Hakimi masterstroke gives Internazionale new dimension in attack

Hakimi masterstroke gives Internazionale new dimension in attack

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Hakimi masterstroke gives Internazionale new dimension in attack

Snapping up the Morocco international is a real coup for the Italians, who can now count on one of the game’s most accomplished widemen
The transfer market, fraught as it is, nevertheless has some handy markers for what constitutes a smart bit of business.

In acquiring Morocco international Achraf Hakimi from Real Madrid for a reported €40 million fee, Inter have managed to tick every box.

The first, most obviously, is the cost. For a player who, over the last two seasons, has been directly involved (goals and assists) in 29 goals from full-back/wing-back at the age of 21, that outlay represents a steal.

Eye-catching performances for Borussia Dortmund over the last two seasons, both in the league and in Europe, have marked Hakimi as one of the game’s most accomplished wide players. His raw speed, his ability to dribble, the timing of his arrivals in the final third, and his low, measured deliveries into the penalty area from the right have proved difficult to deal with for even the most illustrious of opponents.

He is versatile positionally as well: his hat-trick of assists against Atletico Madrid in 2018 saw him devastate Diego Simeone’s side while playing from left full-back, and he was at his rampaging best against Slavia Prague last year when pushed forward to play as a winger. “I think that, within a few years, he will be among three or four best full-backs in the world. His potential is tremendous,” gushed Slavia coach Jindrich Trpisovsky.

Achraf Hakimi Borussia Dortmund 2019-20
As his performances have taken on a fiercer aspect, questions over his future have only intensified. Dortmund keeping him beyond the end of his two-year loan always seemed improbable, and despite the player’s admiration of Zinedine Zidane, a return to Real Madrid held some uncertainty.

The incumbency of Dani Carvajal was the most obvious roadblock, but there is also the peculiarity of Hakimi himself. He is hardly conventional, and so requires some creative tactical thinking to properly harness.

With respect to Zidane’s overwhelming, unprecedented success as a manager, he is hardly known for the breadth of his ideas. It is understood that his chief influence in terms of coaching is from his time spent under Marcelo Lippi at Juventus, and he espouses a lot of the same collectivist ideals as the Italian.

There is no overt emphasis on tactics, and that suits a club with a culture like Real Madrid’s. Instead, experienced, peak-age, technical players in premium physical condition are given a degree of freedom, and can be relied upon both to determine when to exercise it and to bring their superior quality to bear on the opposition.

How Hakimi would have fit into that paradigm is difficult to envisage. He remains a work in progress and, for all his potential, there are flaws: he requires the sort of indulgence that no one gets in Zidane’s system, in much the same way that Liverpool structure their play to cover for Trent Alexander-Arnold. At the Bernabeu, there would also be less tolerance for the occasional lack of defensive rigour that the Moroccan is still working through.

Achraf Hakimi Real Madrid
These factors combined have made Hakimi, not only available, but also highly attractive to Inter, where a back three system means his strengths would be perfectly accommodated.

There is no concern when it comes to displacing an incumbent: Antonio Candreva, who has started most frequently at right-wing-back, is 33, and recent reports suggest Victor Moses’ loan deal will not be made permanent.

The very particular demands of the role also suit Hakimi. “(Antonio) Conte wants the wing-backs, every time we have the ball, we need to be as forward as possible, where the attackers are,” Ghana international Kwadwo Asamoah said last September.

“It takes a lot of physical energy to do this job. Sometimes it’s even time to shoot on goal.”

There are few full-backs in the game more suited to this brief than Hakimi. In fact, it reads like a manifesto for him: he demonstrated his aptitude inside the box when he scored a brace to haul Dortmund back from defeat against Inter back in November, a performance that no doubt piqued the Italians’ interest.

There is more to the fit than the simple fact of a wing-back system, however. It is Conte’s specific imagining of the role that holds such promise. While at Chelsea, he often had the wing-backs so high up they formed a front five, and at Inter the shape while attacking becomes a 3-3-4.

Antonio Conte Inter 2019-20
This is more than just a quirk though: 15 of Inter’s goals this season have been assisted by wing-backs, with Candreva’s seven the most in the squad overall.

There is also a huge reliance on them for progressive passing, with Candreva, Biraghi and Moses all in the top five in the squad for progressive passes per 90 according to FBref data.

Interestingly, the numbers also indicate a skew toward the right-hand side. Moses, the now-departed Valentino Lazaro and Candreva (all of whom have played at right wing-back) are 2nd, 3rd and 4th in the squad respectively for expected assists per 90. Biraghi is in 8th, while Ashley Young and Kwadwo Asamoah are 13th and 14th.

Given Hakimi’s ability to play to a high level on both flanks (he has admitted he’s not sure which side he’s more comfortable on), he could either upgrade an already potent right side, or awaken a slightly dozy left.

That makes him doubly valuable to Inter, and underlines what makes this such a smart move for both parties. Within a system geared toward affording him free rein, as well as even greater influence in the final third, Hakimi could evolve further into a world-class attacking weapon.

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Crucially, given the work Conte did to mould a flighty, carefree winger like Moses into a capable defender, there is also scope for the Getafe-born wideman to become more complete and robust inside his own defensive third.

Make no mistake though, while he will no doubt become more rounded, Inter have signed him for the mayhem he can foment higher up the pitch. His speed, allied to the unpredictability of his movement, his final ball and his ability to finish, immediately give the Nerazzurri a new dimension in attack.

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