Inter 2021-22: New-look Nerazzurri attempt to recreate Conte's title success

By Sports Desk August 19, 2021

This should have been a season for Inter fans to enjoy, on the back of a title triumph and with European football returning to some semblance of normality.

Instead, they have lost coach Antonio Conte, top scorer Romelu Lukaku and standout wing-back Achraf Hakimi. Talk of a Tottenham move for Lautaro Martinez – seemingly linked to Harry Kane's future – has not been ruled out entirely.

It leaves the reigning Serie A champions picking up the pieces, with the club's dire financial situation dampening hopes of a successful title defence.

Although there have also been new arrivals, Simone Inzaghi and a 35-year-old Edin Dzeko clearly are not in the same class as Conte and Lukaku.

Inter will be slightly different this season and it is highly likely they will be slightly worse for it.

Downgrade to Dzeko

In Lukaku, Inter have sold a player in his prime coming off his best campaign to date. In Dzeko, the Nerazzurri have brought in a veteran whose Serie A career just plunged to new depths.

Lukaku netted 24 times en route to Inter's Scudetto, while Dzeko's final year with Roma brought only seven league goals.

The Bosnia-Herzegovina international did play a mere 1,825 minutes, but it was his poor form while on the pitch that saw him limited to 20 starts despite featuring in 31 matchday squads.

Dzeko's shot conversion rate of 10 per cent was higher than in two of his seasons in the capital and only margainally lower than 2017-18's 10.5 per cent when he scored 16 times. The decreasing frequency of his attempts was an issue, managing just 3.5 shots per 90 minutes, a trough to contrast to the 2016-17 peak of 5.3.

Inter's new forward fell some way short of his expected goals (xG) total of 13.3 – a failing only partially explained by the expertise of opposition goalkeepers, who prevented 3.6 Dzeko goals according to expected goals on target (xGOT) data, which analyses the quality of the shot rather than the quality of the chance.

Lukaku, on the other hand, outstripped his xG figure of 23.8, even if his attempts were only worth 22.9 xGOT.

It is not only as a scorer that Dzeko slips below Lukaku's standards either. Chelsea's latest record buy was a creative force last term, providing 11 assists. Dzeko had three.

 

Indeed, Lukaku crafted a team-high 52 chances – or 9.4 per cent of Inter's 552 shots across the campaign – while Dzeko laid on 29 (5.3 per cent of Roma's attempts). Dzeko was more involved in build-up play than Lukaku, averaging 49.7 open play sequences per 90 to his predecessor's 44.4, but he could not match Lukaku in terms of passing accuracy (68.8 per cent), passing accuracy in the opposition half (64.8) or passing accuracy in the final third (58.5).

Unsurprisingly, the former Giallorossi favourite also cannot play at the same pace as Lukaku. Dzeko was involved in only six fast breaks to Lukaku's league-leading 17, although he did score twice from such situations. Roma were second in the league in this regard – behind Inter.

But even if the Nerazzurri do slow slightly with Dzeko in the side, his work in moving the ball up the field is still comparable to Lukaku's. He had more carries (7.9) and progressive carries (4.5) than Lukaku last term, while operating in the same ballpark for carry distance (92.6 metres), attempted dribbles (2.9) and completed dribbles (1.3) – all numbers per 90.

The percentage of his touches Dzeko took in the opposition box (17.3) tallied closely (18.3 per cent for Lukaku), too, with the previously prolific attacker's game peculiarly now suited to work away from goal.

An aerial force

As part of his link-up play, Dzeko offers a clear focal point. His 60.4 per cent success rate in aerial duels ranked fourth among Serie A forwards with 100 or more such tussles. Lukaku won only 42.9 per cent in a category led by Zlatan Ibrahimovic (65.7 per cent). Dzeko's 52 flick-ons also put him fourth.

But Dzeko's heading ability does also give Inter a greater threat inside the penalty area. The striker was joint-third for headed attempts (20, excluding blocks), with his 1.0 per 90 double Lukaku's 0.5. As with his feet, Dzeko was wasteful in this regard, scoring only one header while new Inter colleague Martinez nodded in four goals, but a greater sample size shows the danger he can pose. Since his 2015 Serie A debut, Dzeko leads the way for headed attempts (203, excluding blocks) and his 16 goals – making up 18.8 per cent of his total of 85 – are tied for third.

Dzeko therefore looks a good fit in an Inter side who last season topped the charts in succeeding with 24.6 per cent of their open play crosses, leading to a joint-high 92 headed shots and 14 headed goals.

Whether that crossing quality is still at the club is another matter.

Inter's wings clipped

Only nine defenders in Serie A last term attempted 100 crosses, but Hakimi, marauding up the right, was one of them. Within that select group, his crossing accuracy of 23.9 per cent ranked third – just ahead of Leonardo Spinazzola, another exciting wing-back and Dzeko's former Roma team-mate (23.5 per cent).

Hakimi's departure for Paris Saint-Germain robs Inter of that quality and the 36 chances he created. There is pressure on Denzel Dumfries, a €12.5million recruit, to fill that void. He created 41 chances in the Eredivisie last season, yet only five of his 50 crosses were successful.

That ability to deliver from wide positions is merely one of Hakimi's array of attributes, too, with the €60m man carrying the ball 22.7 metres further per 90 than Dumfries while also contributing a goal or assist every 178.1 minutes, compared to the Netherlands international's 308.5 minutes.

 

Inter should at least have increased creativity from midfield, where free signing Hakan Calhanoglu offers an upgrade on the recuperating Christian Eriksen. Calhanoglu, playing for rivals Milan, had league highs in chances created (98) and chances created from set-pieces (50) in 2020-21. Milan led Serie A in goals from set-pieces (16, excluding penalties), but Inter ranked joint-fourth (16) and will surely now improve.

Trying to run it back

If mixed results are anticipated from direct replacements for Lukaku, Hakimi and Eriksen, those moves at least indicate some unlikely joined-up thinking in spite of the chaotic nature of this off-season. Inzaghi's appointment also suggests Inter plan to change little from last season, even with the numerous notable departures.

Like Conte and Inter, Inzaghi's Lazio consistently lined up with a 3-5-2 formation in 2020-21, with their approaches also not dissimilar.

Lazio's press was a little more aggressive, allowing 11.6 passes per defensive action to Inter's 12.8 and also engaging in more pressed sequences (543) despite having slightly more possession (52.9 per cent) than Inter (52.0 per cent). Lazio also scored eight goals from high turnovers.

However, between the replacement of a speedy Lukaku with a slower Dzeko and Inter's pre-existing preference for build-up attacks (119) over direct attacks (80), Inzaghi's playing style might have to be a little more patient this term, even if the new number nine's physical presence will give them an outlet.

These are minor tweaks, though, that should mean Inzaghi can adapt to Inter or Inter to Inzaghi.

Defending champions have rarely had it so tough when preparing for a new campaign, but Inter have done all they can to ensure a new-look side can continue to find success.

Related items

  • The three Man Utd youngsters who could be breakthrough stars for Erik ten Hag The three Man Utd youngsters who could be breakthrough stars for Erik ten Hag

    Erik ten Hag is the latest boss Manchester United have turned to in their pursuit of success in the post-Alex Ferguson era.

    David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer have failed to meet expectations since Ferguson's retirement in 2013, leaving Ten Hag with a difficult challenge on his hands.

    Aside from getting results right on the pitch and challenging for honours, Ten Hag also has the task of bleeding young talent into the first-team fold on a regular basis – something his predecessors have all continued to do despite their eventual failings.

    The likes of Marcus Rashford and Scott McTominay have capitalised on opportunities in the past decade after rising through the club's youth ranks – and United have no shortage of players who can follow suit.

    Three players in particular are ones that Ten Hag should be keeping close tabs on, and they could become integral.

    Facundo Pellistri

    The highly rated winger has spent the past 18 months on loan in Spain with Deportivo Alaves, accumulating plenty of first-team opportunities with a total of 33 appearances across all competitions in that period, but just 11 have been as a starter.

    United may feel they can provide those limited opportunities off the bench themselves and, if utilised, can expect plenty of link-up play down the right side from Pellistri – with the majority of his final-third passes during his spell with Alaves coming in that area.

    No team in the top six of the Premier League last season scored fewer goals than United last term (57), with seventh-placed West Ham (60) and eighth-placed Leicester City (62) also bettering that tally.

    The attacking third is an area where Ten Hag needs to find more threat and Pellistri may provide that option, albeit he failed to register a goal or an assist during his spell in Spain. He created seven chances in 753 first-team minutes last season, but none of those were converted.

    With more creativity in the squad at United and better support, Pellistri should be able to improve on his direct return to register more influential moments in matches.

    James Garner

    Garner has helped turn Nottingham Forest from second-tier middlemen to a Premier League outfit – with a play-off victory against Huddersfield Town bringing an end to a 23-year wait for top-flight football.

    In Forest's promotion-winning campaign, loanee Garner was a regular fixture in the side with 41 appearances, 36 of which were as a starter, resulting in four goals and eight assists – with only Brennan Johnson, Lewis Grabban and Philip Zinckernagel being involved in more direct goal contributions.

    Seven of Garner's assists came from set-pieces, with United's overall total in 2021-22 being 10 in that regard – so Garner could play an integral part in improving that return with his deliveries from corners and free-kicks, if Bruno Fernandes can occasionally be shuffled off such duties.

    Crucially for a club like United, Garner has shown he can perform under pressure given his display in the Championship play-off final against Huddersfield – where his accuracy of 88 per cent from 48 attempted passes included completions across the field.

    Forest, understandably, are reportedly interested in bringing Garner back to the City Ground again next season in their bid to remain in the Premier League, but United will assess the 21-year-old in pre-season before making a final decision.

    Alejandro Garnacho

    Earning his senior debut for United in the Premier League clash against Chelsea in April, Garnacho's introduction to the Premier League was merely a cameo at the end of that clash.

    On the final day of the season, in a 1-0 defeat to Crystal Palace, Garnacho again came off the bench for an 11-minute appearance and was once more limited with his opportunity to make an impression – though that has already been done in the youth ranks.

    He scored in UEFA Youth League matches against Atalanta and Young Boys. However, it was in the FA Youth Cup where Garnacho made perhaps his biggest impact, scoring in every round bar the fourth as United lifted the trophy – with a seven-goal haul in the competition including a double in the 3-1 victory against Nottingham Forest in the final.

    With Jadon Sancho struggling for consistency down the left for United since his arrival from Borussia Dortmund, Garnacho could return to the first-team fold during the 2022-23 season.

    Opportunities could well come in the cup competitions, including the Europa League, in what will be a frantic season due to the disruption caused by the World Cup in Qatar.

  • Rumour Has It: Liverpool set Salah price tag Rumour Has It: Liverpool set Salah price tag

    Liverpool have reportedly placed a £60million price tag on star Mohamed Salah after it became clear he is unlikely to remain with the club when his contract expires at the end of the upcoming season.

    Salah arrived at Anfield in 2017 in a £36.5m move from Roma and during his time with the Reds he has become one of the best players in the world.

    In his five Premier League seasons, Salah has tallied 118 goals and 50 assists in 180 games, been named PFA Players' Player of the Year twice, collected three Premier League Golden Boots and won the Puskas Award in 2018.

     

    TOP STORY – LIVERPOOL LOOK TO CASH IN BEFORE SALAH WALKS FOR NOTHING

    Liverpool have long since been in contract talks with the Egypt superstar, but recent developments have caused the club to investigate what they could get in return for him entering the final year of his deal.

    The Mirror is reporting Liverpool have decided that £60m is the number they would be comfortable with, but it remains to be seen if there is interest from rival clubs given he could leave Anfield for nothing next year.

    Meanwhile, The Sun claims Liverpool are confident they can land Borussia Dortmund's England midfielder Jude Bellingham at the end of next season.

    Liverpool have already seen Sadio Mane depart for Bayern Munich.

     

    ROUND-UP

    – According to Sky Sports, West Ham are exploring a potential move for Villarreal winger Arnaut Danjuma, who is said to have a £40m release clause in his contract.

    – Sky Sports also claim  West Ham are interested in signing Southampton midfielder James Ward-Prowse .

    Manchester United are hoping to sell young defender Brandon Williams for £10m, according to the Daily Mail, while The Sun claims the club have made around £100m available for Erik ten Hag to rebuild the team.

    – United have declined Barcelona 's request for the Red Devils to include Harry Maguire in their bid for Netherlands midfielder Frenkie de Jong, according to The Sun.

    – The Athletic say  Crystal Palace are confident they will land 22-year-old Lens midfielder Cheick Doucoure .

  • Stanley Cup: Avalanche star Cale Makar makes history with Conn Smythe Trophy win Stanley Cup: Avalanche star Cale Makar makes history with Conn Smythe Trophy win

    Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar added yet another incredible accomplishment to his resume by being named winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy for MVP of the playoffs, as his side secured the Stanley Cup with a 2-1 win in Game 6.

    In doing so, Makar became the first player to ever win all five of the Hobey Baker Award for best player in college hockey, the Calder Memorial Trophy for Rookie of the Year, the James Norris Memorial Trophy for the NHL's top defenseman, the Conn Smythe Trophy, and a Stanley Cup.

    It is a resume that will likely book his place in the Hall-of-Fame when all is said and done – and he does not turn 24 years old until October.

    Speaking to ESPN after the final siren sounded, Makar said it was a dream come true.

    "I just look at [my teammates], and all the work these guys have put in," he said. "They've been here so many years, the ups and downs.

    "It's just so awesome to be a part of them getting rewarded for all their hard work and success over the years. I'm just so proud of the boys.

    "You grow up, you see [the Stanley Cup trophy] as a kid, you have pictures of it on your wall.

    "All I think about is everyone that got me here – my family is in the stands, so it's amazing, wherever they are. It's just surreal, amazing."

    He added: "It's just been building over time. I've been here only three years, with a couple tough exits in playoffs.

    "It was just all leading up to this. Oh man, if you told me this was going to be three years in, I would've said I don't know… it's just amazing, I don't have any more words."

    Avalanche coach Jared Bednar spoke about what it felt like to guide this team to the mountaintop.

    "I'm feeling every emotion you could possibly think of," he said. "I'm just so happy and so proud of these guys, and what they've put in.

    "To see them get rewarded for all their hard work is hard to describe. There's this sense of relief, a sense of satisfaction – it's still sinking in.

    "When the buzzer went there was almost disbelief that we got the job done. It's been an amazing ride, and I'm just grateful that I've been able to be a part of it with this team."

    He went on to touch on just how hard it is to actually make it all the way, and the evolution he has seen over the past couple of seasons.

    "It's so difficult to get here, and that's why I'm so impressed with the Tampa Bay Lightning to be able to do it three years in a row and win two Cups, it's incredible," he said.

    "We've gone from just being a skill team that was fun to watch, to digging in and getting more competitive in a lot of areas, and more determined in a lot of areas, but they're such a close-knit group and a resilient group.

    "Whether we've learned that with maturity, or the last couple seasons of heartbreak, this group has been so focused to accomplish their goals, that's why I'm so happy they got rewarded. It's been a long journey for a lot of these guys, and it's been an amazing ride."

    Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic – who spent 13 seasons as a player in Colorado, including both of the franchise's previous Stanley Cup seasons – said he is filled with joy for the older players in the team who may have thought they would never get one.

    "It feels great, it's amazing," he said. "This is something you dream of. I'm so proud of the players, particularly the older guys that have been around.

    "Guys like [Nathan] MacKinnon, [Gabriel] Landeskog, Erik Johnson, they didn't want to leave, they wanted to be a part of it. I'm happy for those guys.

    "You bring in a guy like Jack Johnson who hasn't won, and [Andrew] Cogliano comes in, and these older guys who have been around a long time and now have their opportunity to win their first cup. Being a former player, you know how happy they are, and how relieved they are to have a chance to lift the Stanley Cup."

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.