Romelu Lukaku, Nicolo Barella, and Lautaro Martínez are some names that spring to mind when talking about who makes Inter tick, and rightfully so. But who else is a vital part of the Nerrazurri squad? We talk about who we think goes under the radar and why they’re so important in this edition of the SoM Staff Roundtable.
Who is Inter’s most underrated player?
I always hesitate to label Inter players underrated because we see these guys week in and week out, so we typically know what they all bring to the team. However, if I am going to venture out onto this limb, I would have to go with Alexis Sanchez. We all know about the fitness woes that have been on and off throughout his Inter career so far, but he has still managed to put up some respectable numbers as a backup.
Last season, he was able to put up four goals and nine assists in Serie A, one of the league leaders in assists. He did this on either side of a lengthy ankle surgery. This season, he has five goals and six assists in the league. He always tends to pop up at important times and always adds a different dimension to the attack when he’s on the pitch. See his performance off the bench against Torino as evidence of this.
He may not be the goal scorer he was six years ago, but he’s still an intelligent creator and excellent reader of the game. He is our most dangerous attacker off the bench and offers an opportunity for one of Romelu Lukaku or Lautaro Martinez to get a rest when needed. His presence on the pitch with the two starters at times can change the setup of Inter’s attack as a nominal number ten, especially when chasing a match. Without him, we would have virtually zero alternatives to the two first-choice strikers in attack.
I very strongly believe that Marcelo Brozovic is not only the most underrated player on our own team, but also among the very most underrated in the entire world! The lack of widespread recognition is shocking when you consider that he was actually a starter for Croatia and even played for the “full 90” in the most recent World Cup Final, which was watched by a global television audience totaling over 1.12 billion people just for that one specific match alone on July 15th, 2018!
In other words, about 15% of the total population for our entire species (about 7.63 billion in 2018) all simultaneously witnessed Brozovic perform well from start to finish as one of the most highly involved players in the entire game — among other contributions, he actually led both teams with the highest number of touches (113), in addition to completing 7 long balls plus 2 through balls, and also winning 5 tackles (led both teams) plus 3 aerial duels!
Brozovic not only held his own when it mattered most, but also actually excelled among the world’s very best players, directly proving to an unfathomably massive audience on the sport’s “biggest stage” that he is genuinely world-class, and yet our Croatian deep-lying playmaker is rarely given the credit he is due, overlooked by neutrals and pundits.
In the process of drafting my answer to this question, it quickly became clear that properly doing justice to our unsung hero would require going well beyond the scope meant for this “Roundtable” format — instead, I will devote a separate feature here to showing the full extent of appreciation that Brozovic deserves, specifically diving into the details for each of the MANY elite attributes that he provides in an extremely rare overall combination that enables him to contribute consistently well to virtually every aspect of our team’s overall success.
Fortunately, for the sake of a more concise summary here, I can resort to the common adage that “a picture says a thousand words” — or technically in this case that “a GIF says (at least) several thousand words”:
The clip shown in this GIF occurred while we were clinging to a 3-2 lead in the last few minutes of our must-win Champions League match on the road against Borussia Mönchengladbach. I was extremely impressed watching it happen in real-time, primarily by the audacity and yet perfectly controlled execution of that risky slide tackle in our own box... but in retrospect, I’m somehow even more astonished now, after realizing that this sequence condensed basically the most efficient representation of Brozo’s all-around importance for our success that I could possibly imagine all within just a single example lasting only five seconds!
The two most important takeaways that I want to stress for now are both proven beyond doubt in this sequence:
1. It demonstrates that Brozovic really does contribute in multiple different ways at an elite level for each attribute category, specifically involving five of the most important here:
a) defensive intelligence
At the beginning of the sequence shown in this GIF, notice how our Central Defensive Midfielder perfectly picks up on the danger coming from out wide in Hakimi’s defensive Right Wing-Back “territory” to attack through the space that had opened up in Skriniar’s Right Center-Back “territory”
b) hustle and athleticism (arguably two separate categories)
c) defensive technique
d) intelligence in possession directing our build-up play
e) technical skill to implement his “creative vision” with excellent passing
2. Just as important as the abilities themselves, for the purposes of this question about being underrated... that five-second clip perfectly proves WHY the COMBINATION of EACH major category, ALL mastered in conjunction by the same player, is absolutely essential to truly thrive overall at the highest level in this complex double role as single pivot CDM regista.
I had to cut out most of the details that I had drafted even just elaborating about that GIF... so at least one separate full-length article will definitely be necessary. For now, though, I hope that even just a brief summary of this single example alone is sufficient to make it extremely clear that “Epic Brozo” should NOT be taken for granted.
I still think Christian Eriksen might be the most underrated player in this current squad. Aside from all the newfound praise he has been getting lately, I still think people underestimate his influence in the midfield. I’ve been an advocate for him as long as he has been on this team and I stand by it. The guy is world-class, flat out, I can't put it any more blunt than this. He has shown the ability to take this midfield to a level that we have not been able to see with the other midfielders in this squad. I am not even going to mention Sensi because he would probably get injured reading this.
The way Eriksen moves around the midfield makes everything easier for not only Barella and Brozovic, but Lukaku, Lautaro, and Perisic since we mostly see Eriksen on the left side of the midfield. The spacing between the striker, midfielder, and left winger is much more fluid when Eriksen is played in that position whether it’s against the biggest of teams like Juve and Milan or the smallest of teams that sit back and defend, Eriksen will find a way to break lines and create dangerous situations for any defense. I cannot stress enough how important this guy is to our lineup.
While Achraf Hakimi himself isn’t underrated (after all, it’s because he’s so highly rated that this season hasn’t been a complete success for him), the Moroccan’s effect for Inter is understated. Hakimi has certainly had rough games this season, but he gives Inter another dimension in attack, whereas last season opposing teams didn’t have to worry about Inter’s right flank quite as much. Though he hasn’t been able to replicate his numbers at Borussia Dortmund (10g and 9a), Hakimi has a very respectable 6 goals and 5 assists in a league that is much more focused on tactically canceling out the opposition than the attack-minded Bundesliga. Still, Hakimi’s importance is clear based on his constant contributions in attack, albeit perhaps not goals or assists.
The 22-year-old is 4th in shot-creating actions and 1st in touches in the attacking third on Inter, while his speed is vital on the counter-attack. He has also improved the defensive side of his game. Hakimi has the 3rd-most pressures and 2nd-most tackles in the defensive third. If Hakimi can fine-tune his decision-making, Inter will have a superb attacking trio of Lukaku/Lautaro/Hakimi, but the Moroccan is already making a real impact at the San Siro.
Inter are, finally, in a position where the vast majority of our starting eleven are household names. With their popularity tends to come recognition, and the world is now aware of the quality possessed by players such as Barella, Bastoni, and Martinez. That said, there remains one player who I believe flies under the radar: Stefan De Vrij.
Since joining on a free transfer from Lazio, De Vrij has been a stalwart in the Inter defense. In his first year, he combined brilliantly with Milan Skriniar to create one of the best center-back pairings in Serie A. When Antonio Conte arrived, there seemed to be uncertainty about which of Skriniar, Diego Godin and Alessandro Bastoni would play the outside roles in the back three, but the De Vrij was a mainstay and made 46 appearances for the Nerazzurri.
Defensively, he's as reliable as they come. He rarely finds himself out of position, times his tackles well, and is comfortable dealing with the most physical of strikers. He contributes well to our attacking phase too - often breaking lines with his accurate passing or providing an option by which the team can circulate the ball. He was a renowned goal-threat during his time at Lazio and perhaps hasn't scored quite as many for us, but has still come up with clutch goals in two Milan derbies.
I'm not sure why he goes under the radar. In an age where ball-playing center-backs are all the rage, he really should be spoken about more. For his national side, he is overshadowed by De Ligt and Van Dijk and at Inter the focus is sometimes on the intensity of Skriniar or the rapid development of Bastoni. Either way, we should be grateful. The Dutchman seems happy in Milan and is (apparently) close to signing a new contract. There have been rumors of interest from Barcelona in the past and I'm sure top clubs are aware of his talent. With Mino Raiola as his agent, Inter need to lock him down long term as he has a key role to play in the club's future.
What do you think?
Who’s the most underrated player on Inter in your opinion? Sánchez, Eriksen, Brozovic, Hakimi, de Vrij, or someone else entirely? Let us know in this poll and in the comments below.
Who is currently the most underrated Inter player?
This poll is closed
Stefan De Vrij