Chelsea came away from a difficult transfer-deadline day with two signings. One was Danny Drinkwater, proven Premier League performer and champion. The other was Davide Zappacosta, an Italy international defender few in England had heard of and even fewer had seen play.
So just who is Zappacosta, and why were the reigning Premier League champions persuaded to pay around £23 million to sign him from Torino?
ESPN FC runs through five key things to know about Chelsea’s newest Italian import:
He’s an elite crosser
Chelsea’s decision to buy Zappacosta, 25, on Thursday prompted immediate comparisons with Marcos Alonso, another wing-back signed from Serie A on deadline day of last summer’s transfer window.
Both men are unusually tall — Alonso is 6-foot-2, Zappacosta is 6-foot-1 — and strong for wide defenders and combine impressive athleticism with accomplished technique. Zappacosta can also be a formidable free kick taker, though he’ll have to fight for any opportunities to take them at Chelsea.
He’s also considerably quicker than Alonso and, perhaps more interesting for how he fits into Antonio Conte’s 3-4-3 system, an even better crosser.
Last season, Zappacosta registered five assists in Serie A for Torino and, according to Whoscored, the only defender in Italy’s top flight who made more accurate crosses from open play than Zappacosta (47) between January 2016 and May 2017 was Juventus star Alex Sandro, another Chelsea target.
He’s admired the Premier League for a long time
Back in the summer of 2015, having caught the eye in his first Serie A season with Atalanta, Zappacosta found himself the subject of reported interest from several clubs in Italy and abroad, among them Liverpool.
Asked by Sky Italia about the possibility of a move to Anfield, he replied: “It would be a dream to play in the Premier League, but I don’t know how much is true or realistic in this story. I’m keeping my feet on the ground, but I certainly feel ready for an experience abroad.
“I want to challenge myself at the top level on the international stage. If an offer came in from a big club, I’d be eager to prove what I can do.”
Torino eventually won the battle for Zappacosta’s signature, and two years on, Liverpool’s loss could well be Chelsea’s gain.
He replaced Darmian at Torino
Torino funded their £9.5m total outlay on Zappacosta and fellow Atalanta youngster Daniele Baselli by selling Matteo Darmian to Manchester United for £12.7m. Baselli, a box-to-box midfielder, commanded the larger chunk of the fee, but it was Zappacosta who directly succeeded the man who had gone to Old Trafford.
Many in Italy consider Zappacosta the more talented player, though Darmian was picked ahead of him in former Torino coach Gian Piero Ventura’s latest Italy squad for World Cup qualifiers against Spain and Isreal despite finding opportunities limited at United this season.
Zappacosta has a chance to change that situation as a Chelsea player, while Darmian faces a battle to get back into Jose Mourinho’s favour.
Conte knows and likes him
Zappacosta was given his experience of the senior Italy setup by Conte, who named him in his provisional 30-man squad for Euro 2016.
The Torino right-back was never expected to make the final 23-strong group and did not, but Conte chose him along with fellow youngsters Marco Benassi and Daniele Rugani to be the squad’s three reserve players ahead of the tournament.
Typically, these reserves head home after the team’s opening match, but Conte requested that Zappacosta, Benassi and Rugani stick around to soak up the experience of a first senior international competition.
Zappacosta has subsequently gone on to be capped four times by Conte’s successor, Ventura, setting up a goal with a pinpoint cross for Ciro Immobile in Italy’s 2-0 World Cup qualifying victory over Albania in March.
He’s a Juventus fan at heart
Despite making his Serie A breakthrough at Torino, Zappacosta has always harboured a soft spot for their more illustrious local rivals.
Back in 2015, when he was still a coveted Atalanta youngster, Zappacosta made his allegiance clear in an interview with Turin-based sports daily Tuttosport.
“It’s an honour for me [to be linked to Juventus], also because my entire family are Juve fans,” he said. “If I had to choose, I would choose Juventus.”
Given that Conte is a Juventus legend, Zappacosta should have no trouble connecting with his new coach.