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Hakimi: Wing-back could be Inter Milan’s go-to man in 2020/21

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Despite a horde of arrivals, the former Real Madrid man offers all the qualities Antonio Conte wants out wide, and he ought to flourish in Italy

Achraf Hakimi was probably the most relieved man on August 25. Why? Inter Milan confirmed Antonio Conte would stay on as manager after a tumultuous 2019/20 that culminated in defeat on the continent.

After the Nerazzurri were beaten 2-1 by Sevilla in the Europa League final, the abrasive trainer’s post-match comments seemed to indicate he was set to depart after just one season.

“We’re going to meet next week with the club and we’ll decide about my future. I’m not sure that I’ll be the Inter manager next season, we’ll decide together,” he told Sky Sport Italia. “Inter will plan the future with or without me.”

Weeks earlier, he’d launched a fierce attack at the club’s senior figures after Serie A drew to a close, which stoked the fire before their European quest that ultimately ended in defeat.

“I don’t think the work of the players has been recognised and I don’t think my work has been recognised,” he claimed. “We all received very little protection from the club, absolutely zero.

“I don’t like it when people jump on the bandwagon — they have to be there in the good times as well as the bad and here at Inter it wasn’t like that, I’m sorry to say.”

 

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The aforementioned tirades suggested that Conte’s position was untenable and both parties will go their separate ways after the meeting that was held in late August. At the time, observers feared for the immediate future of Hakimi, signed by the 2010 European champions in June.

Due to the fact the Morocco wideman was acquired specifically at the behest of the passionate trainer, what would the future have held for the former Real Madrid wide defender if the 51-year-old manager then departed?

Those doubts raised and questions asked were par for the course, given how much the former Juventus boss values and prioritises his wing-back positions. Had Conte then departed after seemingly convincing the North African to swap Madrid for Milan, the consequences for his development may have been far-reaching.

Hakimi’s unique skill set was beneficial to Borussia Dortmund for two seasons — especially in the just-concluded campaign — where he seemed to rise to a level so high that many argued he was the best wide defender in Europe. Indeed, it’s a debate that includes talented Liverpool Premier League and Champions League winner, Trent Alexander-Arnold, whose quality and growth in the last few seasons makes him arguably the best in that position.

 

For Inter’s new signing, his raw numbers in 2019/20 were truly outstanding. The wideman scored five times and recorded a staggering 10 assists in 33 Bundesliga games — from 29 starts. Even though statistics showed he out-performed the latter by a significant margin, his penchant for not only creating chances for his teammates but equally finding himself on the receiving end of moves is a dream for Conte.

Furthermore, his underlying numbers in 19/20 heralds a potential improvement to the Nerazzurri’s build-up. Last season, Hakimi’s played the sixth-highest volume of progressive passes and was the only Dortmund player in the top 15 — for context, Bayern Munich had three — with Raphael Guerreiro coming in at 16th spot.

 

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Even more important was his impressive ball-carrying, which saw the wideman end the campaign behind only Bayern’s David Alaba for moving the ball the farthest cumulative distance towards the opponents’ goal.

When compared to Inter players last season in Serie A, only Stefan de Vrij featured in the top 30 in the Italian top flight for accumulated progressive distance in which the ball was carried towards the opposition’s goal. Antonio Candreva was the only wing-back at Inter to feature in the top 100 in Serie A and he came in at 71st place.

Without question, Hakimi adds another dimension to Conte’s team in an attacking sense with his inclination to beat opponents in possession while driving forwards into the final third.

Also, the wide attacker’s involvement in the final third is further emphasised in the goal-creating actions in the German top flight last term where he finished joint-seventh with 18 actions directly leading to a goal. He was one of four Dortmund players in the top 10.

Interestingly, Hakimi’s GCA was higher than Inter’s best performer in this area — Marcelo Brozovic who had 15 — as well as the best-performing wing-back Candreva (13).

 

Admittedly, the jury’s still out on how the Moroccan’s numbers will translate from the Bundesliga to Serie A. However, his underlying stats make him a mouthwatering prospect for the club’s supporters ahead of their opening league fixture vs Fiorentina on Saturday.

A striking observation shows that Inter’s business this summer was heavily focused on signings in their thirties, arguably players past their primes. In the North African, the Nerazzurri not only have someone still yet to hit his best years but one ready to contribute heavily in their Serie A quest to supplant the Old Lady.

Conte has been backed to a hilt in the market, now it’s up to the insatiable tactician to deliver Inter’s first league title in a decade…and Hakimi’s presence makes them even stronger to usurp a Juventus side searching for a 10th straight domestic crown.

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About Kirigaya Kazuto

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Kazuto Kirigaya, born as Kazuto Narusaka, is a fictional character and the protagonist of the Sword Art Online series of light novels written by Reki Kawahara.

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