The 24-year-old Austrian defender has imposed himself as a leading presence on Thiago Motta’s side as of the best-performing tacklers in Serie A.

Giovanni Sartori is one of the most interesting Sporting Directors in Italy these days. It’s also thanks to his research, judgment, and taste that Atalanta has become one of the most original and competitive projects in European football. Sartori stands out for having a rare ability in football: being able to find lesser-known talents in less traditional and mainstream markets, concurrently building teams that exceed all expectations.

This is why there were great hopes around Bologna when Sartori was appointed as the club’s Sporting Director. For many years, Saputo’s club has been looking to pass from the complicated Serie A “midfield” to a European (or semi-European) dimension. That very transition Atalanta has accomplished in the past few years. And yet, the mood was quite skeptical after the summer transfer window. Some excellent players left the club – Theate, Hickey, Svanberg – and other dubious, hard-to-understand players were signed. The first complicated months of the season seemed to confirm the feeling of an unsuccessful transfer market. None of the new signings seemed capable of taking Bologna to a higher level.

With time, though, especially with the appointment of Thiago Motta as the manager, these new signings started to stand out. Within a team with a more defined and ambitious tactical identity, the sense behind Sartori’s transfers started to feel more coherent. And within a very physical team that wants to win the ball back in high positions and put the opponents under pressure with their intensity, there’s one star that shines brighter than others: Stefan Posch. A defender, either as a full-back or center-back, who is a bit overlooked, maybe for his position or maybe for his practical style of play.

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He was signed last Summer on loan from Hoffenheim, after a respectable career in Bundesliga and as a starter in the Austrian national team. Posch developed in one of the most physical contexts in European football, in the vertical and intense Bundesliga football, a league that is picking more and more Austrian players – taking advantage of the more or less direct influence of the Red Bull Salzburg on that area. Posch is almost 1.90m tall but is very quick. With his fast pace, he’s able to keep up with some of the best players in the league. This is why, although being primarily a center-back, he’s often played as a full-back.

In one of the last Serie A games against Lazio, he had to face a proper menace like Mattia Zaccagni. Maurizio Sarri’s winger is one of the best players with his back to the goal, capable of receiving the ball and using his fast pace to create dangerous situations that confuse opposing defenses. Posch started with the idea of not allowing him to turn, pressuring him quickly as soon as he received the ball. As easy as it may sound, it was a risky plan. Zaccagni has that kind of quickness that can use against defenders and their haste. It only takes him good ball control, or the defender a bad-timed pressure, and the situation immediately becomes dangerous for the defense. Posch, though, was almost impeccable, putting Zaccagni under nearly-foul pressure. By doing so, he also took his opponent out of the game from a mental standpoint, making him nervous and argumentative towards the final part of the game.

It was a suitable performance to describe Posch’s style of play, and also the many challenges that opposing Serie A strikers have to face when playing against him. Not many things are as annoying as a big, quick defender that wants to anticipate you on any given ball, pushing and kicking you if necessary – always within the limits of the rules, obviously.

It’s a style that gets exalted by Thiago Motta’s game, as he turned Bologna into one of the teams that pressure the most – and the best – in Serie A, a league where teams don’t press much or well. It’s a team that wants to win the ball back quickly and high up the pitch, and that – in its best moments, takes its defensive line up to the midfield. Posch is one of those players who calls for the pressure to trigger from the defensive line. He did it in a three-man defense when Bologna played with three at the back; he’s also doing it as a full-back, now that Thiago Motta opted for a four-man defense. When the opponents move the ball on the wing, Bologna’s pressure triggers and Posch is relentless with the opponents. He recovers almost 11 balls in the opponents’ half every 90 minutes, accomplishing more than five interceptions per game. Only seven players in Serie A recover more balls than him in counter-pressing recoveries. And while having such an aggressive and physical approach, Posch doesn’t commit many fouls, slightly more than one every 90 minutes.

Posch is also very useful when things don’t go as planned. If Bologna’s pressure fails, Posch is one of the quickest defenders in recovering the ball. He’s third in Serie A for recoveries per 90 minutes.

Posch's recoveries metrics on Wyscout Player Report

The main reason why people talk about him, though, is the timing that he’s showing within the penalty box. He already scored four goals in Serie A and seems one of those defenders that show magic magnetism when a crosses reached the heart of the penalty box.

He has a sober and essential style with the ball. We’re not talking about a player that can influence his team’s possession with his technique, but his dynamism is very useful also with the ball at his feet, especially in such a fluid team. Posch covers huge parts of the pitch, not turning his nose up at attacking central channels if the occasion arises.

Posch's ball progression metrics on Wyscout Player Report

Posch still remains a center-back adapted as a full-back, mostly influencing his team when out of possession, thanks to his anticipations and aggressive pressures. In a league such as Serie A, where games are often played on low rhythms, players that come from a more intense and athletic league such as the German ones typically stand out. Posch, one of the most pleasing surprises of this season, is yet another confirmation of that.

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