Could Hakimi get the better of Real Madrid?
Even though Inter Milan face Shakhtar Donetsk and not Real Madrid this weekend, Achraf Hakimi can still have a hand in the elimination of his former employers.
The wing-back could help to eliminate his old side, but Antonio Conte’s recent preference for Matteo Darmian presents obstacles
The sale of Hakimi to Inter in the summer prompted a few raised eyebrows due to the Morocco youngster’s significant growth in two seasons at Borussia Dortmund to become one of the brightest wide defenders in Europe.
Thus, potentially facing off with Los Blancos on the continent likely excited the right wing-back, but it’s safe to say the 22-year-old had games to forget against old friends in both encounters.
Hakimi’s error in the 3-2 defeat in Spain was a black mark on that return to his old stomping ground, while another defeat at San Siro — in part aided by the exasperating Arturo Vidal who received an avoidable first-half red card — put the prospects of Antonio Conte’s side progressing at risk.
Results in gameweek five, however, threw up another curveball in Group B with all four clubs still in with a chance of advancing before the final round of games.
My take – along with @MalekShafei – on Hakimi’s move to Internazionale.
What are Real thinking…!?#AFHQ https://t.co/gOX00OOVEp
— Ed Dove (@EddyDove) July 4, 2020
Shakhtar’s 2-0 win over Jekyll and Hyde Real saw them leapfrog the Spanish giants into second — due to a superior head to head — while the Nerazzurri picked up a deserved 3-2 win over table-topping Borussia Monchengladbach on eight points, despite some really late VAR drama in North Rhine-Westphalia.
Conte’s side remain bottom on five points but go into Wednesday with one task: beat the Ukraine side on home turf to have a fighting chance of going through. The Italians have their fate out of their hands, as an Inter win and a draw between Zinedine Zidane’s side and Gladbach would send the two of them through at the Serie A heavyweights’ expense.`
Arguments can be made for both sides unconsciously settling for a point — especially if they are still tied going into the final 10 minutes or so — but the merits of topping your group to avoid the competition’s heavyweights may result in an outright winner.
Back to Hakimi, whose brace vs Bologna at the weekend presents a headache for the former Chelsea manager going into Wednesday’s clash…or does it?
The turbo-charged Morocco star’s showing in Milan featured two well-placed goals on his weaker left foot, prompting the Inter website to wax lyrical about the summer signing following the 3-1 win.
Happy for the win and for the two goals. It’s for you Mohamed Abarhoun 🕊️ ⚫️🔵. // Feliz por la victoria y por los dos goles . Va por ti Mohamed Abarhoun 🕊️ ⚫️🔵. pic.twitter.com/IWDx0VS1Ra
— achrafhakimi (@AchrafHakimi) December 5, 2020
There was also a sober goal celebration in honour of Mohamed Abarhoun, who sadly passed away last week aged 31 after a long battle with stomach cancer. Despite his recent difficulty in Italy, the young defender’s gesture was a nice touch that hints at a young man with a wise, thoughtful head on his shoulders.
Still, the encounter wasn’t without difficulty. There were uncomfortable scenarios defensively before his first while an argument could be made that he could have closed down Musa Barrow from crossing in the build-up to Bologna halving the deficit.
There have been more obvious errors at the back — games vs Parma and the aforementioned defeat by Real immediately spring to mind — which isn’t lost on Conte whose selection of the more defensive Matteo Darmian in games vs Atalanta, Sassuolo and Gladbach reflect the sense that the passionate manager requires a bit more defensive astuteness in tougher games against tricky attackers.
“This is a lad that is just over 20 years old and who played for just two seasons in Dortmund and the Bundesliga, a league which is much less tactical,” the Inter boss interestingly stated after beating Bologna. “He’s working hard and has understood the differences between playing in Germany and Italy.”
“Here, there’s less space and there’s greater preparation for matches, with opponents studying his characteristics more.”
Matteo Darmian – Inter
That post-match interview continued with the ex-Chelsea boss expressing the need for Hakimi to find the right balance, before thereafter affirming how much scope he has to improve.
Regardless of the recent preference for Darmian, the Morocco wideman very likely remains Conte’s first choice at right wing-back. The recent, more sensible usage of the 22-year-old by the former Italy boss can be somewhat likened to an individual who spots flaws in a much-needed gift after it’s been unwrapped and then looks to find solutions.
Even though Inter’s wider defensive and structural issues threatened to derail a win vs Gladbach last week, the Expected Goals Against in games Darmian has started suggests they’ve looked more comfortable at the back. Their xGA of 0.8 vs Atalanta was followed by 0.7 at Sassuolo, while Marco Rose’s side only accumulated 1.0 xG in the Italians’ 3-2 win in gameweek five.
When compared to the last three games Hakimi’s started in all competitions, it makes for interesting reading: 1.9, 1.8 and 1.3 vs Torino, Real Madrid and Bologna respectively. Striking? Yes. Putting all the defensive difficulty down to the North African? Certainly not.
Be that as it may, Conte’s early withdrawals of the wing-back along with Romelu Lukaku, Alessandro Bastoni and the returning volatile Vidal hints at a possible start in a game they absolutely need to win on Wednesday night.
Whether the stars align for the Nerazzurri remains to be seen, however, Hakimi will derive joy in going through at Real’s expense, even if he fails to reveal this desire publicly.