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Up to the challenge: Previewing the Inter Milan defense

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Does Inter have what it takes defensively this season?

FC Internazionale v SSC Napoli - Serie A Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images

Inter Milan’s 17/18 season campaign had plenty of highlights and lowlights. From a 16-game unbeaten streak to the bad losses to Udinese and Genoa, Inter could not quite establish themselves as one of the elite teams in Serie A.

The defensive unit exemplified the up and down nature of the team better than any.

Luciano Spalletti and the management team sought out to fill any holes in the defense this Mercato. So let's look over the changes to the back line and how they will affect performance this season.

Belgium v Japan: Round of 16 - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia
Yuto Nagatomo of Japan runs with the ball during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Round of 16 match between Belgium and Japan at Rostov Arena on July 2, 2018 in Rostov-on-Don, Russia.
Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

Departures

Yuto Nagatomo, Davide Santon, and Joao Cancelo

Inter has struggled over the past several season with the reliability of the wingbacks. Nagatomo piled up starts over his years with the squad, but never really showed more than mediocrity. So after 170 appearances for the Nerazzurri, the aging Japanese star left the club for Galatasaray.

Davide Santon was one of the supposed replacements to solve the issue. As a player who came up through Inter’s youth program, his return from England was welcomed with open arms. Santon never quite found his footing in the starting lineup and has been offloaded after a mediocre spell with the squad.

Over on the right side of the defense, we seemed to had found our long-term solution in Joao Cancelo. The young Portuguese winger showed some great qualities while on loan with Inter. But as we all know... management chose to (or perhaps could not afford to) redeem the purchase of Cancelo. It wouldn’t have hurt near as much if he had not gone on to sign with those whom shall not be mentioned. In addition, some depth players left the team this offseason.

FC Crotone v SS Lazio - Serie A
Stefan DFe Vrij of SS Lazio in action during the Serie A match between FC Crotone and SS Lazio at Stadio Comunale Ezio Scida on May 13, 2018 in Crotone, Italy.
Photo by Marco Rosi/Getty Images

Arrivals

Kwadwo Asamoah - The Ghanaian multi-tool arrived from Turin on a free transfer. It is assumed that he will take over that dreaded LB position to finally add stability behind Ivan Perisic. After some strong performances in the preseason, he has shown Spalletti that he is a viable option in the midfield as well. He provides strength, physicality, and crisp passing. Wherever he lines up, we should be certain that it was a smart signing.

Stefan De Vrij - Inter lucked out by securing a second top notch defender this transfer period. On another free transfer, the Lazio star came to the club in dramatic fashion with the late-game drama in the final match of the 17/18 season. His foul and subsequent penalty goal by Icardi helped secure the Champions League appearance. I thank you Stefan on behalf of all the Inter supporters worldwide. The player is bringing much more to the table of course. He has been a defensive powerhouse in the Serie A for the past four seasons. He even contributed eight goals while playing with Lazio. De Vrij will be looking to pair up with Milan Skriniar, Joao Miranda, or both to create an impenetrable wall.

Sime Vrsaljko - With Cancelo’s loan spell ending, Inter needed another RB to at least challenge Danilo D’Ambrosio in the starting lineup. Many names floated around this summer but we settled on Vrsaljko after his tremendous World Cup performance with Croatia. He looks to continue that form alongside some of his fellow countrymen. He provides the squad with a bit of spunk, and is dangerous crossing into the box. With Cristiano Ronaldo entering the fold this season, it only makes sense that we go out and get a quality guy who lined up opposite of him in the Madrid Derby.

Lineup and Tactics

Spalletti’s tried and true 4-2-3-1 looks to continue being the preferred formation this season. With four in the defense, we can hope for a backline of Asamoah-Skriniar-De Vrij-Vrsaljko. Don’t be surprised in Joao Miranda gets the majority of starts either.

He has good synergy with Skriniar already and his experience cannot be undervalued. Two other ‘don’t be shocked’ possibilities are the likelihood of D’Ambrosio and Dalbert Henrique playing ALOT. Dalbert looked terrible on the right side this preseason but was decent in his natural left back position.

If Asamoah plays in the midfield at any time, Dalbert will be looking for his chance to shine. D’Ambrosio on the other hand may be a bit better than Vrsaljko on the defensive half. This assumption, along with his ability to play on the left, will provide him with plenty of opportunities on the pitch.

It has been long rumored that Spalletti will deploy a 3-man defense at times. No such formation was used during the preseason, so there is no reason to believe it will be used. However, I feel obligated to mention this possibility.

Our trio of top center backs certainly provide the skill and ability to make it work. History also proves that a strong back three can win in the Serie A. In such a situation, Inter would need well-rounded wingers to provide offensive and defensive support. Roberto Gagliardini could be valuable as a deep holding midfielder in such a formation, essentially becoming a fourth defender.

What to Expect

With this season’s additions, the Nerazzurri look to improve on all fronts. The defense was already solid last season. With De Vrij, Asamoah, and Vrsaljko entering the fold, we can expect a unit with the potential to be the best. This defense is strong, physical, and highly motivated.

Samir Handanovic recorded 17 clean sheets last season, largely due to spectacular goalkeeping. If this new look defense can help improve on that, then we may be looking at a real shot at the top of the table.

Expect a more consistent defense this season, but with plenty of changing lineups. The stars will align for that sweet back four we want, but that won’t always be the case. Just remember, even Andrea Rannochia will get his minutes. Plus, we now have some depth to interchange the cogs of the defensive machine and get away with it. Cheers to a great season full of clean tackles and defensive prowess!


What do you expect from the defense this season? How would you line the team up with these new additions? Tell us your thoughts and predictions in the comment section!