Many things didn’t go well for Inter against Bologna and Genoa. The football was slow and drab. Luciano Spalletti’s men didn’t really attack all that much and were a Danilo D’Ambrosio header away from only recouping two points for their efforts.
One of the more vexing aspects, however, was seeing Antonio Candreva miss cross after cross, sending promising scenarios (corners, counters, good positions, you name it) up into flames with his ham-fisted (surely footed?) approach.
Twitter anger might often be over the top, but for once it was on point, as droves of Nerazzurri reached for the heart medication every time the ex-Lazio man sent another ball over.
Candreva’s €22 million fee came with the expectation of scoring 10 or so times a season. So far, however, he’s managed six Serie A goals in just over a year.
The crossing stats are even more alarming: If you consult Whoscored, he’s gone from missing a lot of crosses (eight a game last season) to almost all of them, somehow shanking 9.5 per match this time around and managing only 1.3 accurate ones, down from 1.9 in 2016-17.
That 9.5 is easily Serie A’s highest total, with former Inter man Cristiano Biraghi second with 6.6.
The biggest concern, however, is that the Candreva we’ve seen has a lot in common with the one Inter fans were so thrilled to sign back in the summer of 2016.
Back then, it was pointed out that it wasn’t unusual to see the Roman fire a number of duds into the box to no effect, or chance his hand at another futile long-ranger.
After a promising start at the San Siro, the Italian international (much beloved by Chelsea coach Antonio Conte) declined precipitously in the second half of last season, showcasing many of the same problems that we see now.
To an extent, then, this is who Candreva has always been. And at age 30, it will probably always be. It doesn’t help that he doesn’t have any realistic competition, with promising dribbler Yann Karamoh still a cameo player until he adapts to Serie A’s demanding tactics.
Trying to justify the high wastage because of the number of balls he receives — he is a tireless worker — is no longer enough. One could have previously accepted this downside, when the Italian was at least providing assists and creating openings.
Now, Spalletti’s attempt at shouldering the blame — saying that he had asked the former Lazio man to go for the early cross to look to anticipate the defence — doesn’t work because Candreva seems to be flunking everything. Candreva hasn’t been able hit anything, nor even lay it off to someone else, including D’Ambrosio.
For a team that has struggled to get much going in attack of late, it’s alarming to see any momentum immediately killed by an errant cross. Buying a bunch of ball-playing midfielders requires a more surgical game, too. After all, a poor ball into the box can mean losing a promising position, abandoning a good attacking shape and even forcing a 32-year-old Borja Valero to track back and prevent a turnover from turning into a goal.
This is not to say that Candreva is completely blameless: The Nerazzurri don’t seem to be able to play through the middle at all right now. Mauro Icardi doesn’t run well onto crosses, though this doesn’t justify how misplaced they are. Nobody is playing particularly well, and D’Ambrosio still can’t cross, despite his winner the other day. Speaking of the middle, Candreva is being asked to wander into the middle, a move that had yet to pay dividends on a consistent basis.
As loath as we are to tell Spalletti to change the lineup — this team is a work in progress, a point often reiterated in these pages — there could be a simpler way: Why not bench Candreva as a warning and try Joao Mario out there? The Portuguese was sold to Inter fans as deep-lying regista — despite rarely playing the position — then as a trequartista. Why not play him on the right, where he was successful for both Sporting Lisbon and his country? Wouldn’t playing him in a role he already knows be the best way of recouping that €45m investment?
If the Italian papers are to be trusted, Candreva is a poor game away from a benching. It’s high time we saw him take it up a notch.
Edoardo Dalmonte covers Inter Milan for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter: @EdoDalmonte.