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What the numbers tell us about the Lautaro-Lukaku connection

And other interesting stats

US Sassuolo v FC Internazionale - Serie A Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images

Nine games into the Serie A season we now have a decent sample size. Let’s take a look at some of the most interesting statistical trends from Inter this season and try to deduce what they do or don’t tell us about the team’s style and output this season.

Stefan de Vrij leads Inter with an average of 1.3 blocks per game. That’s more than double Inter’s second placed player, Milan Skriniar. De Vrij is currently second in Serie A (among players who’ve played a minimum of five games) behind only Brescia’s Andrea Cistana. Harry Wyatt had an excellent piece last week looking at de Vrij’s altered role and renaissance under Conte.

There has been some criticism of Inter’s lack of fluidity and attacking intent in open play. Of Inter’s 20 domestic goals this season, only 12 have come from open play, the rest made up of set pieces and penalties. Understat, however, pegs Inter’s expected goals from open play closer to 14, which aligns closer with eye test. I have reservations about Inter’s ability to unlock a team centrally, which is most important against top teams. But there’s no denying how lethal the team looks when the ball flashes wide and is whipped into the box. Delivery from the wide areas this season has been outstanding.

And guess what? Antonio Candreva leads the team in expected assists (xA) exactly because of that. Candreva only has one assist in Serie A this season, but his delivery has been worthy of much more production.

The goal records of Lautaro and Lukaku are as follows: Lukaku has six goals in 11 appearances, 10 starts; Lautaro has six goals in 12 appearances, 11 starts. What’s telling, however, is how little Lukaku shoots in relation to Lautaro. The Argentinian averages more than double the amount of shots Lukaku takes per game: Lautaro averages 6.14 shots per 90 minutes; Lukaku just 2.3.

What’s interesting is that when Lukaku first joined it was thought that he would play on the shoulder of the last man, while Lautaro would come shirt and provide a link-up/zone eating/line distorting option. What we’ve seen instead is nice patterns of combination play. Both have filled each role. Yet the whole thing has looked much more natural and fluid with Lukaku setting up outside the box, playing on the half turn, then driving ahead and feeding someone:

There is no better example. Watch as the play develops. Lukaku does not look to burst in-behind the backline – indeed, Lautaro doesn’t offer a short option. Instead, Lukaku moves towards the ball, using his body to shield away the defender. Then, in a flash, he twists, accelerates, and releases the ball to a third-man runner, in this instance: Sensi.

The result: A goal scoring chance; a penalty that Lukaku himself converts.

Lukaku’s game is – and was – much more expansive than many of his detractors gave him credit for. What we’ve seen thus far is more of the International style Lukaku than the pin-the-back-post-and-make-angled-runs stylings we saw in Manchester.

Lukaku has nestled in neatly with the most well-rounded statistical season of any Inter play so-far this season. He is averaging 22.5 passes per game (Lautaro is currently at 11.6 for what it’a worth) and leads the team in xG with 5.79, good for first in Serie A by a pretty decent distance.

You know who’s second in Serie A in xG? Lautaro! So, the partnership appears to be working for everyone.

Rumors linking Inter to every central midfielder under the sun are well founded. Issues about central creativity, playing that tippy tappy stuff that opens up elite opponents and leads to wins against the likes of Barca and Juve, are consistent and almost impossible to overcome with internal development – unless Barella takes a massive jump, which isn’t the craziest idea. Add to that: Sensi’s inability to play 30+ games a season. 72% of Inter’s final third attacks come from the flanks. That number would be fine it the other 28%, through the middle, was not clouded with errors.

Brozovic has completed 91% of his passes this season, an outstanding total. Sensi is at 87%, a really, really good number, particularly for someone who’s shown such attacking intent. Gagliardini and Barella are both at 84%, however. That’s not good enough for a pair of players who haven’t offered the same level of incisiveness in the final third. Things are even worse from Vecino, who is completing just *cleans fake glasses, vomits a little* 79% of his passes. Reinforcements are necessary.

Inter have scored only one goal in the first 15 minutes of a game this season. Eight of their goals have come in between the 16th and 30th minutes. Perhaps Conte sees something and makes subtle adjustments? Perhaps it takes the team a little while to get settled? Perhaps it’s nothing.

Inter have taken 62 shots outside the box this season, clearly a part of a plan to funnel more of the scoring burden to the midfield. Those shots have produced just three goals, however, and even fewer expected goals (2.32). When they have hit they have been beautiful, though.