Marcelo Brozovic Is Finally Starting To Prove Himself as One of Serie A’s Best

?When talking about Inter in recent years, it’s always been about Mauro Icardi and Ivan Perisic.  Similarly, with Croatia, Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic have been the names on everybody’s lips.

There’s one man who’s snuck under the radar massively after overcoming an initial tough spell in Italy, he’s a player who’s work allows the stars to flourish while never seemingly being seen as a star himself.

Marcelo Brozovic is a player that rarely gets put in the limelight, not to any fault of his own, there are simply just ‘bigger’, more marketable stars in the teams he’s played in.

Luka Modric,Marcelo Brozovic

But now, the 27-year-old – who recently helped the Vatreni to Euro 2020 – is finally getting the recognition he deserves under Antonio Conte.

Initially, the Croat mightily struggled at Inter after arriving from Dinamo Zagreb permanently in the summer of 2016. Inconsistent and sloppy showings, as well as an unjustified arrogance, meant that Brozovic wasn’t exactly a fan-favourite among the Nerazzurri faithful in his first few months at the club. 

His inconsistency on the pitch and petulance off it nearly led to his sale to Sevilla in January 2018, but the boss at the time, Luciano Spalletti, blocked the move as they weren’t able to find a replacement.

Marcelo Brozovic,Luciano Spalletti

That was seemingly the turning-point in Brozovic’s career far, and after finishing the 2017/18 campaign with four goals and nine assists (a career-high), that summer, he would go on to play an underrated role in Croatia’s World Cup campaign that saw them reach the final – Brozovic starting and finishing both the semi-final and final.

Then, under Spalletti in the 2018/19 season, ‘Brozo’ starred in I Nerazzurri’s midfield – outshining the likes of Matias Vecino, Roberto Gagliardini and Borja Valero – as his tireless running, ball-winning abilities, competent ball distribution and determination to make runs into the penalty area started to push the former Dinamo Zagreb man into the good books of the home faithful.

But, despite Brozovic being a constant in Inter’s starting XI and finishing that season with a 90% pass completion in Serie A, – all while averaging four tackles a game – Icardi’s tame 17-goal season was credited for spearheading I Nerazzurri to the Champions League for the second season running. The workhorse in the middle of the park was merely another spoke in Spalletti’s dysfunctional wheel.

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With the club seemingly at a standstill after not improving on their previous campaign, Inter announced Spalletti’s departure in May 2018 with former Juve boss Antonio Conte the man to fill the void. 

With Conte at the helm, Inter have been taken to another level and while the performances of Lautaro Martinez and Romelu Lukaku up top and the stoutness of Diego Godin, Milan Skriniar and Stefan de Vrij at the back have been important, Conte’s midfield three have been nothing short of outstanding.

The dynamic Nicolo Barella and Stefano Sensi joined Inter from Cagliari and Sassuolo respectively in the summer and both have thrived alongside Brozovic, who’s operated as the ‘regista’ in the centre. 

And despite Sensi and Barella’s ball-playing abilities, it’s the Croatian who’s proved to be the key in Inter’s build-up play under their new manager.

Stefano Sensi

Initially, when the ball is with one of Inter’s centre-halves, Brozovic looks to receive in a position just behind the first line of the opponent (usually the striker). When he receives, his calmness in possession and press-resistance enables him to turn away from pressure and play clever passes round the corner into his midfield partners, who are usually positioned higher up the pitch. 

Brozovic essentially becomes key in allowing Inter to progress the ball vertically through opposition lines. His ability to play straight, line-breaking passes then opens up space for Antonio Candreva or Kwadwo Asamoah at wing-back. Conte-ball.

So far this season, Brozovic has registered two goals and two assists in all competitions and despite a smaller sample size, he averages a higher pass completion (90.7%), more passes per 90 (74.2) and more long balls per 90 (7.4) than any prior season in Serie A. He’s the man that keeps this impressive Inter side ticking.


And while some of his defensive numbers in some metrics are down, particularly the tackles per 90 (from 5.0 to 2.8), Brozovic has proved to be more than capable at shielding Inter’s back three. 

Along with this, the 27-year-old holds great importance when Inter press high, whether it be providing cover for the pair beside him who enjoy pressing opposition midfielders deep in their own half, or man-marking an advanced opposition midfielder – the latter being demonstrated in I Nerazzuri’s visit to the Camp Nou, where Brozovic would often find himself man-marking Arthur or Frenkie de Jong.

Overall, Brozovic’s outings in some of Inter’s biggest games up to this point have seen the Croat gain greater recognition. His performances in the Champions League – most notably in both games against Dortmund, especially in the home game – have been consistently fantastic, while he was the best player on the park in the Derby della Madonnina.

Despite a quieter showing against Juventus, Brozovic has proved himself to be a player for the big occasion and will undoubtedly be pivotal in Inter’s title challenge this season and in the many to come.

Marcelo Brozovic

So, from a cocky nuisance who wasn’t even loved by his own fans, Marcelo Brozovic has gone under the radar to become one of I Nerazzurri’s most prized possessions.

Playing as the ‘regista’ under Conte in a much-improved Inter side has taken the Croatian to the next level and there simply aren’t many better midfielders in Europe than Inter’s number 77 right now.

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Transfer Rumours: Barça & Man City for Sensi, Celtic Eye Wanyama, Everyone Wants Joe Gelhardt

Some say that the real incident which caused Prince Andrew’s adrenalin overdose that rendered his sweat glands useless was actually reading 90min’s transfer rumours…

They are that exciting.

Here’s today’s goss…


Man Utd & Arsenal Go ‘Giant’ Hunting

Both ?Man Utd and ?Arsenal are keeping tabs on ‘giant’ Brad Young, an adjective used to describe the 17-year-old Hartlepool keeper in both the title and opening sentence of ?The Sun’s exclusive.

By the point in the article (second para) you get to Young’s actual height of 6ft 4in, it comes as something of a disappointment. Ok, that is tall… but I was twice promised giant

Anyway, other than the fact that National League Hartlepool want a ‘decent fee’ for their teenage monster, details are scant in The Sun’s piece.

Did anyone mention that it’s the international break?


Aston Villa Also Want a Large Teenager

Ben Chapman,Jarrad Branthwaite

Speaking of large lower-league 17-year-olds… ?Aston Villa are being linked with Carlisle United centre back Jarrad Branthwaite by ?Football Insider.

According to their report, Branthwaite (also 6ft 4in, apparently) has ‘caught the eye of scouts at multiple clubs’ with his displays in League Two, while Aston Villa are ‘weighing up’ a January offer.

A product of Carlisle’s academy, Branthwaite has made nine first-team appearances this season, despite essentially still being a child.

He signed a two-year contract back in February, while 90min’s resident Carlisle fan ?Chris Deeley describes him as ‘already the defender I’m least worried about in our team.’

High praise indeed.


Wanted Wigan Starlet Playing Gelhardt to Get

Wigan Athletic v Swansea City - Sky Bet Championship

What’s that? You want more links to 17-year-olds you’ve not heard of…? Well, I did have this thing on Lionel Messi handing in a transfer request but ok…

?Chelsea?Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City, Tottenham and Everton are all monitoring the development of Wigan Athletic’s Joe Gelhardt, according to the ?Daily Star.

Now, I don’t have any information about his height sadly but what the article does tell us is that Gelhardt is a striker, he is English and he has made seven Championship appearances for Wigan in 2019/20, scoring once. 

He is also the England Under-18 captain and looks to have the potential to be a star of the future.

The Star say the forward is valued at around £5m, while the Latics – such is the relative health of their bank balance – have no obligation to sell mid-season.

The Liverpool-born forward was ?supposedly rejected by the Reds and Everton ‘three or four times‘ before joining Wigan aged 10.


Celtic Want Big Vic Back

Victor Wanyama

North of the wall, Celtic are on the hunt for a new midfielder to ‘lighten the load’ on Scott Brown and Callum McGregor, according to ?Football Insider, and they’ve got a certain ?Tottenham man in mind.

Victor Wanyama, who spent three years at Celtic, is on the wish list for Neil Lennon’s side and could be targetted in a loan deal with the player’s Spurs chances few and far between.

The 28-year-old Kenyan midfielder has played just 24 Premier League minutes of Tottenham’s dumpster fire of the season so far and is unlikely to be missed if the club sanction an exit.

However, the inconvenient sticking point for Celtic is money. Football Insider’s report says the Scottish champs will only be able to afford a loan if Wanyama’s wages are shared.


Deulofeu’s Milan Heart Break

Gerard Deulofeu

Gerard Deulofeu would return to ?AC Milan in a ‘heartbeat’, say ?Calciomercato.

The 25-year-old Watford winger has a thing for returning to old clubs and apparently Milan is next on his hit list after doing encores at Barcelona and Everton.

Deulofeu had half a season on loan at San Siro in 2016/17 but has been hankering for a move back ever since, according to Calciomercato’s Fabrizio Romano.

The problem is that Watford want €40m (£34m, yes really) for the Catalan star, who they see as an important player in their battle to avoid relegation.

While Milan ‘appreciate’ Deulofeu, the report claims the transfer is ‘beyond the boy’s desire’.


Inter Hope to Jump Queue for Kulusevski 

Dejan Kulusevski

While Milan may not be doing any business, their San Siro-sharing rivals just might. ?Inter want to get the jump on other suitors for Atalanta midfielder Dejan Kulusevski, according to La Gazzetta dello Sport (as cited by ?Football Italia).

19-year-old Sweden Under-21 star Kulusevski has been one of the revelations of Serie A this season, providing five assists in 12 appearances for loan club Parma.

The report says his price tag is already €40m (still £34m) but that could increase as the player continues to impress.

Inter want to start negotiations now apparently but face competition from Juventus, Roma, Milan as well as Man Utd and Arsenal (?read more about their interest here).

Btw, if you’re thinking Kulusevski doesn’t sound very traditionally Swedish, it’s because his parents are of North Macedonian descent. So, there you go.


Sensi-ing Interest

Stefano Sensi

Could it be one in, one out at Inter? Probably not but go with me here…

Stefano Sensi, tearing it up for Antonio Conte’s side this season after joining on a loan-to-buy arrangement from Sassuolo, has been linked with ?Barcelona recently – something which the player’s agent hasn’t really played down. Not like an agent that… odd.

The 24-year-old Italy international, who has three goals and two assists from seven Serie A outings in 2019/20, was named as a Barcelona target in the speculation swirl last month – with Ivan Rakitic or Arturo Vidal (Barça’s equivalent of loose change lying around) touted as makeweights in any deal.

Now Sensi’s agent Beppe Riso revealed to ?Calciomercato that both Barça and Manchester City had been interested in the summer prior to the Inter move.

He teased: “Sensi is no surprise. Antonio Conte looked for him, wanted him, they [Inter] were good at getting him first. There was interest from Barcelona and City already this summer, it’s normal.” 

5ft 6in (we started with height so we’ll finish with it) Sensi, who has been compared to Marco Verratti, cites Xavi as his footballing idol.


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Italy 9-1 Armenia: Report, Ratings & Reaction as Azzurri End Qualification With Demolition Job

Italy ended their Euro 2020 qualification campaign in style as they thumped Armenia 9-1 to finish with a 100% winning record.

The Azzurri started the game in scintillating fashion, essentially wrapping up the game inside the first ten minutes thanks to goals from Ciro Immobile and Nicolo Zaniolo.

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Italy made it 3-0 midway through the first half when Nicolo Barella poked home after a super ball from Leonardo Bonucci. Incredibly, the rout continued four minutes later after Immobile rounded the keeper and tapped the ball into an empty net for his second of the day and tenth of his international career.

The Armenians were able to hold their opponents off for the first 20 minutes of the second half, but their resistance ended when Zaniolo scored his second with a fabulous strike from the edge of the box with his left foot. 

Unfortunately for Armenia the onslaught was nowhere near done, with defender Alessio Romagnoli stabbing home from a corner, before Jorginho and substitute Riccardo Orsolini got their names on the scoresheet to make it eight. 

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Armenia did get one back after Jorginho’s mistake but that proved to be momentary respite as Federico Chiesa made it nine a minute later with his first goal for the national side.

Here’s 90min’s breakdown of the game.


ITALY

Key Talking Point

After breaking an 80-year national record with their tenth consecutive win, which came against Bosnia and Herzegovina a few days ago, Italy could have dropped their guard a touch -especially with Roberto Mancini making wholesale changes from the last game. However, that wasn’t to be, and the Azzurri put in another fantastic display as they humiliated Armenia.

Nicolò Zaniolo

Winning Euro 2020 next summer may be a step too far for Italy, but they are definitely on an upward trajectory and must continue to show improvement so they are able to go deep into the competition and make the world realise that they are well and truly back.


Player Ratings

Starting XI: Sirigu (6); Di Lorenzo (7), Bonucci (7), Romagnoli (8), Biraghi (6); Tonali (7), Jorginho (7), Barella (8); Zaniolo (9*), Immobile (8), Chiesa (8).

Substitutes: Orsolini (7), Izzo (6), Meret (6).


STAR PLAYER 

Zaniolo is a stunning talent, and proved that with a magnificent display tonight. The midfield maestro was at the heart of everything and showcased his stunning technical ability with a number of brilliant passes. His two goals in the game was the perfect reward for a supreme performance, and he will hope that this has persuaded his manager to put him in the starting XI for Euro 2020.






ARMENIA

?Player Ratings

Starting XI: Airapetyan (4); Hambartsumyan (4), Haroyan (3), Calisir (2), Ishkhanyan (4), Hovhannisyan (4); Babayan (6), Grigoryan (5), Edigaryan (4), Barseghyan (4); Karapetyan (5).

Substitutes: Simonyan (5), Sarkisov (6), Avetisyan (5)


Looking Ahead

With qualification now over, Italy will look to re-group and focus on bigger and better things heading into Euro 2020. Armenia, meanwhile, will lick their wounds after a desperately disappointing defeat and will reflect on a qualifying campaign that saw them finish fifth in the group.

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Inter 3-1 Barcelona: ‘Gabbia’, Wesley Sneijder’s Masterclass and Jose Mourinho’s Finest Hour

Inter 3-1 Barcelona is part of 90min’s 20 Greatest Matches of the Decade series. Follow the rest of the series over the course of the next week.


Inter vs. Barcelona. Jose Mourinho vs. Pep Guardiola. The pragmatist vs. the idealist. Defence vs. attack. The ‘bus’ vs. tiki taka. 

That was the second leg of Inter’s UEFA Champions League semi final clash. 

A game in which Mourinho’s Inter players would ‘sweat blood’ to ensure I Nerazzurri would reach their first European Cup final since 1967, and continue their historic march toward the first treble in calcio history.

A game that Mourinho would later call the “greatest moment” of his career.

A game that would – in many ways – define how the divisive manager would be thought of in the ensuing years. For this was the game during which Jose Mourinho became (for better or worse) synonymous with ‘parking the bus’ or, in less rudimentary terms, spoiling games with a low-defensive block. 

Oh, and it’s also the game after which the Inter manager would run around Camp Nou’s hallowed turf à la Alan Shearer.

Inter Milan's Portuguese  coach Jose Mou

BUT, it’s not the game that this article is about.

Today, we’re discussing the other game between Inter and Barca that year – the first leg of that infamous UEFA Champions League semi final. 

A very, very, very different game of football. In every conceivable way. 

Yes, it was still Inter vs. Barcelona, still Jose Mourinho vs. Pep Guardiola, and still the pragmatist vs. the idealist, however it most certainly wasn’t defence vs. attack or the ‘bus’ vs. tiki taka. 

As on 20th April 2010, Inter took the game to Barcelona. 

And if there was ever a time to do so, to go almost blow-for-blow with one of the greatest teams of all time, it was the 20th April 2010; after La Blaugrana had endured a near 1,000km bus trip as a result of flight cancellations due to an Icelandic volcanic ash cloud (the same ash cloud that prevented Blackburn Rovers from signing Robert Lewandowski…something which is ALWAYS worth a mention). 

Jose Mourinho devised a rather simple, two-fold, plan for I Nerazzurri to beleaguer a leggy, likely stiff as a board, Barca side at San Siro: 

1) ‘Gabbia’ Lionel Messi –  a four-man ‘cage’ which would restrict Messi’s ability to effect the game. 

2) Attack the space left by the marauding Dani Alves and Maxwell with pace and precision. 

Jose Mourinho

So, in other words: Jose Mourinho’s plan was the same as every other manager’s plan when their team faced Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona. 

So yes, it was pretty simple plan. 

But as exemplified by Barcelona’s haul of six trophies (UEFA Champions League, La Liga, Copa del Rey, UEFA Super Cup, FIFA Club World Cup and Supercopa de Espana) in 2009 alone, it was a rather difficult one to execute. 

In fact, very, very, very rarely did the first part of the plan – stopping Messi – seem even remotely possible. Not least in 2010 when the mercurial number 10 was (arguably) at the peak of his powers, with Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez – the two greatest Spanish footballers of all time – feeding the ball to him at will and with Barcelona’s greatest ever coach building one of the greatest football teams of all time around him. 

Somehow, through immense mental fortitude, unwavering concentration and a will to sacrifice oneself for the cause, Inter found a way to stifle Messi.

Barcelona's Argentinian forward Lionel M

The number ten would limber through the game, with his offensive threat quelled by the fact that, when he received the ball, he was instantly hounded by a group of wily – and hugely talented – group of players hellbent on not giving him an inch of space to work his magic in. 

So, part one of the plan executed to perfection. Nice one lads. 

But to actually beat Barcelona, the second phase of the plan also needed to be executed. And that was, as you can probably guess,also easier said than done…

…Especially after Pedro had given Barca a one-goal lead inside the first 20 minutes. 

While it was difficult to stop Messi, it was almost impossible to stop him AND not simultaneously negate your own ability to ‘hurt’ (as Mourinho put it) Barcelona in the offensive third.

Inter Milan's Dutch midfielder Wesley Sn

Therefore, the actualisation of the second part of Mourinho’s plan would require unfathomable levels of confidence and quality; two things Inter’s soon-to-be treble-winning side, luckily, had in abundance. 

Undeterred by Pedro’s early goal, I Nerazzurri – with Messi ‘caged’ – bombed forward at every opportunity, exploiting the space left by the ever-marauding Dani Alves and Maxwell with astonishing precision. 

“We were educated to attack the spaces behind them”, said Mourinho, when discussing the game with ?Coaches’ Voices. 

“So in this situation, we always had lots of players ready to attack the space behind both full-backs.”

The space left by Alves would be exploited for Wesley Sneijder’s 30th minute equaliser, as the-then best player in the world (he 100% should’ve won the 2010 Ballon d’Or) found himself free as a bird on the left of the Barca penalty area, from where he would drill the ball into the bottom corner. Sneijder would – of course – run the length of the touchline to celebrate with Mourinho. 

Wesley Sneijder

At the start of the second half, the space left by Maxwell on the other flank allowed Diego Milito to feed the ball through to Maicon, who subsequently slipped the ball under Victor Valdes to make it 2-1. 

Then 15 minutes later, the win was sealed by Diego Milito, who – you guessed it – exploited space left at the back post by Maxwell to head home Inter’s third. 

Inter would hold onto their 3-1 lead throughout the remainder of the game at San Siro, and then hold Barcelona to one goal at Camp Nou to seal a place in the UEFA Champions League final – which they would, as you already know, go on to win at the Santiago Bernabeu. 

Jose Mourinho and Inter had executed a simple, yet seemingly impossible, plan. 

They had stopped Messi.

They had stopped Barcelona.

They had won.

Rather comfortably. 

Jose Mourinho

And while Mourinho may cite the second leg as the “greatest moment” of his career, and the game that will define his memory more than any other, Inter’s 3-1 win over Barcelona at San Siro was the best any of his teams has ever – and probably will ever – play. 

Perfection. 


For more from Jack Gallagher, follow him on Twitter! 


Manchester City 3-2 QPR: You’ll Never See Anything Like This Ever Again

Bayern Munich 2-1 Borussia Dortmund: A Night of History, Heynckes & Robben Making Wembley His Home

Barcelona 6-1 PSG: Remembering That Mad Midweek Miracle at Camp Nou

Scotland 3-3 Argentina: High VARma in Paris as World Cup Underdogs Knock Each Other Out

Roma 3-0 Barcelona: The Night Roma Rose From Their Ruins

France 4-3 Argentina: The Day France Emerged as World Champions-Elect

Liverpool 4-3 Borussia Dortmund: European Nights at Anfield Don’t Get Much Better Than This

Napoli 2-4 Lazio: The 90 Minute Champions League Shootout That Had it All

Barcelona 3-1 Manchester United: Pep’s Ride, Fergie’s Hiding & Football’s Impossible Standard

Wales 3-1 Belgium: The Night a Small Nation Created Their Biggest Moment

Watford 3-1 Leicester City: From Dejection to Delirium in 18 Extraordinary Seconds

Chelsea 2-2 Tottenham: The Battle of the Bridge Which Gave Leicester the Premier League Title

England 1-1 Colombia (4-3 Pens): When the Three Lions Made a Divided Country Believe

Porto 2-1 Benfica: When the Primeira Liga Was Decided With One Game to Spare

?Liverpool 0-2 Chelsea: The Slip Heard Around the World


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Juventus & Inter Join Race for Chris Smalling After Impressive Start With Roma

?Juventus and Inter have joined the race to sign Manchester United centre back Chris Smalling, who has enjoyed a surprisingly strong start to life on loan with Roma.

The 29-year-old swapped Manchester for Rome during the summer as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and the United hierarchy looked to refresh and rejuvenate their backline.

Despite being deemed surplus to requirements at Old Trafford, Smalling – somewhat surprisingly – has been one of the Serie A’s standout performers so far in 2019/20, prompting Roma to push for a permanent deal.

Chris Smalling,Gervinho

However, according to Corriere della Sera (via ?Tutto Mercato Web), Roma will face pressure to complete the deal from both Juventus and Inter, who are ready to pounce if Roma cannot agree a deal with ?United.

The Red Devils are ?looking for a fee of around €18m (£15m), but Roma are reluctant to meet those demands. Having already paid €3m to secure the loan deal itself, Roma only want to offer €15m to complete a permanent deal.

If United are not prepared to accept such a deal, then ?Juventus and ?Inter could look to take advantage. The two sides have been scouring the ?Serie A for potential transfer targets, and both are said to have been impressed by what they have seen from Smalling.


For Juventus, a move for Smalling does make some sense. The pairing of Leonardo Bonucci and Matthijs de Ligt have been hugely impressive for Maurizio Sarri’s side, but there are questions over the future of the remaining centre backs in the squad.

Both Daniele Rugani and Merih Demiral have both been linked with moves elsewhere, while there are doubts over how 35-year-old Giorgio Chiellini will fare once he returns from his cruciate ligament tear.

If they are looking for a reliable rotation option, they could certainly do worse than Smalling, who so far has proven to be a solid defender in the Serie A.

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The same can be said for Inter, who could find themselves on the lookout for new centre-backs in the near future. ??Milan Škriniar is wanted by Barcelona and Real Madrid, while Diego Godín will soon turn 34 years old.

The two sides will likely continue to monitor Smalling over the coming months to decide whether he has moved on from the inconsistent form which plagued his time with United. If they like what they see, a move could certainly be a possibility.

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