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Gary Medel or Jeison Murillo?

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Who should start next to Miranda in Inter’s back four?

FC Internazionale v Athletic Club Bilbao - Preseason Friendly Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

When Inter manager Stefano Pioli decided to make former midfielder Gary Medel a permanent defender earlier this season, the decision was met with some skepticism. Many, myself included, were worried about how the 5’7” Chilean would match up against much taller strikers, and how a 29-year old player would adapt to a position he had never previously played for Inter (though Medel does have experience as a defender for the Chilean National Team). I’m happy to say that my concerns were quickly put to bed, as Medel has flourished as a center back.

Of course, the biggest casualty to Medel’s emergence as a defender has been Jeison Murillo. The 24-year old Colombian was a mainstay in Inter’s Starting XI last season, and fair or not, his dip in form this campaign has been met with much criticism.

Miranda is clearly the best defensive option for the club, leaving Pioli to choose between Murillo and Medel when the Italian opts to deploy his team in a four-man back line.

Let’s explore the question of who Pioli should start next to Miranda.

The numbers

The following chart breaks down how Inter have performed in the various defensive setups in all competitions this season. The chart considers matches where Miranda and Murillo have played together in a back four, matches where Miranda and Medel have played together in a back four, matches where Medel and Murillo have played together in a back four, matches where Inter went with a back three (using all three of the center backs), and matches Inter used a different defensive formation (Remember Andrea Ranocchia? Sorry).

Inter Defense.csv

Combination Matches Wins Draws Losses Goals allowed Goals allowed per match
Combination Matches Wins Draws Losses Goals allowed Goals allowed per match
Miranda and Murillo 17 9 1 7 18 1.1
Miranda and Medel 5 3 2 0 6 1.2
Murillo and Medel 1 1 0 0 2 2
Back 3 with all 3 3 2 0 1 1 0.33
Other 9 3 1 5 19 2.11

Before we dive in, it’s worth noting two things: (1) beyond the Miranda and Murillo stats, the samples sizes are really too small to mean much and (2) Inter have been horrible when they line-up in “another” defensive formation, and yes, that category does include matches where Murillo and Medel (mostly Murillo) have played without each other or Miranda.

Looking at the chart, the quick answer may very well be to table this discussion and just go with a back three of Miranda, Medel, and Murillo — the 1-0 loss to Juventus was the only time Inter conceded playing that way this season. However, using that lineup leaves either Antonio Candreva or Ivan Perisic out of position as a wing-back, something that has certainly hurt the club’s attaching abilities this year.

That aside, the statistical comparison between Medel and Murillo is interesting. Murillo’s goals allowed per match when paired with Miranda are actually (slightly) better than those of Medel, despite the fact that the Murillo-Miranda combination was a favorite of Frank de Boer’s, back when Inter were conceding goal left and right. However, Inter are also undefeated in the five matches they’ve played using the Medel-Miranda combination.

Beyond the numbers

Just from watching Inter this season, it’s abundantly clear that Murillo still has a lot to learn, and does not yet have the same tactical-awareness level as Medel. The Chilean is a relentless worker, a ferocious tackler, and at the end of the day, consistent. Whereas Murillo — as is the case with most young players — is still prone to the occasional lapse of judgement. Consistency is certainly a much-needed trait for an Inter side that’s had a turbulent season.

That being said, Murillo is a natural center back and much taller than Medel (6’0” to 5’7”) as a result. He is also a young player that still has much room to grow. Despite his struggles this season, the Colombian also has the ability to produce the spectacular – his unbelievable bicycle-kick goal against Bologna in the Coppa Italia is proof. Simply put, the goal was a play that Medel could not have made.

The current reality

Inter are in an interesting position at the moment, as the club’s push to secure a Champions League spot is fading each week. There’s nine matches left in Inter’s season, and the club might have to win out to make up enough ground to pass third place Napoli.

Of those nine remaining matches, five are against teams in the top half of the table.

Verdict

If I were Pioli managing Inter Milan for the remainder of this season, I would start Murillo next to Miranda in the four matches against lower-half of the table sides. I would value consistency in the five matches against opponents in the top half, and choose to start Medel with Miranda.

That being said, based on his potential and ability to produce the spectacular, I still see Jeison Murillo as Miranda’s long-term partner in the four-man defense.

Also, this:

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