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A few thoughts and concerns ahead of Inter Milan’s next season

With the title almost in Juventus hands once again, I share a few thoughts and concerns about next season

Conte has a tough task on his hands
Photo by Claudio Villa - Inter/Inter via Getty Images

At the start of the season, the team here at Serpents did a roundtable and none of us expected Inter Milan to win the league, although most of us did expect Antonio Conte’s team to mount a strong challenge.

Even if Inter win against Verona later today, there is still a 7 point gap with Juventus with only 7 matches remaining. Right now, we have to treat every game as a final and try to finish above Lazio and Atalanta.

Looking back at our season, there were some disappointing and memorable performances. Most of these disappointing performances were in the Champions League - the draw to Slavia Prague at home, losing to Borrusia Dortmund after going 2 goals ahead, and most importantly, the 2-1 loss to Barcelona’s B Team which knocked us out of the competition.

Some of the performances in the Serie A were equally questionable. Failing to pick up points against relegation candidates Lecce, The 78th minute goal against Cagliari, the extra time goal conceded against Fiorentina. Even after football resumed after the coronavirus situation, we dropped points against Sassuolo and Bologna. Things could have looked very different if we performed better in those matches.

Having said that, if we look at the xPoints(expected points) table, we finish second behind Atalanta and haven’t performed poorly at all. Juventus massively over-perform their expected points because that’s what big teams and winning team do, they win matches you don’t expect them to win (Insert Referee Joke). That’s what we must aspire to be next season, and some of the signings being made are getting me excited once again about this Inter project. In that vain, here are some of my thoughts and concerns heading into next season regarding the defence, midfield and the forwards.

Expected point Total in Serie A
table courtesy

Defence - The Ashley Young optimisation problem

Young has been both vilified and glorified over the past few games. He came on to replace Cristiano Biraghi against Sassuolo in the 75th minute and gave away a silly penalty against Filip Đuričić and looked rather sloppy in possession. A week later against Brescia and he looked like the second best player on the pitch behind Alexis Sanchez. He was constantly finding space on the left flank and finished the match with a goal and an assist.

Against Bologna, he had a solid match and it was his cross that led to Lukaku’s goal. However, a particular moment that caught my attention was when Riccardo Orsolini had a 1v1 against Samir Handanović. Before Orsolini was played in, I noticed Young was not even in the frame. These defensive mis-reads and mis-plays happen frequently enough to the point where Young can be considered a defensive liability.

Young way behind the play
Inter Youtube Channel

Here are some radar charts showing basic statistics of Biraghi and Young. Both of them are among the best when it comes to creating chances (95th and 84th percentile in xA-expected assists among full-backs). Young is a winger-converted full-back whose workrate and decision-making in the final third is great while Biraghi is a set-piece specialist while also being competent from open-play offensively. Having said that both of them, and Young more so, often make defensive blunders and this raises some questions with the arrival of Achraf Hakimi, a offensive powerhouse but a defensively questionable player.

Young vs Biraghi radar charts
Visualisation courtesy

The arrival of Hakimi implies that we are getting one of the most exciting prospects in the world at right-back. Him torching Biraghi in the Champions League matches and countless other Bundesliga left-backs is still fresh in my mind. Having said that, Bayern decided not to bid on him due to him being prone to defensive errors in big matches. That is true, and while the hope is that Conte can help his defensive side of the game, is it not pertinent that we immediately start looking into the market for potential left-back option. I won’t talk about whom we should target, that is an article for another day. Having said that, it should be someone who is good defensively. I’m hearing Inter being linked to Emerson Palmieri, a move that does make sense on paper.

New Signing Achraf Hakimi has been met with with great fanfare. Should we target a left-back as well?
Photo by Marco Luzzani - Inter/Inter via Getty Images

With Bastoni starting to look like he’s ready to be a starter for Inter after Godin has largely been uninspiring throughout the season, a defensive unit of Hakimi, Skriniar, De Vrij, Bastoni and Emerson looks great on paper. The reason why I believe that Bastoni will be crucial (despite his recent performance against Bologna) for next season is that he is a left-footed center-back and whenever he plays, building up play through the left is a lot easier. Against Parma, with Godin and Biraghi, Inter didn’t have any key attacks from the left-side, while against Brescia, both Bastoni and Young were great.

Inter % of attacks on each side vs Parma and Brescia
chart courtesy

Midfield - Is there even any space for Tonali?

Inter are being linked with Sandro Tonali with credible sources - Fabrizio Romano claiming that Tonali wants to join Inter.

While this isn’t a scout report of Sandro Tonali, and honestly, many of us have barely watched Brescia this season to write a full fledged report on Tonali in good faith. However, the little we have watched of him is impressive and his highlight reel gets me feeling excited.

Tonali plays as a holding midfielder in Brescia, a team that has the lowest average possession in the league. Despite this, he’s adept at creating scoring opportunities from live-ball and dead-ball situations. He’s an above average dribbler and is a willing tackler. Most importantly he reads the game really well, he commits a lot of fouls but knows when to commit them. His defensive side of the game still needs improvement but that can be a product of the players he plays with. But with Stefano Sensi, Nicolo Barella, Marcelo Brozovic, Christian Eriksen, and Lucien Agoume, all very capable midfielders, the question is whether we have space for Tonali? The answer is yes, Tonali slots into the squad instantly, but that would mean one of the midfielder would need to be removed from the first- XI. And my hunch is that player would be Eriksen, who much like Godin, has struggled to adapt to a new league and new teammates. If this move does go forward, it will be a similar to Conte’s Juventus midfield - a deep lying Pirlo flanked by two very complete box-to-box midfielders in Vidal and Pogba. In this case, it will be Tonali playing as the holding midfielder with Brozovic and Barella on either side with Sensi coming off the bench for any of these players.

Will Tonali replace Eriksen in Inter’s first XI?
Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images

Attack- Should we extend Sanchez’s stay?

During lockdown football, there have been two main observations. Lautaro Martinez’ string of poor performances and Alexis Sanchez shining whenever given the opportunity.

Here’s a chart I made to show Lau’s finishing woes throught the season, which have gotten worse during the last two games against Brescia and Bologna where he was presented with quite a few chances and still failed to score.

Lautaro Martinez xG vs Goals scored
Chart by @nandy_sushruta

To blame this slump on the entire soap-opera type situation with Barcelona pulling out but still being interested is a bit much. However, it’s imperative that Lautaro finds his shooting touch as soon as possible and next season isn’t another under-performance in terms of finishing. Lautaro has actually been great in other aspects this season, and his connection with Lukaku is something that an Inter dynasty could be built upon.

Sanchez is Inter’s 8th best shot creator despite playing only 400 minutes
Chart by @nandy_sushruta

Moving on to Sanchez, who has been really impressive off the bench this season. He is a lot more direct than say someone like Eriksen and his dribbling ability has actually led to quite a few goal-scoring opportunities despite having not played and started too often. Against Brescia, we saw him being given a rather free role, where he often dropped deep to help start Conte’s trademark 3 pass attacks, he had a good connection with Lautaro. He finished with a goal and 2 assists and this was the best I had seen Sanchez in a long long time. He also gels well around Lukaku’s hold up play, as we saw against Sassuolo and is good with Lautaro as well. I also personally believe that Sanchez can be played as a free roaming attacking midfielder - during the last fifteen minutes against Bologna, he did play this role behind Lukaku and Lautaro and was a lot more effective than Eriksen in the little time that he played. Sanchez created 2 shots, had 2 successful dribbles and had 16 ball carries in 15 minutes as compared to Eriksen’s 3, 0 and 26 in 75 minutes. He did have one really bad pass and even had the opportunity to get us some points from the game, and would have if not for Łukasz Skorupski’s incredible save. Still, there are more positive signs than negative ones are there and I believe that we should extend Sanchez’s loan. With Manchester United going after Sancho and Greenwood starting to look really good, there isn’t much point in them keeping Sanchez around. Continuing to pay 25% of his wages(100k/week) or a slightly higher amount is a figure that is worthwhile to retain the service of Sanchez.

Thanks for reading. Forza Inter!