While the first two installments of our “Unsung Heroes” series featured two players that were by no means penned-in starters back in September, the final segment looks at a starter in all but seven of Inter’s 47 games. Stefan de Vrij, the Serie A defender of the year last season, may not seem like the type of player whose achievements go unrecognized. But his importance to the Nerazzurri backline is even more immense than he’s given credit for. Every passing game the mystery grows how Lazio let him leave on a free transfer to Milan in the summer of 2018.
Only three of Inter’s fourteen clean sheets came without de Vrij starting and he’s been key to the Nerazzurri’s impressive record of a league-best 34 goals conceded. The 29-year-old’s impact, however, goes beyond the numbers. With the more attacking Alessandro Bastoni and the more physical Milan Skriniar on either side of him, de Vrij is the perfect centerpiece of Inter’s back-three. Not one to rush into challengers or charge into the opposition half, it’s hard to imagine a better fit for the central role than the Dutchman. That’s not to say de Vrij isn’t capable of those feats, but he offers a trusty skillset required for the more delicate center role. de Vrij averages a pass completion rate of 94%, including 87.9% on long passes (that’s good enough for the 98th percentile of all centerbacks in the top five leagues). While his position means he’s shielded from attacks by the rest of the backline, de Vrij is dribbled past only one in five games on average, wins 2.93 aerial duels per 90, and is yet to make a single ‘error’ according to Fbref.
All of Inter’s defenders have a solid case for Defender of the Year and while Skriniar is perhaps most deserving of the nod after his struggles with the 3-5-2 last season, de Vrij’s contributions go deeper than just the stats sheet. Having a player of his caliber in the middle of the back three relieves pressure on the rest of the backline and is a large reason that Inter has conceded less than a goal a game. de Vrij is sure to be one of the Netherlands’ (managed by none other than a certain Frank de Boer) most important players in the upcoming Euros and can boost his stock even further.