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Upgrading LWB, Pt. 1: Current Options

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A review of Inter’s Left Wing-Back options from the 2019-20 season

Internazionale v Sevilla - UEFA Europa League
“COLOGNE, GERMANY - AUGUST 21: Jesus Navas of Sevilla, Roberto Gagliardini of Internazionale, Ashley Young of Internazionale during the UEFA Europa League match between Internazionale v Sevilla at the Stadion Köln on August 21, 2020 in Cologne Germany”
Photo by Mattia Ozbot/Soccrates/Getty Images

After successfully upgrading at the right wing-back position by signing Achraf Hakimi from Real Madrid, I think it’s fair to assume that a majority of Internazionale supporters would agree that our top priority remaining in this (weird) 2020 summer transfer market is to upgrade at the left wing-back position.

Part 1 Preview:

In the first out of two or three articles in this “Upgrading at LWB” series, I will give a general review of our current LWB options. After all, in order to determine the standards for what a true “upgrade” would be, it is important to first consider the context of players that we already have for that position!

Table of Contents

Conte’s available options this season:

Cristiano Biraghi- 27 years old

Ashley Young- 35 years old

Inter players out on loan:

Dalbert Henrique - 26 years old - loaned to Fiorentina

Federico Dimarco- 22 years old - loaned to Hellas Verona

..............................................

Part 1 - Review of Current Options:

Note: WhoScored is the source for all statistics mentioned in this article

1a - Conte’s Available Options THIS Season:

Cristiano Biraghi:

Age: 27 years old

Birthday: September 1st, 1992

Height: 6’1” = 185 cm

Weight: 172 lbs = 78.02 kg

The Milan native actually began his career with Inter, joining the youth academy in 2005, and later making his first team debut for Inter in the 2010-11 season in the Champions League! After spending two seasons in Serie B, he was bought back by Inter in June 2014...however, that initial reunion failed to result in first team action, as Biraghi was loaned out for two seasons in a row (Chievo Verona and then Granada in La Liga) before then being sold to newly promoted Pescara in July 2016. After they were promptly relegated, Biraghi joined Fiorentina in August 2017, where he stayed for two seasons before being loaned to Inter in August 2019, with an option to buy for a reported cost of €12 million.

Despite such a tumultuous start to his career, our academy graduate did reasonably well this season after being given another chance for a proper reunion with Inter’s first team. In Serie A competition, Biraghi produced 2 goals and 6 assists from 1,579 minutes, which equals 197 minutes per scoring contribution! In the Champions League, Biraghi admittedly failed to produce any goals or assists in 221 minutes...however, in the Europa League, Biraghi also added 1 goal in 201 minutes.

Passing statistics in Serie A:

Biraghi had a pass success rate of 77% with an average of 23.5 passes per 90 minutes. He also averaged 0.5 key passes per 90, 1 long ball per 90, and 1.5 crosses per 90. That crossing statistic actually led the team, with 0.2 more crosses per 90 than Antonio Candreva, and a surprising differential of 1.1 more crosses per 90 than Biraghi’s primary LWB competition Ashley Young!

Defensive statistics in Serie A:

Biraghi averaged 0.5 interceptions per 90 minutes, 0.8 tackles per 90, 1.3 clearances per 90, and 0.3 blocks per 90. For a player perceived as our more defensively solid option at LWB, those numbers are underwhelming, although they are not bad enough to be fairly considered a weakness either. Biraghi was also dribbled past only 0.5 times per 90, which ended up as a tie with Victor Moses for sixth best among regular players on the entire team.

Overall conclusion:

It would be nice to keep our Italian academy graduate for rotation...but sentiment aside, it would probably be smarter if we save that €12 million to help fund the acquisition of a more talented LWB who would make that position an actual strength against the toughest opponents in the biggest Champions League and Serie A matches!

Ashley Young:

Age: 35 years old

Birthday: July 9th, 1985

Height: 5’9” = 175 cm

Weight: 143 lbs = 64.86 kg

With a transfer fee of about €1.5 million from Manchester United, Young signed with Inter in January for the remainder of the 2019-20 season, with an option to extend for an additional season.

After arriving halfway through the season, Young was our best attacking LWB in terms of end product, with 4 goals and 4 assists in 1187 Serie A minutes. If those numbers were adjusted for a full season, then Young’s projected end product statistics of 8 goals and 8 assists would hypothetically give him the third-highest goal total out of our entire squad...AND he would hypothetically be tied with Alexis Sanchez for the very highest assist total out of our entire squad!

Passing statistics in Serie A:

Young had a pass success rate of 82.1% with an average of 27.3 passes per 90 minutes. He also averaged 1.2 key passes per 90, 1 long ball per 90, and 0.4 crosses per 90 — the last of which is surprisingly low for a wingback, although that might be because Young is naturally right-footed, and thus has a tendency to cut back inside on his stronger foot rather than sticking to the touchline and putting in frequent crosses.

Defensive statistics in Serie A:

Young averaged 0.8 interceptions per 90 minutes, 0.6 tackles per 90, 1 clearance per 90, and 0.2 blocks per 90. None of those are spectacular numbers, but to be fair, defensive statistics are not always an accurate reflection of a player’s defensive quality. Young was also dribbled past only 0.7 times per 90, which is a reasonably low average, especially playing out wide against pacy wingers who are often much younger than him.

Height is usually not a particularly essential attribute for a wingback, but it is worth pointing out that Young is below average in this regard, 4 inches (10 cm) shorter than Biraghi. Young still managed to win 0.4 aerial duels per 90 in Serie A, twice as many as Biraghi’s 0.2 per 90...however, Young’s relatively short height turned out to be problematic when it mattered most, with 0 aerial duels won in the Europa League Final as Sevilla repeatedly exploited this weakness in their build-up play on that flank. (For what it’s worth, Gagliardini’s height of 6’2” = 188 cm helped partially mitigate that disadvantage, playing on the left side of our midfield and winning 2 aerial duels)

Overall conclusion:

It is probably worth extending Young for another season, assuming that his wages would be reasonable and that the veteran would be willing to accept a backup role.

Kwadwo Asamoah:

Age: 31 years old

Birthday: December 9th, 1988

Conte’s former LWB at Juventus had an extremely forgettable year under his old manager, with 1 assist and 0 goals in just 639 minutes from only 7 Serie A appearances...I actually had to stop and think for a moment before remembering who our other LWB option was before getting Ashley Young in January!

After a season that was sadly disrupted by injury, it has been clear for a while now that the Ghanaian is almost certainly parting ways with Inter. Fortunately, the newly promoted Serie B winners Benevento are reportedly keen on signing Asamoah, and there is also rumored interest from Fenerbahce in Turkey.

No matter where he ends up, I think I speak for all of us Inter supporters when I say that we are grateful for Asamoah’s service to this club as a reliable (drama-free) veteran, and wish him the best of luck with continuing his professional career with a change of scenery!

1b - Inter Players Out on Loan This Season:

Dalbert Henrique:

Age: (just turned) 27 years old

Birthday: September 8th, 1993

Height: (slightly under) 6’0” = 181 cm

Weight: 154 lbs = 69.85 kg

Believe it or not, it has only been three years since Inter beat out reported interest from Liverpool and Arsenal to sign Dalbert...finally, we thought at the time, our long time Left Back issues might be solved at last! Dalbert had just led Nice’s entire squad in crossing and dribbling attempts the previous season in Ligue 1, so there was some legitimate reason for this optimism about the 23 year old Brazilian’s potential, at least in terms of his attacking contributions.

Unfortunately, the reality did not even come close to our expectations...Dalbert failed to produce a single goal OR assist in 2017/18, with new manager Luciano Spalletti only even trusting him to play just 525 minutes in Serie A...and the next Serie A season was only slightly less disappointing, with 0 goals but 1 assist in 778 minutes.

Fortunately, a loan swap in exchange for Biraghi provided the perfect opportunity for Dalbert to finally get the chance to be a first choice starter for a full Serie A season...and, believe it or not, he actually made the most of it!

WhoScored credits Dalbert with 5 assists this season from 2,492 minutes in Serie A...the Fiorentina SBN blog, in a post about wanting to extend his loan, actually credits him with 6 assists this season, all from open play! In another Viola Nation post doing a season review for the wingbacks, the author even claims that Dalbert “would have had quite a few more [assists] had Fiorentina fielded a striker who could actually finish crosses for most of the year.” Regardless of his exact assist total, it is nice to see that Dalbert has finally started living up to some of the hype about his attacking potential.

Passing statistics in Serie A:

Dalbert had a pass success rate of 78.5% with an average of 30.9 passes per 90 minutes. He also averaged 1.2 key passes per 90, 1.4 long balls per 90, and 1 cross per 90. Other than crossing, all of those passing numbers are actually better than Biraghi’s were for us, with Dalbert playing in the exact same LWB position for Fiorentina!

Defensive statistics in Serie A:

Dalbert averaged 0.6 interceptions per 90 minutes, 1.7 tackles per 90, and 1.6 clearances per 90...all three of those turned out to be better than Biraghi’s averages, especially for tackles, with Dalbert averaging 0.9 more tackles per 90 — over twice as many as Biraghi’s 0.8!

Less impressively, Dalbert only had 0.1 blocks per 90, whereas Young had 0.2 and Biraghi had 0.3 for the same statistic. Dalbert was also dribbled past 1.1 times per 90, which is 0.4 more than Young’s 0.7, and slightly more than twice as many as Biraghi’s 0.5!

This direct comparison of these defensive stats seems to suggest that Biraghi was the best at stopping shots and dribble attempts, but surprisingly, Dalbert was actually the best at proactively winning and clearing the ball!

Overall conclusion:

Finally given a full Serie A season to prove himself, it sounds like Dalbert actually exceeded expectations with Fiorentina! So far, however, they have not renewed his loan or bought him outright yet. It is possible that Conte could finally get the best out of Dalbert if we do end up keeping him this season, since the 26 year old Brazilian already has excellent attacking talent and outstanding pace, and any defensive deficiencies could be improved with coaching from such a world class manager...

...that being said, it seems like an unnecessary gamble to depend on Dalbert improving significantly as a regular contributor to our squad, especially considering Inter’s trophy ambitions. If possible in this pandemic-affected transfer market, now might be the best time to sell Dalbert while his value is theoretically at the highest it has ever been since we unfortunately acquired him.

Federico Dimarco:

Age: 22 years old

Birthday: November 10th, 1997

Height: 5’9” = 174 cm

Weight: 159 lbs = 72.12 kg

The Milan native and Inter youth academy graduate made his first team debut as a 17 year old, coming on as a late substitute during a Europa League group stage match in December 2014. A few months later in May 2015, the still-17 year old made his Serie A debut as an 89th minute sub to finish off a 4-3 win, which indicates a surprising level of trust in the teenager’s defensive maturity.

After spending the next season on loan in Serie B and the one after that in Serie A with Empoli, Dimarco was bought by the Swiss team Sion in June 2017. Just a year later, however, Inter decided to execute our buy-back clause, and then loaned Dimarco to Parma, for whom he scored his first Serie A goal against his parent club in our 1-0 loss at San Siro. However, Parma did not use their option to buy, so the academy graduate returned to Inter in the summer of 2019.

A few months later, after being given only 24 minutes in Serie A by Conte, Dimarco went to Hellas Verona on the last day of the January 2020 transfer window, sent on a loan but with an option to buy. Remarkably, Dimarco managed to produce 3 assists in just 516 minutes, which equals a rate of exactly 172 minutes per assist! However, for whatever reason, Hellas Verona have not used their option to buy the 22 year old permanently.

Passing statistics in Serie A:

Dimarco had a pass success rate of 81.2% with an average of 26.2 passes per 90 minutes. He also averaged 0.9 key passes per 90, 1.8 long ball per 90, and 0.9 crosses per 90...all three of which are better than Young’s averages, and two of which are better than Biraghi’s averages for the same three passing stats! Crossing is the only one for which Biraghi produced a better average, and his 1.5 crosses per 90 led Inter’s entire team, so there is no shame in Dimarco’s average being 0.6 less...especially since the 22 year old more than doubled Young’s average of 0.4 crosses per 90.

Defensive statistics in Serie A:

The Milan native averaged just 0.3 interceptions per 90 for Hellas Verona, but also 0.8 tackles and 0.8 clearances per 90, as well as 0.2 blocks per 90.

Most impressively, Dimarco had the best success rate against the dribble out of any of these four players, with the remarkable average of being dribbled past only 0.3 times per 90!!! That is 0.2 better than Biraghi’s average, 0.4 better than Young’s, and 0.8 better than Dalbert’s!

Overall conclusion:

It would be reckless to draw too many conclusions from such a limited sample size of just 516 minutes in half a season on loan...however, the 22 year old’s numbers are generally within a similar range as the three more experienced players to whom he is being compared here. Furthermore, Dimarco’s assist production and dribble defending rate were both very impressive, especially for a player of his age who immediately had to adapt to playing for a new team and a new coach already halfway through the season!

Final thoughts:

NONE of these four are good enough to be the first choice starter for a team with Inter’s trophy ambitions. The starting Left Backs for the teams that won the last five Champions League Finals were Alphonso Davies, Andy Robertson, and prime Marcelo — NONE of our current four options are even CLOSE to that level...except for maybe Young in terms of attacking abilities, but even he is still at least a tier or two below those other three in that regard, and he definitely lacks the pace of Davies and Robertson to track back defensively.

In the Back Three, none of our current main options for any of the three Center Back roles are particularly fast, so it is absolutely essential in open matches against the toughest opponents to have pacy wingbacks who can track back quickly and defend well, in addition to contributing width in attack as well as elite playmaking and/or scoring instincts. HAKIMI at RWB is the PERFECT target to check all of these boxes — we NEED to find a LWB equivalent who is worthy of our ambitions.

Back in May, it was widely reported that Marotta had decided to use our option to extend Young’s contract for next season, so it looks like we will definitely still have him around as a rotation option. Although I initially opposed the January transfer for “Ashley Old,” after actually seeing him thrive in a wingback role of Conte’s system, I am honestly way more okay with this outcome than I could have imagined just a few months ago.

Biraghi probably is NOT worth paying for just as another rotation option though, so ideally we will let him return to Fiorentina and also be able to sell Dalbert to the highest bidder...I wouldn’t be opposed to a straight swap deal though honestly, as long as we still get a legitimately world class LWB upgrade to be the first choice starter.

If it were up to me, Dimarco’s fate would probably depend on what happens to Biraghi and Dalbert...if neither of them stay, then I would love to keep Dimarco around as third choice, just in case. Otherwise, the smartest move would probably be to offer him in a swap deal plus cash, in order to reduce the transfer cost for acquiring an ideal world class upgrade!