Riccardo Orsolini: a star finally on its’ rise

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Written by Maxi Angelo

Riccardo Orsolini has for a long time been one of Italy’s brightest talents. He’s had his ups and downs over the last few years, but after Sinisa Mihajlovic’s appointment in January 2019 things have only gone upwards. So, who is the Ascoli-son? What’s behind his recent success? And what is this season indicating for him so far?

On the 26th of March in 2016, Ascoli manager at the time, Devis Mangia, decided to hand a 19-year-old local Ascoli boy his professional debut when the team was facing Vicenza away.

This local boy was Riccardo Orsolini. A kid who had been humiliating the opposition in the Primavera ranks with Ascoli’s U19 team for years. He had at this time scored 22 goals, including 2 hat tricks and one game where he scored 5 goals v. Lanciano’s U19.

He was without a doubt the clubs biggest talent in many years, perhaps ever. Orsolini ended up playing 71 minutes v. Vicenza, but it was enough to convince Mangia to keep him with the senior squad and he started in nine of the remaining ten games of the season.

In the 2016-17 season Orsolini had convinced enough to become a starter for the club despite his mere age. He ended the season with 8 goals and 6 assist, impressing so much that Juventus decided to buy him half way through the season for €6million with another €4million to Ascoli in  performance-based bonuses. He was one of a handful players signed after Beppe Marotta and Fabio Paratici’s profile for future players; young, talented and perhaps most important – Italian. After signing with Juventus in January 2017, he stayed with Ascoli for the rest of the season 2016-17 season.

After finishing the season with Ascoli, Orsolini had made a name for himself as one of the biggest talents in Italy. But he wasn’t mature or good enough to start – or take place in the squad – for Juventus, who at this period of time were the champions for 6 consecutive years. 

Orsolini was therefore loaned to Atalanta in 2017, where he didn’t make much of an impression at all. The disappointment from this was very much enhanced by the fact that Orsolini a month prior to moving to Atalanta had won the Golden Boot in the 2017 U20 World Cup in South Korea, after having scored 5 goals and leading Italy to their best ever result in the tournament. In media he was outright named as the Italian side’s best player. But, midway through the season at Atalanta, after not been able to make an impression, his stay with the club was cut short and he instead joined Bologna on a two-year loan – which takes us to today.

Who is Riccardo Orsolini today? 

Orsolini is a rapid and fast winger with a lot of flair. He excels in one on one situation due to his excellent dribbling skills. He’s not unfamiliar to even humiliate his opposition with his dribbling skills, as seen many times in Serie A and for the Italian youth national teams. He’s also very hard to stop without fouling due to his amazing close control and low point of gravity.

Although being left-footed, Orsolini prefers to play on the right in a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1 formation as it allows him to cut in and shoot with his left foot or cross it to the rear part of the penalty box to teammates running into that space. Bologna switches between a 4-3-3 formation and a 4-2-3-1 formation today under Mihajlovic.

Orsolini’s main strengths is his one on one skills, his pace, technique, unpredictability and fine left-foot. His weaknesses is mainly his end product in the final third in terms of passing, crossing, finishing and not being able to be consistent enough with his brilliant performances. There has in the past been a mix of high ups and low downs. However, this is something that has become substantially better during his time at Bologna – especially during the tenure of Sinisa Mihajlovic.

After having an anonymous first six months at Bologna, struggling to take a place and find himself in the system, Orsolini took the league by storm in the 2018-19 season, especially during  the second part under Mihajlovic. He became Bologna’s top scorer whilst playing as a right winger and managed to score 8 goals in the Serie A and an additional 2 goals in the Coppa Italia. Giving him a lead with 2 goals to the club’s next best goal scorer, striker Federico Satander who scored 8 goals across the two competitions. He also finished as the club’s next best assister with 5 assists after Rodrigo Palacio’s 6 assists.

Orsolini was a instrumental factor in Bologna’s season turnaround 2018-19 when they in the end of January resided in the relegation zone, but ended it comfortably in 10th place. He directly contributed to 29% of Bologna’s Serie A goals 2018-19 with 8 goals 5 assists. His terrific performances resulted in Bologna exercising their €15million option to buy him in the summer of 2019, and he signed permanently with the Romagnese club on June 19th. 

Why is it clicking for him now at Bologna under Mihajlovic?

Well, as it often is, it’s a combination of things. To begin with, Orsolini has been shown great confidence from Mihajlovic. And confidence from your manager is always a good breeding ground for you as a player and perhaps the most fundamental aspect of growing as a player.

But mainly it’s been that Orsolini has improved himself in the areas of his game where he was lacking previously. 

His end product in the final third is substantially much better in terms of crossing (high and low crosses) and his finishing. At Atalanta you could usually see Orsolini make his man and afterwards just crossing a hail mary cross into the box, hoping that someone would be at the end of it. Now he always addresses his cross and the increased assists numbers are a testament to it.

Orsolini already had good positioning, ability to read the game and anticipation, but all of these aspects have also improved – making his overall game much better. 

On top of this, Mihajlovic’s system often gets Orsolini in the position where he can take runs in-behind the opposition defense, which is one position where he thrives the most. All of these improvements have together made him a better player and has also helped him perform more consistently than before.

Orsolini has started the 2019-20 season with 4 goals contributions (1 goal and 3 assists) in 7 games. Only two assists short of what he contributed with over the entirety of the 2018-19 season. These statistics puts him on track to exceed his production last season. He’s also more involved and creative this season. Last season, over 1,957 minutes, Orsolini made 35 appearances and made 20 shot assists (passes leading to shots). Over 5 appearances á 450 minutes this season, he’s made 14 shot assists.

So, as mentioned above, his statistics themselves are indicating that he has stepped up his game even more this season. Therefore, it’ll be exciting to see what the future hold for the Ascoli-son. Can he finally break out for real and live up to his insanely high potential? Let’s hope so.

Photo: Bologna FC

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