One of my favourite things in football is picking up on those not-so-particularly-popular players and finding out that you love their game. Croatian midfielder Marcelo Brozovic has become one of those players in recent years for me, but consistent game time has alluded him in four seasons at the Giuseppe Meazza. The only season where Brozovic broke the 2000 league minute barrier was during 2015/16 where he amassed the equivalent to 26 games (2388 minutes).
The former Dinamo Zagreb man has constantly battled managerial changes, transfer rumours and injuries. Just as it seemed that Spalletti was beginning to prefer him as the # 10 in the team over Joao Mario, he picks up an injury and is set to be sidelined for a month.
Against Benevento, he was exceptional, totalling eight key passes, 94 touches, 63 passes and of course, two goals, one being a sumptuous free-kick.
What he brings to Spalletti’s side
Inter’s start to the season has been better than most expected considering the drop in expectations post-Mercato. However, whilst they haven’t lost a game and are currently level on points with Juventus in 2nd, the performances haven’t illustrated such a strong start.
In the summer, La Viola pair Borja Valero and Matias Vecino were brought to bolster their midfield, and they’ve done their jobs thus far. The Spaniard Valero controls the tempo of the game, dishes the ball out to fullbacks, forwards and just about anyone in a yard of space. The Uruguayan Vecino adds defensive prowess to the pivot, shielding the defensive from penetrating balls and covering space when fullbacks or Valero push up.
However, Valero is just one man in a team of XI. Inter do lack players who are apt on the ball and capable of progressing play. Their first choice wingers include an isolation winger who can dribble and cross into a certain area (Candreva) or a winger who prefers off the ball runs and acting almost as a second striker (Perisic). This is why the AM is so important.
‘”Progressive” is defined as passes which either take the attacking move at least 10-15 yards towards goal compared to where the ball had been over the last three actions, or take the ball into the penalty area for the first time, or runs which do the same taking out the defender. Graph is for the 2016/17 season.
If your main takeaway from this graph is ‘Why the hell did Inter sell Ever Banega?’ then we’re in the same boat. My second thought is ‘Why wasn’t Brozovic a starter last year?’.
Neither Joao Mario or Brozovic are great at progressing the ball via runs, and the former isn’t exactly a bad passer, but Brozovic is simply a better one with 5.5 progressive passes per 90, compared to the Portuguese man’s 3.9. Last season, the Croat completed far more forward passes than his teammate 50 to 31 per 90 and far more successful passes 63 to 45.
Spalletti and co. left it late against Crotone, with the first and second goals coming in the 82nd minute and in added time. It also wasn’t Joao Mario’s finest 90 minutes. He managed 61 touches, 35/43 passes, only two of which entered the penalty area whilst being dispossessed twice.
Inter struggled far more than they should’ve have this game because of Joao Mario’s limitations in build-up. During the only game where Inter dropped points this season, the former Sporting player was substituted after 50 minutes. His totals for the game were; 32 touches, 16/21 accurate passes, none of which entered the penalty area and he was dispossessed once.
In the most crucial position in the 4-2-3-1, you need efficiency and to take care of the ball, whilst being adventurous with the ball when required. Unfortunately the €45m man doesn’t fit the bill.
This isn’t a Brozovic propaganda article, Joao Mario had slightly better expected goal + assist stats which 0.42 per 90, compared to Brozovic’s 0.33 per 90. Over the course of a 38 game season, that is an extra 3.42 goals. However, I’d argue that Brozovic excels in a lot of areas that cannot be 100% quantified.
His game is a lot cleaner than his competitor’s, including his range of passing, his technique and the positions he gets himself in around the final third.
During his time at the Stadio Olimpico, Spalletti could have his Roma side morphing between possession and counter attacking football. At Inter, it doesn’t seem as though he’s going to have that luxury, as teams are playing deep against them and there’s no chance to counter attack, which is what would suit this Nerazzurri side.
In terms of breaking down a defense that’s sitting deep, I’d pick the fine tuned passing of Marcelo Brozovic.
What happens now?
Fortunately Brozovic will be back in a month, unfortunately for Inter their schedule over the next four weeks includes Milan, Napoli (A), Sampdoria, Verona (A) and Torino.
Joao Mario will most likely take back the 10 spot, as for Brozovic, it’s another bump in the road for his Inter career, just as he was getting back into the groove of things, as he always seems to.
The man of the article is now 24, turning 25 in September and this is his fourth season in Milan, if he doesn’t start getting first choice minutes, then there’s no reason he shouldn’t look elsewhere in January or July.