We’ve become used to seeing the club utilize the loan market over recent year’s and it was no surprise to see us revisit it again this January.
Out of the three players we brought in the most unknown to the Premier League was 24-year-old Austrian international Valentino Lazaro. Inter had only signed Lazaro from Hertha BSC in the summer for a fee of around £20m. The right-sided found regular game time hard to come by having made only six appearances with average of 54 minutes per appearance.
He’s also had a hit and miss start with Newcastle due to a red card he picked up against Crystal Palace in February and then COVID-19 derailing the season in March - this has meant we’ve only seen him appear four times for the club so far.
There was some good news this week with us reaching an agreement with Inter to extend his loan spell until the end of July in line with Project Restart and, with the PL signing off on 5 subs per game, I expect we’ll see the Inter man feature quite heavily over the remaining games.
Despite the lack of playing time this season his time at Hertha can tell us a lot about the type of player he is. This scouting report will look at Lazaro’s combined stats from the last two seasons and assess his strengths and weaknesses, plus what he brings specifically to this Newcastle side.
Lazaro is a player who can play anywhere down the right-hand side and has even clocked up minutes on the left for both Austria and Inter Milan (most notably against Barcelona in this seasons Champions League).
The jury is still out as to where he’ll play for Newcastle but, if Bruce sticks with a back four, we can expect to see him play mostly on the right wing. This will suit Lazaro’s game as he’s got a lot to offer going forward, and he will bring a new dynamic to the team.
Lazaro has a good pedigree having played for all the Austrian national youth teams since u16, and he’s already made 28 appearances for what is an incredibly talented senior squad. The former Hertha man was even described as the biggest Austrian talent to grace the Bundesliga since Bayern Munich’s David Alaba, which isn’t bad company to keep!
For most players, their dribbling stats will pale in comparison to Saint-Maximin, who’s one of the best in Europe with the ball at his feet, and Lazaro is no different. However, the Austrian is capable of a trick or two and does like to take players on in the attacking third; his go-to move is a combination of step-overs which he uses to create space to make a cross.
In the 2018/19 season for Hertha Lazaro made the most progressive carries in the squad averaging 126.98 yards per game. This would put him fourth in our current squad, behind Saint-Maximin (268.44), Almirón (159.16) and Atsu (140.73).
His 46% success rate is relatively low and it’s an area he needs to improve, however, most of his ball losses occur in the final third, which is less dangerous than further back or in the middle of the pitch.
Whilst we have more skilled dribblers in the squad already, Lazaro has quick feet and a burst of pace which gets him to get into good positions down the right and, once in these positions, he can utilize one of his main strengths - his delivery.
There are some wide players who are great at beating a player but are let down by their final ball, Lazaro does not typically fall into this category. He uses his pace and acceleration well to get down the flanks, before angling his runs towards the edge of the opposition’s penalty are. Once in position, he has the quality to deliver the ball accurately to his teammates. Lazaro has also regularly taken free kicks and corners for his previous teams which is further evidence of the quality he possesses.
Lazaro is a progressive player who looks to move the ball forward. On average, he’s played 8.14 progressive passes per game (passes towards the opponents’ goal). This would put him comfortably top for this metric in our current squad (+1.43 ahead of Shelvey in second place).
From these passes, he averages a total of 324 yards per game - this is only bettered by Fabian Schär, however, Lazaro has a slightly better pass completion rate of 73.75% compared to the Schär’s 72.6%.
The Austrian does a lot of his work in the mid and attacking thirds of the pitch. He likes to get the ball into the opposition’s penalty area on a frequent basis, always looking for ways to help his team get on the scoreboard. This mentality allows him to make 1.89 key passes per game (passes that lead directly to a shot), placing him third in the squad behind Matt Ritchie (2.53) and Jonjo Shelvey (1.95).
Expected assists (xA) measure the likelihood that a pass will become a goal based on where the pass was received, what type of pass it was and a variety of other factors. A players xA gives us an indication of how many assists a player should have had based on their build up and attacking play.
In his last season at Hertha, Lazaro made six assists which was the highest in the squad and directly contributed to 12% of the team’s goals that season. In comparison to our current squad, Lazaro is in second place for xA behind only Andy Carroll. This is an important point as Newcastle have created the lowest quality and frequency of goal scoring opportunities in the Premier League this season.
I believe Lazaro has been brought in mainly to provide more attacking intent to the team, but he can also play as a right-wing-back if Bruce needs him to. His tackling stats are OK compared to the other fullbacks we have in the team - he’s won 36.58% of the tackles he’s contested over the last two seasons, with only Manquillo (54.5%) ahead of him out of our other right-side defensive players.
Both Maquillo and Krafth have better pressing success and win the ball back on a more frequent basis, but this is to be expected as they’re more defensive minded players. At 5’9’’ Lazaro is not the tallest player so he is susceptible to the high ball, although his 53.8% aerial duel success rate does put him ahead of Manquillo, Krafth and Yedlin.
What can he bring to Newcastle?
One of Newcastle’s main struggles this season has been creating chances, and in turn, scoring goals. We’re 18th for goals scored and 20th for expected goals, which is relegation form. On the left wing we’ve relied heavily on Allan Saint-Maximin to be our creative force meaning a lot of our play goes down that flank, which is easy to read for our opposition.
Lazaro helps with both problems – he provides genuine width down the right side of the pitch and has the skill to work his way into dangerous positions on the edge of the opponents’ penalty area. Once there, Lazaro has the quality to deliver the ball into the right areas. He has the second-best stats in our squad for expected assists and passes into the opposition’s penalty area, as well as the third best stats for key passes per game. This is an injection of creativity the team desperately needs.
His progressive carries and passing will also help us get up the pitch more frequently, and this is important for a team that currently spends most of its time with the ball in their own defensive third.
Finally, he brings versatility to the team which is crucial and allows Bruce to change things up if it’s needed; Lazaro is just as comfortable as a wing-back as he a more traditional attacking winger. With so many games in a short space of time Bruce may be forced to change his formation to accommodate injuries, or protect a lead, and it’s vital he has players that can fill in a number of positions – Lazaro offers this option.
Lazaro has the potential to be a quality player for us and he adds something different to the team. He has experience of playing in three of Europe’s top leagues as well as international and Champions League experience, which is good going for a 24-year-old.
For me, Bruce should play Lazaro on the right-wing, ASM on the left and Almirón in the number 10 position. This would give us pace and skill in the attacking third and would give opposition defenders a problem, resulting in us creating better quality chances - the fact Lazaro can take corners and free-kicks is a bonus.
Antonio Conte is no mug and he obviously saw something in Lazaro that convinced him to pay £20m for the player just 12 months ago. There has been some noises from Lazaro’s agent about whether he sees Newcastle as a good fit – this will of course put some fans off, however, I think we’re going to see enough from him over the remaining games of the season to convince us a permanent deal would be worthwhile.