It’s been three matches now that Inter Milan striker Mauro Icardi has been out of the lineup.
After not being on the roster for the first Europa League leg at Vienna with Rapid Wien, Icardi was stripped of his captain’s armband (of course, it could have been the other way around).
Following that, the Argentine missed out on a 2-1 win against Sampdoria. It was claimed that Icardi missed because of a nagging knee injury. So, he went in for tests to see what the issue might be. Turns out, his scans turned up nothing new.
Then, he sat out Inter’s 4-0 win over Rapid Wien at the Giuseppe Meazza – advancing the Nerazzurri into the round of 16 of the Europa League.
Now, it is entirely possible that Icardi will miss Sunday’s Serie A clash with Fiorentina.
It does bring up an interesting question: Just when will Mauro Icardi return to the lineup?
Well, it is a little more complicated than just pulled out a date. A lot of this will ride on Icardi. After all, it is his claim that he has an injury and, with nothing to back that up, it is hard for team physicians to give a timeline for return.
Then, you have to consider when he says he is ready to return, does Luciano Spalletti put him back into the starting XI? History would suggest that Spalletti would ease him back, just like with Radja Nainggolan (who was suspended) and Ivan Perisic (who was suffering from God only knows what).
There is the distinct possibility that Icardi doesn’t come back to the lineup and leaves in the summer. We will address leaving in another story. But, if he doesn’t come back, what does Spalletti and Inter do?
As the win over Rapid Wien told us, Inter has options in attack. Perisic can be lethal, but he also serves the ball up nicely from the wing. The same can be said for Matteo Politano. I think, between the two, Politano would be a better center-forward just because of how dangerous Perisic is on the wing.
Nainggolan is a midfielder and trying to convert him to a striker would be silly. Inter needs all of the midfield help it can get. Plus, a healthy Radja is an effective Radja … as we have seen.
Antonio Candreva? Don’t even get me started!
How about Andrea Ranocchia? There’s a possibility, but his lack of playing time would lead me away from this as a regular option up front.
There’s also Keita Balde. Yeah, I’m not there yet. I think he has the potential to be dangerous, but I haven’t seen enough of that prowess that makes a good striker out of him yet. With a little more time, it could happen.
And there’s the obvious … Lautaro Martinez. In just 691 total minutes played, El Toro has amassed four goals and an assist. That’s a goal every 172.75 minutes. Compared to Politano (2 goals in 1,474 minutes for a goal every 737 minutes) and Perisic (three goals in 1,584 minutes or one goal in 524.6 minutes), Martinez is clearly a better producer.
But, those stats can be a bit misleading.
Consider that both Perisic and Politano aren’t starting as goal scorers, but more like goal creators. They are tasked with creating opportunities for players like Martinez and Icardi to score.
Also consider that Martinez is dispossessed more than either Politano or Perisic, by nearly a double margin.
So, what does that tell us? Hard to say.
Martinez is the best likely candidate to be a temporary full-time striking replacement for Inter. And, if he garners more minutes, that striking ability may become more refined than what it is now.
That said, Politano could provide a nice option as a center-forward, if that were a direction Spalletti wanted to try out.
In terms of Icardi coming back, that is another difficult question to answer. Like I said, it will be primarily up to him to make that decision. And, when he does come back, I wouldn’t expect him to be in the starting XI right away.
What do you think? Post your comments below!