Horrible take… I know… but hear me out on this one, and empty your mind like my guy SpongeBob did.
This is something I have been saying since day one. No, I am not saying #SkriniarOut, but more #SkriniarLooksWeirdToMeAndiSeeWhyHeWasAlmostSoldToTottenham.
Let’s start from August, all the way back to the beginning. Milan Skriniar was heavily involved in transfer talks with Tottenham. Why on earth would Inter sell one of our best center backs in the recent era? He did not look his best last season, we know that, but he was still an excellent defender regardless of any kind of nitpicking by me, you, or Antonio Conte.
Match week one, Inter – Fiorentina. Interisti everywhere feel confident after coming off a long, promising season, only to be surprised or rather shocked at the starting lineup. Bastoni, D’Ambrosio, Kolarov. First thoughts are obviously “where the hell is Skriniar?!” We’re all questioning it, especially after seeing the game end 4-3 with Kolarov being a huge defensive liability. (De Vrij suspended this match).
I watched this game and noticed a few things that Conte has continued to do throughout the season. If you haven’t noticed by now, our exterior center backs play relatively high up the field to close down space with Conte’s high press. They generally sit about 10-15 yards behind and ahead of the central midfield pushing forward on the ball whenever the opportunity presents itself. Barella/ Vidal/Gagliardini and now Eriksen cycle in between the external CB and cover their space from pushing up.
How many times have we seen Skriniar dribble/attempt passes at the beginning of the final third of the pitch? It’s been quite often and personally, it hurts my eyes and my soul to watch Skriniar try so hard to be capable of playing this role that is so incredibly unpleasing to watch.
All of last season, we saw Skriniar struggle as our left center back, constantly performing below expectations, but at the same time being a strong option as a central defender. His game has improved and he has shifted to the right side of the defense and has solidified a spot in the starting lineup.
Here’s where this article may turn upside down.
Skriniar in my honest, biased, not needed opinion, is below average at best on the ball despite all the facts, stats, and opinions that say otherwise. He fails my eye test which is why I am positive Conte wanted him sold and replaced. We have seen him as a makeshift right-back a few times and if I had to sum it up in 240 characters or less...” Skriniar dribbled out of bounds with little to no pressure.” (So what if that was almost two years ago plz keep reading I beg). This is my case, and I am sure Conte’s case for this particular situation. I will use the recent Lazio game as an example. Skriniar was a dog. Top-notch performance that put him in the man of the match conversation… as a defender. Going forward he was unable to find a pass breaking the midfield line of Lazio. I don’t have an exact number, but there were a few passes to either a midfielder or attacker on the right side of the field that immediately resulted in a turnover.
In the modern game, all 11 players are expected to contribute in both phases of the game – attacking and defending. Strikers are now required to press and drop deeper defensively, cut off passing lanes, etc. goalkeepers are now required to be good with the ball at their feet, and defenders must be able to contribute to the attack. Doesn’t sound too crazy right? Let me break it down a little bit more. Skriniar is an old-school type of player, in this case, I can compare him to Chiellini. A hard-nosed defender who doesn’t take any crap sticks tackles and is reliable, defensively… you can go on and on but I’ll keep that part short. The other players we have in this position seem to be a better fit for the system.
Bastoni is not only an excellent defender, but is highly capable of turning defense into attack in an instant with a pass, dribble, or goal attempt. Kolarov, not the greatest choice for center back, can break opposing lines with a through ball, diagonal ball, or positive pass that can turn into a created chance. D’Ambrosio a great defender, capable on the ball, can find spaces in the final third and can make positive passes or put in dangerous crosses to help the attack.
Skriniar, in my opinion, does not have the ball skills/attacking vision to play in the role Conte wants him to play. He is too clumsy and doesn’t have that final pass to break the lines of an opponent that Bastoni, De Vrij, and even Kolarov have. De Vrij is not leaving the center post so switching him there isn’t an option, leaving him the odd man out and a disposable option in the transfer market. Skriniar’s dribbling is an issue, I find him dribbling himself into trouble now and then when a better decision could’ve been made. The way I see it, Conte wanted a right-footed Bastoni type player even if it means sacrificing defensive abilities. I am no scout, but I am sure Conte has made it a point to find a player like this at some point over the summer to give more flexibility and complete his plans.
I hate stats, but some may help all this mumbo jumbo make a little bit more sense.
Key passes according to Whoscored.com:
Kolarov - .9 Bastoni - .4 Skriniar/De Vrij - .3
It may not be the biggest difference in the world, but I want to point out the huge difference in the stat between Kolarov and the rest which shows why Conte wanted to make it work. He figured the best way to win games is to have as many attacking options as possible. Sure, Kolarov has fewer games, but that’s still a big gap for when he does play... More stats
Bastoni - .6 Skriniar - .3 De Vrij - .2 Kolarov N/A
Just shows how Bastoni has more confidence to put himself in dangerous positions and get out of trouble. Conte wants the players in these positions to have a bit more confidence in the ball. I am not putting too much emphasis on this but hold it for the next stat.
Dispossessed per game:
Skriniar – .4 Bastoni/De Vrij - .1 Kolarov N/A
This is where this argument finally has something to back it up. Conte is a perfectionist when it comes to this stuff, if a player loses the ball, especially a defender, it leads to a counter. Now we have one less defender in the equation and are exposed in the back. This is a flaw in Conte’s system but like mentioned early, he has the right and left center midfielders cover the space between De Vrij and Bastoni/Skriniar.
If you want to play devil’s advocate and say Skriniar has the 3rd highest pass% (behind King Ranocchia and De Vrij), I would respond by saying the statistic is a bit misleading at face value. I do not put stock into this particular stat is because of how often the center backs pass sideways and backward, it does not give the whole picture of where and how they are passing. As I said, if you look solely on stats, Ranocchia’s the best passer on the team and the top 5 are all defenders, so to use that as a counter to this wouldn’t be much help to prove otherwise.
Back to the tactical aspect.
After searching through the depths of highlights, this visual represents a common attack building through the right side of the pitch, beginning with Skriniar. This is as close I could get to show what I am trying to explain here, to make it a little bit easier if you can’t fully understand where this idea comes from.
As I mentioned earlier, RCB Skriniar steps up about 20 yards past midfield, Lautaro checks into space in front of him, Barella cycles into the space to cover behind Skriniar, Brozovic pinches over to support, and Gagliardini, I have no idea what he is trying to accomplish playing higher than Perisic at this moment. Red Line is a pass to Toro, easy, completed. Toro takes a touch, lays it to Lukaku, back to Toro in the box, shot wide. The blue line is Skriniar slowly following the pass, getting himself into a dangerous area to support the forwards.
This is one example where it works out and the defense was sleeping a bit. Point is, Conte wants a player that can use this situation and continuously create danger for the defense in more than one way to keep defenses guessing. Skriniar, unfortunately, is very limited in what he can offer for the attack.
“Wrap it up already so I can tear you apart in the comment section”
Skriniar has earned his spot in the starting XI, hands down, no questions asked. To sum all of this up, Skriniar has improved his game and benefitted from the change in position from LCB to RCB. Conte has worked his magic this year with not only Eriksen and Perisic but also Skriniar as we can see. Kolarov was brought in to play that LCB, and offensively, it is beneficial to have him (in a nutshell) but defensively cannot hold his own anymore and alone has cost us goals. I still believe Conte will continue to perfect that RCB position with Skriniar as often as possible, but I can see Conte continue to look for a backup at the very least to complete that final piece to the attack.