Why Celtic have made Diego Laxalt their prime target for new left-back
Uruguayan has the engine Neil Lennon wants from his left wing-back
In one of the many scouting reports detailing the strengths and weaknesses of Celtic’s prospective new loan signing Diego Laxalt, his ‘specialities’ are distilled down to one word: engine.
As a result, the 27-year-old Uruguayan, who is reported to be undergoing a medical in London ahead of agreeing a one-year deal from AC Milan, seems an identikit of the left-sided performer that Neil Lennon has been seeking all summer.
There might not seem much about the slight-looking braided-haired 5ft 10in, but he has based his game on producing copious output in getting up and down the pitch with industrious intent. As he said of himself on signing for Internazionale in 2013: “My strengths are speed and endurance.”
In that sense, he is akin to the club’s recently-departed left-siders Jonny Hayes and Boli Bolingoli (without the flights of fancy) rather than the more natural defensive left-sided Greg Taylor. That is not to say the former Kilmarnock man hasn’t attempted manfully to expand his repertoire in order to fit the wing-back orthodoxy within the 3-5-2 system Lennon is determined to employ. His return of four assists demonstrates that. However, Taylor’s lack of that half-yard acceleration to allow him to beat men and hit the byline –as Jeremie Frimpong’s burst of pace allows him to do on the opposite flank – has created an imbalance.
Laxalt should be able to restore that. On the latest SOFIFA scouting report, issued last week, his stamina ranking is 91, his acceleration speed rated at 89, while his acceleration is given as 84. For comparison, on those measures Taylor posts 84, 78 and 77.
The issue with Laxalt is that he also fits the profile of a number of Celtic recruits in this window. In the sense that he has the pedigree - he was signed by Inter early in his career before a successful spell at Genoa gave way to a £13million move to AC in 2018 - but has enjoyed little game time in the past year, a la Albian Ajeti and Shane Duffy ahead of the pair pitching up in Glasgow’s east end in recent months.
The current season for the 24-times capped Uruguayan has amounted to him warming the bench across six Milan games. The last campaign began with him being farmed out to Torino for six months. He made only four starts in that time. Following his return to the San Siro in February, he made only one full appearance.
Laxalt - who forced his way into Uruguayan starting line-up at the 2018 World Cup finals and impressed in the latter part of their run to the quarter-finals where they lost out to eventual winners France - enjoyed the best spell of his career turning out for Genoa. Initially going there on loan for the 2015-16 season after failing to make the breakthrough at Internazionale, he signed on there permanently in July 2016.
Deployed wide left under Gian Piero Gasperini in a 3-4-3 formation, his aggressive approach and the accent he places on getting forward (Laxalt is less reliable on the tracking back duties) made for a good match. Boasting a deceptive physicality, adapting to Scottish football should not be a stretch for him.
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