The signing of Timothy Castagne has been Leicester City’s sole investment in the window, thus far, and an exciting one at that, with an excellent goal on his debut. Putting aside all the other transfer rumours, let’s dissect the Belgian-international’s rise to prominence in the Italian Serie A, whilst outlining his most probable role under Foxes manager Brendan Rodgers.
The Belgian Wonderkid
Initially, Castagne started his career in his home-country, Belgium, playing for KRC Genk under Scottish manager, Alex McLeish. At just 18-years-old, Castagne was an assured starter for McLeish, fielding him 27 times out of a possible 36 game season, whilst also giving him the seventh most minutes at the club (2,193) – ahead of youngsters Sergej Milinkovic-Savic (1,674) and Wilfred Ndidi (350).
In the early stages of his career, Castagne was almost solely deployed as a right-back in KRC Genk’s back-four, alongside Kara Mbodji, Christian Kabasele, and Anele Ngcongca with infrequent minutes for a then seventeen-year-old, Wilfred Ndidi at centre-back. Castagne remained a key player for the Blauw-Wit (Blue-White) over the next two seasons (playing 4,436 minutes over 51 games), before completing a £5.85m move to Atalanta in July 2017.
Initially, it wasn’t realised how good of a match Gian Piero Gasperini’s Atalanta and Castagne was. In-fact, in his first season in Italy, Castagne played the least amount of football (1,500 minutes) of his career to date. But the record was quickly put straight. In his second season, Castagne featured 28 times and was a crucial component to Gasperini’s 3-4-3, as he was versatile and could play either at the left or right wing-back roles.
Rodgers’ Versatile Options
His adaptiveness to play both flanks has been outlined by his managers reliance on him to play both sides with an almost equal distribution – 39 times at RWB and 41 times as the LWB. This is quite the asset for a manager, and it’s one of the main reasons Brendan Rodgers pursued his signature this summer.
Cast your mind back to last summer, and you’ll remember Leicester City signed Luton Town full-back, James Justin for £6m. In his 132 professional career games, Justin has played 49 games at right-back and 45 games as a left-back, again outlining a proficiency of playing both full-back positions. This is obviously a skillset that Rodgers regards highly, and it makes balancing multiple competitions (such as the UEFA Europa League for the Foxes this season) a lot easier.
I anticipated Castagne would play left-back for Leicester City, for a couple of reasons. As mentioned earlier, Gasperini seemed to favour deploying the Belgian on the left, so he should feel more comfortable playing on that side, particularly when compared with Justin – who has slightly more games on the right hand-side.
Another reason came from reviewing Atalanta’s match footage during last season, I noticed Castagne benefitted defensively from being right-footed at left-back, as when the opposing winger cut inside, he was attempting his tackle with his stronger foot. From a smaller sample size, this seemed advantageous rather than a hindrance and it facilitated an average of 1.98 tackles per 90 in the 2019/20 Serie A campaign.
I also felt Castagne subsidised Ben Chilwell’s aerial prowess better than Justin would. The Belgian-international won 57.9% of his aerial duals in the Serie A last season, and this trend continued with his debut, winning 83% (5 out of 6) of his aerial duals. This is an important asset in a Rodgers full-back, as he often asks Kasper Schmeichel to use the right and left-back from goal-kicks or in open play, so having good aerial ability is fundamental.
But, even with all the signs pointing towards a start at left-back, Rodgers opted for the opposing flank for his debut. A little part of me felt this was to facilitate an already established defensive partnership between himself and Wilfred Ndidi – a sense of comfort in his first game in England would do him no harm.
Plus, Castagne is very aggressive in his attempts to reclaim possession: if you partnered him with left centre-back, Çağlar Söyüncü, then West Bromwich Albion’s right-winger, Matheus Pereira, could’ve enjoyed a lot of free space in the area’s they vacated. For Rodgers to achieve a level of equilibrium, playing Castagne as the right-back was fairly smart. I still predict a shift to left-back for the Belgian, even with Ricardo Pereira remaining injured for the foreseeable future.
The Dream Debut
A massive boost for the Foxes was that a lot of Castagne’s attacking attributes translated into Leicester City’s style rather than being solely dependant on Gasperini’s three at the back formations. Often, Castagne would hug the touchline when Leicester City were in possession as this stretches the oppositions defensive structure – whilst offering a switch of play or passing lane. This also combined well with Spanish forward, Ayoze Pérez, because of his natural interior movements from the wing.
With Castagne holding the width, Pérez was able to cut inside with more freedom and facilitate frequent overlaps from Leicester City’s marauding full-back. Another translatable trait of Castagne’s was his decisiveness in possession. This doesn’t necessarily mean he always makes the correct pass, but he instinctively progresses the play without dawdling on-the-ball, quite a refreshing sight for the Foxes faithful.
This decisiveness in conjunction with his abundance of touches in the final third (15 against West Brom) makes him quite an effective chance creator for Leicester City, once again subsidising, and for me improving on, Chilwell’s attacking output. I think one of the major reasons Rodgers chose to play Castagne as the right-back was more of a statement to the hierarchy at the Foxes, most potently, the board and recruitment.
In his latest press conferences, Rodgers has been transparent with his disappointment regarding incoming transfers especially considering the addition of European football this season. By playing Castagne as the left-back, he would’ve admitted to signing him as the Chilwell replacement, when in-fact, I think he still wants an out-and-out left-footed full-back.
Regardless of whether that’s true or not, I think Castagne and Justin could fill the left-back hole between themselves this season – I’d still prefer a left-footed left-back, as progression of play flows much more naturally, but with one of the best training ground facilities being built in Leicestershire as we speak, funds may be on the smaller side, and beggars can’t be choosers.