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Analysis: Should Inter pursue Cristiano Biraghi?

Do Inter need another option at wing back?

Cristiano Biraghi of ACF Fiorentina in action during the pre... Photo by Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images

Anybody who has followed Antonio Conte’s career so far understands that he usually brings two things with him when he takes over a new squad. The first is quite an impressive list of trophies both as a player and coach: eight total Scudetti, two Coppe Italie, a Champions League title, and a Premier League title. The second is his famed 3-5-2 formation. Conte has been able to build some of the most rigid, disciplined, and, most importantly, successful squads in Europe.

One of the most impactful parts of Conte’s system is its wingbacks. A wing back, for the uninitiated, is a wide defensive midfielder who plays on the left or the right; think of it as a cross between a full back and a midfielder. The wing backs cover a lot of space on the field. They push forward to attack and drop back to defend.

On the attack, the wing backs often receive the ball from the central midfielders and push up to provide service to the strikers. In defense, the wing backs fall back to the outside areas to protect the center backs.

Ideally, the wing backs are technically skilled players who are tireless workers. The opposition can take advantage of the open space if the wing backs get caught too far up the field of if r they get stuck behind the play, unable to offer help in the transition game.

The right wing back spot looks solidified. Antonio Candreva possesses the work rate and speed to excel in this role. He also has some experience playing as a wing back for Conte with the Italian national team. The left side, however, is a bit of the question mark, as Inter has a few different options to consider before the Serie A season begins.

Top Options in the Current Squad

Conte’s two best options on the current squad are Dalbert and Kwadwo Asamoah. Dalbert possesses a great combination of strength and speed that can allow him to grow into the position, while Asamoah offers experience.

Dalbert started at left wing back during Inter’s friendly against Valencia. If Inter chooses not to bring in any more help from the transfer market, it’s likely he will get the first crack when the Serie A campaign starts. Since joining Inter from Nice in 2017, Dalbert has struggled to find consistent playing time; he played in only 11 Serie A games last year. Nevertheless, Dalbert, even at times during this preseason, has shown flashes of potential that Conte hopefully can unlock.

Having played primarily as a left back in his time with Inter, Dalbert is a defensive-minded player who is both a willing and strong tackler. He almost rarely finds himself out of position on the defensive side of the field. As a left wing back, he will be comfortable falling back to help his three centre backs, and his elite pace allows him to cover a wider area of responsibility.

What Dalbert has struggled with, however, is the offensive side of the game. Although he has great speed and agility, Dalbert isn’t somebody who has provided a lot of offense for himself or his teammates. Dalbert only averaged one shot every two games last year and under one key pass per game, according to WhoScored. Dalbert is somebody who likes to cross the ball to his forwards in the box, so maybe his offensive contributions will increase if he starts in an advanced role on the field.

Here, early in the first half, Dalbert shows his strength and size to win a header in the box:

That’s something we rarely, if ever, saw last year. And here, Dalbert almost looks like a midfielder or winger as he plays a through ball to Ivan Perišić:

His work this preseason has shown that Dalber has the skills to play in an advanced position on the field. Don’t be surprised if Dalbert rises to the occasion and eventually proves to be Conte’s best option this year.

Kwadwo Asamoah is another solid option. Last season wasn’t Asamoah’s best. He struggled at times to adjust to his role at left back. He, however, will likely be much more comfortable at left wing back, having played in that role for Conte at Juventus from 2012 to 2014.

Asamoah became a star at left wing back during his time at Juventus, and he helped the club win six Scudetti before moving over to Inter. This experience may prove to be valuable, especially earlier on in the season as most players adjust to the new 3-5-2 system.

Asamoah offers great technical skill with the ball at his feet, and he is an impressive passer with above-average vision. It’s not uncommon for him to play dangerous crosses into the box, and he also is known to make attacking runs that open up space for his forwards. Asamoah averaged over one shot and one key pass per game with Conte at Juventus, per WhoScored. So, while his career statistics don’t show many goals or assists, he is somebody who can be expected to contribute to an attack more than Dalbert. What’s most noteworthy about Asamoah is his work rate. His presence alone can add the type of energy that can instantly change a game.

Unlike Dalbert, Asamoah is only an average tackler who doesn’t quite have the strength to deal with physical forwards. At only 5’8”, he isn’t the best when it comes to aerial duels. Plus, Asamoah is 30 years old and has dealt with significant knee injuries in the past, so his reliability is a question. Nonetheless, given his experience at left wing back in a 3-5-2, Asamoah may be Conte’s first choice as Dalbert continues to adjust to the new role.

Potential Moves on the Transfer Market

Could Inter’s starting left wing back be somebody outside the current squad? Inter has been linked with a few different wing back options during the summer, including Cristiano Biraghi and Matteo Darmian.

While Inter’s pursuit of Romelu Lukaku has stolen most of the summer headlines, Inter has also been actively tracking Cristiano Biraghi from Fiorentina. Inter and Fiorentina discussed Biraghi in July, but Inter wasn’t comfortable with the move until finalizing other transfers, according to TuttoSport.

Biraghi, who came up through Inter’s youth system, really flourished and became a star over the last two years after moving from Pescara to Fiorentina. He’s a versatile player, having featured as both a left back and left midfielder for Fiorentina and the Italian national team.

He is a stout defender who tackles well, and he also has the strength and height to win headers and other physical battles. What really separates Biraghi from other left backs is his offensive capabilities. He averaged 1.7 key passes per game over the last two seasons with Fiorentina, per WhoScored. It’s clear that Biraghi can lead an attack with great passing. And, unlike Dalbert and Asamoah, Biraghi is not afraid to try long shots on goal or take free kicks.

Look at some of Biraghi’s highlights from last year to see his combination of offensive skills and defensive capabilities. Biraghi almost looks more like a left wing than a left back as he shoots on goals and wins penalties, and he also makes strong challenges without fouling to win the ball in dangerous areas.

These are only glimpses of what Biraghi brings to the table, but they do show that he is an exceptional talent who realistically could be the ideal left wing back for Conte’s 3-5-2 formation. He has the technical skills and creativity to lead an attack up the left wing, and he also has the strength and tackling ability to fall back and help his defenders whenever necessary. And, at 26, Biraghi remains in his prime.

Recent reports from Sky Italia have Fiorentina asking for Dalbert as part of a swap deal for Biraghi. Given that Biraghi is already the player that we hope Dalbert can become, this can certainly be a nice piece of business for Inter to close out the transfer window.

The left and right wing backs are important positions in Antonio Conte’s 3-5-2 formation, as they are the ones who provide the formation’s versatility. When needing a goal, the wing backs can push up the field and transform the formation into an attacking 3-3-4, and when preserving a lead, they can fall back into a 5-3-2. As such, it’s vital for Conte to find a consistent left wing back who can provide enough offense while not sacrificing anything defensively.

Here’s the bottom line: if Inter is comfortable spending more money this summer to close the gap with Juventus, Biraghi is the best left wing back option. His defensive strength and attacking mindset makes him a perfect fit for the 3-5-2 formation. Otherwise, if the summer spending spree is over, Dalbert is the best option on the current squad. Asamoah is capable of filling the role, but he no longer has Dalbert’s upside.