This week, Gary Medel was once again officially listed in Stefano Pioli’s squad as a defender. The match against Pescara was the latest evidence that Medel has adjusted well to his new role as a center-back. His switch of positions was born out of necessity, yet the Chilean’s move to the back line leaves Inter without a natural defensive midfielder. While the move makes sense, and hasn’t been an issue thus far, there could be reason for concern when Inter face more challenging attacking teams in the coming months.
Given the early season struggles for the defense, and Jeison Murillo’s poor run of form, it was necessary for Inter to find a non-Andrea Ranocchia solution at center-back, which led to Medel’s switch. While Medel, listed at 5’7”, is shorter than most center-backs, he makes up for his lack of height through his positioning and tackling.
In Pioli’s 4-2-3-1 formation, it seems unlikely that Medel will return to the midfield this season. Marcelo Brozovic has been a mainstay in Inter’s squad since Pioli’s arrival, leaving the young and promising Geoffrey Kondogbia and Roberto Gagliardini to battle for the second spot in the pivot. It’s unlikely that Kondogbia and Gagliardini will see much time elsewhere for Inter this season with Ever Banega and Joao Mario fully entrenched the ‘number 10’ role—and rightfully so. Brozovic, Kondogbia, and Gagliardini are all players that have excelled when pushing up from deeper positions, and with just Serie A and the Coppa Italia left to play for, there’s only so many minutes to go around. Of course, being able to play talented young players is a strength, not a problem, for Inter and I personally would like to see those midfield minutes go to Gagliardini and Kondogbia.
At full strength, this reality leaves Medel to battle with Murillo for the starting spot next to Miranda in Inter’s four-man back line. Even if Medel does not start each match, his presence as a defender represents a viable alternative to Murillo, and one that is much better than Marco Andreolli and the possibly departing Ranocchia. While this is good for Inter, it does leave the club without a natural defensive midfielder, and that could be a problem when Inter face the likes of AS Roma, Napoli, and Juventus, who have all been prolific in attack this season, each average two or more goals per game.
The presence of a true defensive midfielder could be a needed addition to the Starting XI (or the bench) when Inter try to neutralize Juve’s duo of Gonzalo Higuain and Paulo Dybala, and Napoli’s three-headed monster of Lorenzo Insigne, Dries Mertens, and Jose Callejon.
In the event of an injury or suspension to Miranda or Murillo, Inter’s lack of depth at center-back takes away the option of using Medel in his natural role of supporting the back-four from midfield. Without another defensive midfielder in the squad, this could become an issue for an Inter side desperate to erase their early season’s struggles and qualify for the Champions League.