While it was the Lukaku-Lautaro partnership that stole the headlines, Inter’s impermeable backline was the pillar of Antonio Conte’s tenure. In both seasons under the Italian Inter boasted the league-best defensive record and conceded a mere 36 (19/20) and 35 (20/21) goals. Though the past summer has been one of significant change in the blue side of Milan, the defensive unit remains untouched. The fearsome trio of Stefan de Vrij, Alessandro Bastoni, and Milan Skriniar will be as vital to Simone Inzaghi’s success as they were to his predecessor, if not more so.
Depth Chart (Center-backs and wing-backs included): Stefan de Vrij, Alessandro Bastoni, Milan Skriniar, Denzel Dumfries, Ivan Perisic, Matteo Darmian, Federico Dimarco, Danilo D’Ambrosio, Andrea Ranocchia, Aleksandar Kolarov, Valentino Lazaro
Stefan de Vrij
Best Case Scenario: The centerpiece of Inter’s back three is set to reunite with Simone Inzaghi, who he played under 78 times at Lazio before leaving on a free transfer to Milan. Hopefully the latter harbors no bad blood over de Vrij’s rather infamous foul in his last game in a Lazio kit. The Dutchman will be just as important in Inzaghi’s regime as he was with Conte and he’s already accustomed to Inzaghi’s tactics. Having de Vrij anchor its defense will be key to the Nerazzurri across the entire pitch and give Inter a safety blanket should things go haywire.
Worst Case Scenario: It’s possible de Vrij could be swayed by transfer interest with his contract expiring in 2023. The 29-year-old’s agent, Mino Raiola, is a slippery customer to negotiate with and won’t make a renewal easy for Inter. Even so, de Vrij is an Inter player for at least the next two seasons and still in his prime, so at worst the Nerazzurri could lose him by the same way he was acquired.
Best Case Scenario: Though Bastoni wasn’t quite able to crack Roberto Mancini’s starting eleven (we’ll have to wait for the World Cup for his first tournament as a starter), the 22-year-old still added a shiny Euro gold medal to his rapidly growing collection. Bastoni can lead Inter’s backline for years to come if the Nerazzurri manages to keep ahold of him and his influence will only grow over the coming years.
Worst Case Scenario: It’s possible the change from Conte to Inzaghi will trip Bastoni up until he’s fully assimilated to the latter’s tactics. He has the innate quality to succeed anywhere, however, and it’s only a matter of how soon he’ll be at home in Inzaghi’s system.
Best Case Scenario: Speaking of taking time to adapt to a new coach, Skriniar is a perfect example of patience paying off. He never looked at home in a back-three during Conte’s first campaign in charge but was unlucky not to win Defender of the Year in season two. Like with most of Inter’s mainstays, the biggest question is how the Conte to Inzaghi shift will affect them. And Skriniar has shown he can adapt to anything.
Worst Case Scenario: The Tottenham rumors weren’t quite as loud this summer as the last but they still persisted. Spurs’ acquisition of Cristian Romero alleviated most of those worries but there’s always a concern one of England’s big-spending clubs might swoop for him again.
Best Case Scenario: Inter won’t miss Hakimi near as much if Dumfries matches his highlight reel. The Dutchmen’s skillset is perfect for Inzaghi’s 3-5-2 and he has the quality to take Serie A by storm. Just don’t expect to see him starting from Day One. For a more in-depth look at what Dumfries brings to Inter, check out our statistical comparison between him and Hakimi.
Worst Case Scenario: There’s the concern that Dumfries’ game won’t translate from the Eredivisie to Serie A but his price of €15 million is worth the risk given the 25-year-old’s potential to be Inter’s x-factor.
Best Case Scenario: Perisic grew increasingly comfortable in the left-wingback role over the course of last season and evidently did enough to convince Inzaghi that the Croatian should again play a prominent role. He could be unleashed as an offensive threat by Inzaghi’s more attacking set-up, especially with Hakimi’s production from the flanks needing to be replaced.
Worst Case Scenario: It wasn’t until January of last season that we saw Perisic’s best from the wings. This time around Inter can’t afford anything less than a full season from the left-wing-back. So much of the 3-5-2 formation relies on the wings and Perisic will need to cover for a weaker right flank, at least until Dumfries settles in.
Best Case Scenario: Darmian made a name for himself with a pair of late game-winners against Cagliari and Hellas Verona. He’s set to be just as important, if not more so, this season and the 31-year-old is likely to be the starter on the right until Dumfries settles in. If he can repeat his best performances of last season, Inter’s right flank will be covered in the short term.
Worst Case Scenario: While Darmian is a superb depth piece, he doesn’t quite inspire the same confidence as a starter. He caused opposition defenses the most problems coming off full rest and as a spot-starter. Will Darmian be able to find the same success in more regular playing time?
Best Case Scenario: After spending the last two seasons on loan with Hellas Verona, Dimarco is finally getting his chance in an Inter kit. The 23-year-old can play either left wing-back or center back, giving Inter crucial versatility and depth. If Dimarco can replicate his form at Verona and clean up his defensive errors, Inter will have one of the league’s best wingbacks on the flank. We can’t mention Dimarco without talking about one-of-a-kind talent off set-pieces either and he scored several pieces of art over the years at the Marcantonio Bentegodi.
Worst Case Scenario: Dimarco’s defensive skill set is far from his best and he was an occasional liability for Ivan Juric’s side over the last two years. It will be up to Inzaghi to improve Dimarco’s all-around game if Inter can trust him as a starter.
Best Case Scenario: After his contract expired last month, D’Ambrosio decided to stick around for one more season and penned a one-year extension. His role for the upcoming campaign looks like a mirror-image of last season; one of Inter’s first options off the bench to give the starters a rest. The 32-year-old is still savvy enough to get the job done at the top level and can be a reliable backup for the first choice back-three.
Worst Case Scenario: Should D’Ambrosio’s age start to catch up to him, Inter’s defensive depth will be put under significant scrutiny. Other than Dimarco, all of the Nerazzurri’s depth pieces are above thirty and on expiring contracts.
Best Case Scenario: The Frog is in a similar situation as his slightly younger counterpart D’Ambrosio and will be tasked with the role of backup in the upcoming campaign.
Worst Case Scenario: As with D’Ambrosio, it’s a question of how much Ranocchia has left in the tank after a decade in Milan.
Best Case Scenario: As long as Kolarov can avoid replicating his, uh, rather mixed performances in the opening weeks of last season, 2021/22 will be a success for the Serbian. Inter could do worse as a 5th choice in the depth chart and Kolarov’s flexibility (he’s comfortable at wing-back and center back) is an added bonus.
Worst Case Scenario: If Kolarov is forced into a starting eleven role for more than just a handful of games, Inter might have a problem on its hands. The 35-year-old is good for a sub appearance here and there but asking anything else of him will be tempting fate. Kolarov doesn’t have the fitness to keep up with pacey attackers and would be a massive liability against the top teams in Serie A.
Best Case Scenario: He’s still here???
Worst Case Scenario: Lazaro hasn’t even been included in Inter’s pre-season plans but there are still two weeks left in the transfer window so there’s a chance Inter find either a temporary, or preferably but not at all likely, permanent home for the out-of-favor Austrian.