The prospect of selling Milan Skriniar is one that wouldn’t have crossed the mind of Inter chief Beppe Marotta – and his colleagues on the club’s board – last summer.
Fresh off back-to-back stellar campaigns under the guidance of Luciano Spalletti – following his £30m move from Sampdoria in 2017 – Skriniar had emerged as Inter’s most prized defensive asset and a talent high in-demand. But the Nerazzurri’s previously extortionate asking price for the Slovakia international had put Europe’s elite off a potential move.
However, as the 25-year-old approaches the end of his third season in Milan, the thought of offloading Skriniar is one Inter should seriously consider. And according to Football Italia, he has in fact been put on the market by the Nerazzurri – with the club willing to listen to offers in the region of €60m.
So, how did it get to this? How did Skriniar go from the undroppable to easily replaceable?
Well, the answer’s a simple one: Antonio Conte.
After starring as part of Spalletti’s back four, the 3-5-2/3-4-1-2 introduced by Conte following his arrival last summer has coincided with a significant drop in form from Skriniar.
His role in the Italian’s system is an incredibly tough one as an exterior centre-back. Not only his he expected to surge into the final third and partake in rotations to aid ball-progression when Inter are in possession, he also has to cover a vast amount of ground due to the failure of Inter’s unathletic wing-backs to doggedly track back following forays into the opposition third.
And overall, his skill set isn’t ideal for Conte’s system.
His lack of agility and struggles at defending forwards from a distance have been ruthlessly exposed on many occasions this term, most notably since Serie A’s restart last month. He was needlessly sent off in Inter’s 3-3 draw with Sassuolo with a reckless challenge from behind, while woeful body positioning and non-existent footwork saw him beaten way too easily by Darko Lazovic for Verona’s opener in their recent stalemate.
The stats also indicate a decline. While he’s unsurprisingly evolved into a more progressive passer as part of a back three, Skriniar’s success rate against dribblers – essentially one-v-one situations – (40% from 57.85%) and aerial duels won (55.9% from 61.9%) have both taken a hit this season, while his percentage of defensive duels won is remarkably low at 54%.
Nevertheless, while his vulnerabilities in a high line and as part of a back three are evident, there’s little doubting there will be considerable interest in the 25-year-old this summer.
Skriniar’s proven himself to be more than adept with less ground to cover as part of a back four, with his capacity to mark opponents out of the contest being particularly impressive. He’s also, of course, a fine ball-player, even if he does look a bit rigid and awkward with the ball at his feet.
As for Inter, the potential of recuperating between £50m-£60m from the Slovak’s sale will be imperative for the Conte revolution at San Siro, as the three-time Serie A coach of the year attempts to return the Nerazzurri to the upper echelons of European football.
Funds will be imperative for his project, and after impressively drafting in Achraf Hakimi from Real Madrid last month, surely securing deals for Brescia starlet Sandro Tonali and Atalanta dynamo Robin Gosens will be at the forefront of The Godfather’s mind following the conclusion of a roller coaster 2019/20 season.
In terms of replacing Skriniar, the Nerazzurri shouldn’t look any further than Verona’s Marash Kumbulla. It’d be an incredibly astute bit of business on their behalf and the club have expressed an interest in securing the 20-year-old’s services this summer.
Kumbulla has excelled in Ivan Juric’s man-marking system this term in which he can line up anywhere across the back three. He’s an aggressive defender with tremendous capabilities in possession, while his showing against Romelu Lukaku in Verona’s aforementioned draw with Inter last week certainly wouldn’t have done him any harm in securing a potential move.
And if the Albanian was to make the switch to San Siro, Conte would then have a starting backline of Kumbulla, the imperious Stefan de Vrij and mightily talented Alessandro Bastoni; three defenders perfect for his system due to their aggression, willingness to defend on the front foot and capabilities on the ball.
Thus, the once-unthinkable sale of Milan Skriniar may kickstart the beginning of the Antonio Conte revolution at Inter, with the potential additions of Tonali, Gosens and Kumbulla certainly helping the Italian boss form a more systematically harmonious Inter outfit.