Since the announcement of his signing with Melbourne City on Monday, Manuel Pucciarelli has ignited discussion amongst fans around the type of qualities that he’ll bring to the club and the role that he will play if he is to be a regular feature of Patrick Kisnorbo’s starting XI.
However, between his apparent falling out of favour with Chievo Verona in Serie B – playing just 13 minutes in the 2020/21 season according to Transfermarkt – and his subsequent low-profile loan spell to United Arab Emirates outfit Dibba Al-Fujairah, gauging Pucciarelli’s quality will have been difficult for the majority of curious City fans.
Aided by a freed-up lockdown schedule, however, scouring through videos and articles of Pucciarelli’s stint in the UAE and his time in home country Italy became a more feasible task, culminating in the development of this in-depth player analysis article for those seeking further knowledge of City’s newest signing.
A player who hasn’t traditionally been the focal point of his side’s strike force, Pucciarelli has instead adapted to playing as a second striker who combines well with those around him to fashion chances for himself in promising areas.
He moves intelligently off the ball to anticipate where it is likely to spill or be passed to, especially around the edge of the box.
Once he does receive inside the area, however, his modus operandi is fairly uncomplicated; Pucciarelli swings, and he swings hard.
Right-footed strikes across the keeper are just about a trademark for the Italian, with one of his most recent examples of this seen in the clip below from his stint with Dibba Al-Fujairah.
Pucciarelli’s affinity for powered strikes also entails some impressive long-range shooting, with the forward capable of picking out top corners, or testing the keeper at the very least, with surprising frequency.
Pucciarelli is far from a sharpshooter, however, and underperformed his Expected Goals (xG) by a significant amount between the 2014/15 and 2018/19 seasons, accumulating 22.77 xG despite only netting 16 times (per Understat).
Similar to his shooting, there is very little complicated about Pucciarelli’s approach to dribbling; aside from the occasional stepover or body feint, his go-to move is simply to shift the ball out of the would-be tackler’s reach.
Where Pucciarelli’s technical quality is most evident is in situations where he needs to control with the toe of his boot, allowing him to guide aerial balls down to the turf or flick the ball to himself to evade an approaching opposition player.
In situations where he has pressure arriving from all sides, Pucciarelli can occasionally rotate – literally – out of trouble with a wide, bent-knees stance to protect the ball with his low centre of gravity. This trait does, however, significantly aid him in receiving the ball to feet whilst holding off a defender. From here, Pucciarelli has a very similar ability to roll an opponent as a certain Bruno Fornaroli – also 5’8” – a skill which may spark some nostalgia from City fans when their new signing is able to execute the move for the first time at AAMI Park.
One of many similarities to his predecessor Adrián Luna, Pucciarelli has a massive engine and is renowned for his endurance to cover plenty of ground across the park. Whilst not electric in his pace, the 30-year-old still has the ability to quickly accelerate away from his opponent or to latch on to balls played in front of him.
Below: Highlights from Pucciarelli's recent spell with Dibba Al-Fujairah.
Upon his signing, fans’ research into Pucciarelli’s historical starting positions and playing style led to suggestions from some sections of a change to a 4-2-3-1 formation for the new season.
In this system, Pucciarelli would occupy the central position in City’s attacking midfield three, with Leckie and Nabbout on either side and Maclaren up front. A distinguished attacking front four such as this would not only lead to many sleepless nights for opposition defenders, it could theoretically also re-open the door for positional fluidity in our build-up play; each of Leckie, Nabbout and Pucciarelli can play centrally or as a winger, and Maclaren is increasingly diversifying his skillset and movements as a forward.
This distinctly attacking midfield role for Pucciarelli also makes sense given his history as a second striker. The Italian combines well with a recognised centre-forward – such as Massimo Maccarone during the pair’s time at Empoli – excelling at pass-and-move type sequences which sees the midfielder approach the box, lay a pass off and receive again once inside the area, with time for a shot.
Jamie Maclaren, however, is not Massimo Maccarone. Besides the question of how significant a relationship he and Pucciarelli could develop given the former isn’t renowned for his hold-up play, how might the additional attacking dimensions of Leckie and Nabbout influence the viability of such a partnership?
Besides this dilemma, a four-man front line would inevitably increase the defensive burden on the two deeper-lying midfielders in such a system. With Aiden O’Neill and Connor Metcalfe likely to occupy these positions, it would be a shame to see the latter’s box-to-box dynamism – particularly his late runs into the box – hampered in this role.
The answer to Pucciarelli’s likely role with City, then, lies both within comments on the signing from Director of Football Michael Petrillo and the legacy of the player that the Italian has been brought in to replace: Adrián Luna.
In Luna, City possessed an individual with the technical capabilities of an attacking midfielder and the work rate and pressing instincts required by a player within a CFG system.
According to Transfermarkt, Luna had never played as a central midfielder until arriving at City, with his historical starting positions just about identical to the roles Pucciarelli has played over his career.
In Petrillo’s description of City’s newest signing, the name “Manuel” could just have easily been replaced with “Adrián”, so fittingly do the listed characteristics apply to both players:
“Manuel is a really talented player, he has excellent technical skills to play as a midfielder but also the sharpness to play as an attacker which makes him the ideal player for our squad.
“We took our time in making this choice, not only were we looking for these attributes, we also want a player with the ability and desire to work hard in and out of possession, which is vital for the way we play football.”
So, 500 words into the ‘Expected Role’ sub-heading, what position should Pucciarelli actually be expected to play?
The answer is likely unimaginative, but it’s this: The Luna role.
Afforded the most attacking licence of our midfield trio within the usual 4-3-3 system, Pucciarelli will still have the opportunity to apply his attacking midfield instincts and technical skills, but likely won’t be as prolific in regards to goal contributions as an out-and-out #10.
Similarly again to Luna, Pucciarelli is likely to step up and join Maclaren as the highest two pressers when City are in defensive transition, with the formation resembling a 4-4-2 when Leckie and Nabbout drop into wider midfield positions.
It’s also for this latter reason that you’d imagine Pucciarelli is the preferred starting midfielder in this role rather than Florin Berenguer. City’s long-serving Frenchman, now into his fourth season with the club, may bring his own particular set of skills to the team’s engine room but is markedly less mobile than his Italian compatriot, who is also two years his junior.
As discussed in a recent Talking City article, however, there remains plenty of room for Berenguer’s contributions to a contest as a controlling midfield influence off the bench when a lead needs to be maintained.
Nor, however, should the possibility of the Frenchman being the superior midfield asset to begin with be ruled out altogether, especially given Pucciarelli’s apparent freezing out at Serie B level – a competition ranked behind the Greek, Japanese and Norwegian top flights according to Global Football Rankings, which is informed by data from FiveThirtyEight.
Pucciarelli may have since amassed 20 appearances and several goal involvements (this information is difficult to find for such an abstract league) in the UAE, but the ease with which he adapts to life in the A-League is difficult to foresee.
Following a season of unprecedented club-level success, City needed to replace one of the most vital components of its system if a similarly trophy-laden campaign is to be the objective.
In Manuel Pucciarelli, the club has acquired a player who possesses the traits to capably fulfil this role, but, at an older age than his predecessor and amidst a dubious period at club level, whether Luna’s value to the team can be replicated remains to be seen.