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The missing link at Inter Milan: Šime Vrsaljko

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We take in-depth look into how the Croatian right-back fits in at Inter Milan and whether he’s the right man for the job.

France v Croatia - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Final Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images

Inter Milan looked to have finally remedied the right back position with the signing of Šime Vrsaljko. The Croatian right back will be seen as the first genuine replacement for Maicon since he left the club in 2012. It is well documented that Inter Milan struggled to replace the Brazilian and the search for his replacement has been tiresome.

The signing of João Cancelo seemed to have been a solution but his signing didn’t quite pan out due to Financial Fair Play regulations. But, this was a blessing in disguise because of the availability of Šime Vrsaljko from Atlético Madrid for a reported £18m. Inter Milan have purchased a player who has the qualities and potential to become a stable and valued acquisition for years to come.

Šime Vrsaljko started his career at Dinamo Zagreb; a club that has churned out top Croatian talent for many years. He made 73 appearances and in 2013 would leave the club for the Mediterranean where he joined Italian side Genoa. Injuries however, curtailed his appearances for the Italian side and soon he was shipped off to Sassuolo a year later. It was here where the 26-year-old right back made his mark. Vrsaljko’s ability to attack with pace and defend diligently helped his team in achieving their first ever Europa League spot after finishing sixth in Serie A.

England v Croatia: Semi Final - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

His transfer to the Italian club came on the back of an impressive run with the Croatia national team who made it to the final but ultimately lost out to tournament favorites, France. During this impressive run, Vrsaljko was a key player for Zlatko Dalić’s side, where he played 607 minutes across six games and even though he only created one opportunity, his overall contribution to the side was invaluable. Marauding runs, drawing fouls and vital defensive work outside the 18 yard box was a highlight and Inter fans will be hoping for similar level of performances. In my opinion, Vrsaljko could end up becoming the Nerazzuri best signing of the summer not only because his transfer cost but the balance he brings to the team.

The Croat’s last season at Atlético Madrid was his best yet with a great run in the Europa League, going on to win the tournament. His incisive runs and intelligent defending helped the Los Rojiblancos to the title and helped preserve their reputation of having a solid defensive unit.

Šime Vrsaljko versus the world

What can we expect from the European cup winner?

Vrsaljko brings pace in abundance and overlapping runs for the right winger or right-sided central midfielder giving them a passing option. He crosses the ball at every given opportunity but more impressive is his interchanging play with the winger, creating several one-two opportunities, space and time to deliver a cross from the byline or a cut back to the edge of the 18 yard box. Once he develops an understanding with his right wing partner his overall play on the right flank should be much improved.

Taking a closer look at his offensive and defensive statistics from the 2017/2018 season we can analyze the data to examine his potential contributions this season. I’ve compared the data of Šime Vrsaljko with Daniel Carvajal, Álvaro Odriozola, Kyle Walker and Dani Alves. Four of the most consistent right backs in Europe last season.

Šime Vrsaljko’s attacking statistics compared against Europe’s top right backs.
Image courtesy of Squawka

According to Squawka he created 11 clear cut chances (four assists & seven key passes). A decent return for an attacking full back that plays in a team that primarily relies on being a solid defensive unit over an attacking threat. But, for all his attacking movement, he averages 52.94% in one v one situations. This isn’t a bad return for a full back but it can be a cause for concern if he loses the ball in dangerous positions leaving the defence exposed especially since Inter Milan do not play with a traditional defensive midfielder unless Roberto Gagliardini plays. At Atlético Madrid he had one of the best defensive units to rely upon. He will not be afforded similar luxuries at Inter Milan and will need to be less careless in possession.

The Los Rojiblanco’s main source of goals came by the way of Antoine Griezmann, Fernando Torres, Kevin Gameiro, Diego Costa and Angel Correa who scored 66 goals between them. The Nerazzuri similarly scored 66 goals in Serie A last season largely thanks to Mauro Icardi (29 goals) but only six assists were provided by all four full backs last season. The Croatian right back will need to step up and realise his attacking potential now that he plays in an attacking system.

Inter Milan’s full backs contributions compared for the 2017/2018 season.
Statistics & Image Courtesy of WhoScored

Defensive Output

Vrsaljko has outperformed his counterparts in fewer games. The tutelage of Diego Simeone and his stringent system has had a positive effect on his defensive game which has yielded impressive results. The Spanish league is known for their free flowing football than their defensive astuteness. Barcelona, Real Madrid and Sevilla are just a few names who play attractive and attacking football which makes Simeone’s Madrid even more impressive with their water-tight defence. Serie A emphasises on tactical strategy and shape, a key attribute associated with Italian teams in the past. Relying on individual play and tactical astuteness to outclass opponents has been vital to their domestic and European successes in recent years. Šime Vrsaljko has had the opportunity to play in both leagues acquiring a wealth of knowledge from two tactically savvy coaches in Diego Simeone and Luciano Spalletti.

Šime Vrsaljko defensive statistics compared to Europe’s top right backs
Image courtesy of Squawka

Bright Future?

Vrsaljko should have several opportunities to contribute going forward if Luciano Spalletti decides to lineup in a 3-4-3 formation or otherwise. Allowing the Croatian more freedom and combine with the likes of Matteo Politano, Mauro Icardi, Ivan Perišić and Keita Baldé should enable him to become an added attacking threat for opposition teams to worry about. The attacking quartet are dynamic in and out of possession combined with their electrifying pace and quality in the final third.

Foregoing the purchase option of João Cancelo and buying Vrsaljko shows the Nerazzuri’s faith in the Croatian’s abilities and potential. Inter fans will hope for an improved stint in Italy that earned him a move to Spain. With the season still in its infancy, we can only wait and trust the work the Croatian and Spalletti are doing.


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