June 12, 2021

Hakimi’s Inter Milan must turn the screw against Juventus

The Morocco star and his teammates can throw the Old Lady’s chances of Champions League football into further doubt in Saturday’s Derby d’Italia

If Inter Milan’s last two Serie A performances are anything to go by, Antonio Conte isn’t going easy on his team despite securing their first Scudetto in over a decade.

Having played conservatively for a couple of months to secure their 19th Scudetti, the Nerazzurri have dismantled Sampdoria 5-1 and played out an entertaining 3-1 win over Roma on Wednesday night.

It was Inter’s 15th consecutive home win in the league and the four-time Serie A winner certainly isn’t letting up. Neither is Achraf Hakimi, who has seen an upswing in the final third in recent gameweeks.

The Morocco star was, by and large, disadvantaged by Conte’s disciplined approach before the title was sewn up, causing a drop off in the consistency of his direct goal involvements.

His recent run of four direct goal contributions (one goal and three assists) in as many games since setting up Matteo Darmian vs Hellas Verona in late April was preceded with zero goals and two assists in the previous 14 games.

Even though the restrictive approach from the ex-Chelsea boss during the North African’s lull demonstrated the young defender’s tactical growth in his own defensive third, Hakimi’s strengths are undoubtedly suited to playing front-foot football.

Indeed, Inter’s third on Wednesday to seal the deserved win over Roma demonstrated the turbo-charged wideman’s menace on the break.

Despite being behind the play when the hosts won possession on the edge of their area, Hakimi’s searing pace saw him dart beyond the play as the hosts went from back to front in an instant.

He unselfishly set up Romelu Lukaku for the frontman’s 22nd league goal of the campaign and his first in over a month. The Belgian marksman is unquestionably Conte’s most important player, but the African isn’t far behind the ex-Chelsea forward—although Nicolo Barella may dispute this claim.

Be that as it may, the mere fact Hakimi has become one of the main components in a title-winning side in his first year in Italy is credit to the defender’s talent and ability.

In truth, many foresaw events playing out this way owing to Conte’s fondness for wing-backs since his spell at Juventus and the player’s rise into one of Europe’s frightening wide defenders.

There were understandable long-term reservations to the sustainability of those methodical showings, but the 22-year-old has been a beneficiary of the shackles coming off in the last couple of gameweeks.

The upshot of Conte’s return to their pre-2021 approach means only Atalanta’s Robin Gosens (16) has more goal contributions than Hakimi (15) among Serie A defenders and, as a matter of fact, in Europe’s top five leagues.

Having battled Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold last term, this year’s continued final third efficiency demonstrates the Inter man’s consistency and one can only wonder what might have been had Conte not restricted the team’s freedom in the New Year.

The Nerazzurri are unbeaten in 20 league games, have surpassed the points tally of Jose Mourinho’s treble-winning side from 2010 but still have unfinished business with this weekend’s Derby d’Italia clash with unrecognisable Juventus.

The Old Lady are the last side to defeat Conte’s men in any competition, with their Coppa Italia elimination of Inter in early February preventing the country’s best side from competing for a league and cup double.

They’ve shown there’s still fire in their belly despite securing Serie A and they need no added motivation playing Andrea Pirlo’s team. Be that as it may, aside from simply securing bragging rights over the side they dethroned is the added desire to seriously damage Juventus prospects of missing out on next year’s Champions League.

The tightness of the top four race in Italy means Atalanta in second only lead the fifth-placed Bianconeri by three points with two gameweeks to play.

A loss at the hands of their bitter rivals on their turf, a week after being soundly beaten 3-0 by AC Milan at the Juventus Stadium, will be upsetting for a side with CL aspirations.

“Even if we have already won the Scudetto, we continue to do what we have done all season, so as always to show why we are Champions of Italy,” Hakimi told Inter TV after Wednesday’s win over Roma. “We have to recover and then think about the next match against Juventus: it will be a tough but beautiful game to play because it is one that all Inter fans want to win.”

The Moroccan later revealed Conte’s insistence on winning and not tailing off, as if we didn’t know that already! 

If Juventus thought this relentless Inter side would go easy on them on Saturday, they’ve got another thing coming…