At this point Frank De Boer seems to have settled on a 4231 formation for his Inter side. The best game Inter has played so far featured Gary Medel and Joao Mario as the deeper midfielders with Ever Banega playing in the trequartista role. The match against Empoli had no Banega but J. Mario took on the creative mantle and the side cruised to victory. The Bologna draw saw no Mario and the side struggled a little in the midfield, though that was mainly only when Geoffrey Kondogbia was on the pitch and after Banega had been removed.
The reason I bring this up is in the Europa League Inter doesn’t have Mario or Kondogbia available so De Boer will have to come up with a different first choice midfield for this competition. In the opening loss to Hapoel Be'er Sheva the midfielders were Brozovic, Medel, and Melo and that lineup failed spectacularly. De Boer has to try again so let’s look at some of his options (assuming that Marcelo Brozovic has been brought back into the squad).
Option 1: 4231 with Banega, Brozovic, and Gnoukouri
Pros: Probably the best offensive-based midfield available. Banega would be able to reprise his trequartista role, while Brozovic and Gnoukouri could sit deeper and control the play since both of them have a good range of passing. This triumvirate would allow Inter to play a strong possession game and really dominate the match the way De Boer envisions. The three of them also have the legs to make sure the pressing system is implemented in the Europa League squad as well.
Cons: Fatigue to Ever Banega. The Argentine playmaker is already an integral part of the Serie A side and making him start in the EL as well could risk burning out the 28 year old. Banega has racked up a lot of appearances in the last two season plus he played a large role in Argentina’s journey to the Copa America final, so Frank De Boer will have to manage his minutes very carefully. Luckily Banega hasn’t had a lot of past injury issues, but this option should still be considered with caution.
There’s also the question of if this lineup would provide enough defensive cover, especially on the counter. While Marcelo Brozovic and Assane Gnoukouri can put in some defensive shifts, neither of them are an out-and-out defensive midfielder who can fully be trusted to help stop opposition attacks, especially if the fullbacks are pushed forward as well. I think they would be fine if the other side keeps possession and Inter has to press, but counterattacks could see the midfield quickly bypassed and the defense exposed.
Option 2: 433 with Brozovic, Gnoukouri, and Medel
Pros: Likely the most balanced option available. In this formation Medel can sit deep and protect the defenders while Gnoukouri and Brozovic would move forward and link up with the attackers. Gnoukouri could serve in a box-to-box role, pushing the ball forward and using his passing range to link up with the wingers and fullbacks. Brozovic would be the most offensive-oriented midfielder and we already know from last season that the Croatian can serve as an creative and attacking outlet.
Cons: Fatigue to Medel. In a similar situation to Ever Banega, Gary Medel has played an awful lot of minutes the past couple of seasons (as well as international duty) and some time on the sideline wouldn’t be a bad idea.
Option 3: 433 with Brozovic, Gnoukouri, and Melo
Pros: Really the only difference between this option and the prior one is that Medel gets some rest. Melo was signed as a backup to Medel and should be allowed to do his job.
Cons: There’s a reason Gary Medel plays so much and Felipe Melo so little: you never know what you’ll get from the Brazilian. The 33 year old is a walking red card, and his next tackle could always be that rash one that punishes the squad. Melo can put in decent shifts for the team, it’s just that every appearance is rolling the dice with him.
(There is of course another series of options that include both Medel and Melo starting at the same time but I refuse to even consider that option and I hope De Boer does the same after our opening EL match unless he has absolutely no other choice.)
So what do you think the best option is? Do you agree or disagree with my analysis? Think the solution is a duo of Medel and Melo? Answer the poll and sound off in the comment section.