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Roberto Gagliardini: The forgotten man at Inter Milan

Can the Italian midfielder be the solution to Inter’s midfield imbalance?

Italy Travel To London Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images

Promising. The performance against Bologna over the weekend was a much improved display from the Nerazzurri. Luciano Spalletti decided to return to a 4-2-3-1 formation and make several changes to the starting XI, including a surprise selection of Keita Balde replacing the injured Mauro Icardi. Radja Nainggolan was given his first start and the all-important selection of Roberto Gagliardini in the double pivot. The Italian midfielder made his first appearance of the season and impressed alongside the ever present Marcelo Brozovic.

Positive Start

Inter Milan started in positive fashion and looked to press high up the pitch with the effervescent Radja Nainggolan – making his Inter debut – leading the charge. The duo of Nainggolan and Matteo Politano combined in the 67th minute for the first goal which injected a lease of life into the game. It was a cagey affair until the first goal forthwith gave the Interista’s belief that they could go on and secure victory.

Further strikes from Antonio Candreva and Ivan Perišić put the game to bed. Keita Balde, started in place of the injured Mauro Icardi, showed great pace and work rate early on but faded as the match went on. He missed a guilt-edged chance to close the game out much sooner than it did.

Atalanta BC v FC Internazionale - Serie A Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

Whilst we can discuss the notable contributions of Candreva, Nainggolan and Perišić, one player quietly went about his business and completed 90 minutes without a fuss – Roberto Gagliardini. The Italian stalwart brought solidarity to central midfield. His partnership with Marcelo Brozovic had chemistry, understanding and both players played within an assured fluidity.

The tandem expertly thwarted Bologna’s attacking moves and controlled the tempo of the game. In my opinion, Gagliardini should have been starting from match day one simply because there is no one else who possesses his attributes in the squad. Dropping him from the Champions League squad was unfair for a player that didn’t get a chance to prove his worth.

Roberto Gagliardini: Versatility Personified

The former Atalanta midfielder was brought in for his versatility, vertical movement in the defensive and offensive third and ball recovery qualities. Roberto Gagliardini’s form with Atalanta saw his stock rise and earn him a €28 million move to Inter Milan in January 2017 - His former coach, Gian Piero Gasperini claimed that, with proper guidance and development, he could become the ‘White Paul Pogba’. Under Stefano Pioli, Gagliardini continued to excel and picked up right where he left off but Luciano Spalletti’s arrival saw his play time reduced but still ended up with 30 appearances for the 2017/2018 season.

He was used as a half-back whilst playing for Atalanta in a two man midfield and is capable of playing as the deepest central midfielder or ‘mezzela’ in a three man midfield. Spalletti has already shown his versatility by employing several formations in the first four games of the season utilising a 4-2-3-1, 3-4-3 and 3-5-2 formation. Gagliardini’s versatility makes him a valuable asset with his ability to play in different setups in a variety of roles comfortably. Whether he plays as a half-back, box to box midfielder or ‘mezzela’, the Italian has proven himself to perform on the big occasions which made Piero Ausilio – Inter’s Sporting Director – target him as Inter’s sole January transfer target upon the signing.

Inter Milan central midfield options compared
Image courtesy of Squawka

The Italian’s physicality plays a sizeable role and averages 1.53 interceptions and 1.53 tackles per game. Compared to the rest of his central midfield partners, Gagliardini possesses the best statistics in this regard. The Italian may commit more fouls than his teammates but it’s a small price to pay for a player that has the ability to cover ground and win the ball back to start counter attacks. The six foot two inch midfielder is a force in the air winning 68.18% of his aerial duels per 90 minutes. The all action midfielder possesses the key attributes that is required to play such a role.

One For The Future

The Nerazzurri have acquired a naturally talented all-purpose midfielder who has a knack for well-timed challenges and preventing counter attacks.

Gagliardini is the only squad player to give Inter’s midfield, balance and structure without sacrificing defensive solidarity. A no nonsense midfielder with a ravenous appetite to win the ball makes him a valuable squad player who in my opinion, should be the first name on the team sheet. Gasperini claimed that Gagliardini had “pushed his limits” at Atalanta. This season could yet prove to be a telling season for the 24-year-old that has yet to fulfil his potential under Spalletti. Inter could turn to their forgotten man who they took a gamble on when signing the Italian international with the knowledge that the long term investment will eventually pay dividend.

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