive tactical plan is needed. Though he may push his fellow Italian for playing time, the 30-year-old will be most useful as a stopgap option when the starters need rest, especially once the Champions League group stage begins to intersect with league play.
Despite his reputation as a wing-back, Florenzi has ample experience playing deeper in four-man backlines with Valencia and the Italian national team. Even at PSG, where he was integral to right-sided attacks, he was deployed more conservatively against higher level competition.
However, when his side was facing a weaker opponent, Thomas Tuchel and his successor Mauricio Pochettino allowed the Italian much more freedom to stretch the field. Florenzi’s willingness to press high on the right wing allowed players like Angel Di Maria to float centrally, overloading the attacking third with numbers and giving the Parisians more dangerous options.
Florenzi’s presence will give Stefano Pioli a tactical flexibility even greater than Calabria’s. He can be played as a true winger, a midfielder or a standard full-back, and if Milan’s manager ever decides to deploy a three or five-back formation, he is an ideal compliment to Theo Hernandez at wing-back.
A relief role is perfect for Florenzi, who, now thirty years old, has struggled with injuries throughout his career. Facing a challenging campaign that includes Milan’s Pot 4 seeding in the Champions League group stage, the Rossoneri will need to have dependable depth to ensure a high level of play occurs in both international and domestic competitions.
It is also beneficial that the defender will be coming on loan with an option to make the move permanent. Milan can easily cut ties with Florenzi if he struggles, or they can invest in him if he shines. This acquisition is ultimately low risk and should not negatively impact finances or results.
While he likely will not earn a full-time starting position with the club, Florenzi is a solid signing for AC Milan that will help bolster the defense and bring needed flexibility to the club’s tactical system.