The Morocco wing-back did his bit in the Nerazzurri’s turnaround vs Torino and Antonio Conte will hope they pick up where they left off vs Los Blancos
When Cristian Ansaldi sent Torino 2-0 up with a 62nd-minute penalty at San Siro on Sunday, the post-match headline was already writing itself.
How Inter Milan had contrived to muck up a game against one of Serie A’s out-of-form sides was going to place more pressure on a team that went into gameweek eight with one win from their last five in the league. Throw in games in all competitions and that awful run read a sole win in eight matches...surely something had to give for Antonio Conte’s troops.
Indeed, the Nerazzurri roared back in the final 26 minutes to win 4-2, with a Romelu Lukaku brace, as well as goals from Alexis Sanchez and Lautaro Martinez sealing an unforeseen comeback against the Bull.
The fact Inter hadn’t even hit the target until Alexis halved the deficit in the 64th emphasises just how bad the pre-season title favourites were playing. Indeed, Conte will have been pleased the team drew strength from each other in a difficult situation to secure the victory.
Given AC Milan defeated Napoli 3-1 later in the day, Sassuolo beat Hellas Verona 2-0 and defending champions Juventus picked up a 2-0 win over Cagliari on Saturday, a defeat would have left Inter eight, six and four points adrift of the trio, respectively.
Despite being so early in the season, such a widening gap at the top was unacceptable for Conte’s team. As such, that turnaround was just what the doctor ordered.
For Achraf Hakimi, who won the penalty through which the hosts completed the comeback, it wasn’t one of his brightest showings since joining in the summer, with his drop off somewhat mirroring his side’s decline in form.
While the right wing-back was involved in two shot-creating actions as well as a sole goal-creating action, he lacked the usual injection of pace and forward passing that’s characterised his involvement in build-up play for Conte’s team and Borussia Dortmund previously.
Hakimi completed two progressive passes all game, one pass into the final third and a single pass into the penalty area, while his customary progressive ball-carrying was missing. Stats per Fbref showed the wide defender covered the same distance to Torino’s goal as he did on the opening weekend against Fiorentina.
This looks immediately concerning because the North African was a second-half substitute against the Viola but played the entirety of Sunday’s encounter.
Frankly, the ex-Dortmund wideman has looked a shadow of himself in recent weeks, although this has been amplified amid Inter’s greater struggles for consistency in performances and, evidently, results since October.
Conte’s side have largely played well for most of their games but seem to lose concentration and let in avoidable goals, leading to recent run before Torino.
Hakimi has been culpable, too, with games against Parma and old side Real Madrid the perfect examples. In the former, the 22-year-old missed a couple of gilt-edged opportunities in each half and was slow to recognise or react to imminent danger before Gervinho sent the visitors 1-0 up at San Siro — they eventually came back from 2-0 down to draw 2-2.
On his return to play old friends three weeks ago, the Moroccan gifted Karim Benzema the opener with a back-pass under pressure to send Zinedine Zidane’s team ahead just before the half-hour. They lost in Madrid 3-2 and now face a complicated path in securing progress to the knockout rounds, given they sit bottom with two points after three games.
Admittedly, failure to pick up three points over Zidane’s team won’t be fatal to the Nerazzurri but it only leaves them in a position where claiming six points from final two games vs Borussia Monchengladbach and Shakhtar Donetsk is obligatory.
If that’s to happen, Hakimi and co. have to keep things tighter at the back and stop letting in a high volume of goals despite actually conceding few shots on the whole.
Interestingly, Conte’s team have faced 27 shots on target — same as leaders Milan — after eight matches which places them in the bottom five for attempts on target faced, yet they’ve conceded 13 times, five more goals than their rivals.
While their Expected Goals Against of 11 is close to Milan’s xGA of 10.4, still, Inter have been leaky and have kept one clean sheet in the league all season. At the same stage in Conte’s maiden campaign, the Europa League finalists had kept four shutouts in eight after conceding just seven times.
As things stand they’re letting in 1.62 goals per game and are on pace to allow around 62 goals after 38 games. For a defence that let in 36 goals last term — the only side in Serie A to concede less than a goal a game — the numbers thus far are an antithesis of a Conte rearguard.
Sunday’s rip-roaring turnaround was beyond beneficial under the circumstances, now Hakimi and his teammates have to build on that Torino success and look to be better at the back, starting from Wednesday night against Europe’s most successful side.