How Milan Skriniar Found Back His Place in Antonio Conte’s Inter

It was only a few months ago that Milan Skriniar’s time at Inter seemed all but finished. Antonio Conte’s confidence in the defender was rumored to be waning just as the club was plotting a winter sale to Tottenham. However, the Slovak has worked to re-adapt his style and has become an immovable piece of Conte’s famous 3-5-2 formation. Here’s how Skriniar worked his way back into the Nerazzurri‘s tactical plans.

Milan Skriniar’s Early Career

The Slovak international got his start playing for MSK Zilina in his home country. He made his senior debut at 17 years old and impressed right off the gate. Skriniar’s strength, tackling ability, and determination put him on many international scouts’ radar.

At just 20 years old, he was deemed ready to play in Serie A, one of the most defensively disciplined leagues in the world. Sampdoria snapped him up and he quickly became a regular for the club.

This caught the attention of an even more prominent Italian club, Inter. They signed the defender for a fee of around €20 million, according to Transfermarkt, in 2017. His rise through the ranks was swift but easy to explain given his consistent performances. In fact, since playing his first full season, the 2016-17 edition, the defender has never made less than 30 appearances for the clubs he has represented.

Inter’s set up in the 2-2 draw against Roma

The Criticism That Put Skriniar’s Career in Jeopardy

Up until the start of the 2020-21 season, the Slovakian’s career seemed to progress from strength to strength. The newfound level of fame also brought a greater degree of scrutiny. Interest from Premier League sides like Tottenham and Manchester City made the sports press want to analyze Skriniar’s achievements more intimately.

Skriniar was a physically imposing player who could provide any club with numerous constant performances across a campaign. Few doubted this. However, during the 2018-19 season, he had won only 1.91 aerial duels per game on average. Furthermore, while his passing was sound, he tended to favor short, safe passes.

His critics also pointed out the defender’s tendency to dive into tackles. This often earned him yellow cards. His expected price tag of €60 million, together with his low expected goals ratio, made some question whether better options would not be available for a similar fee.

The criticism may have had an impact on Skriniar, whose level of performance decreased. Furthermore, his new coach Antonio Conte, who likes playing  with three defenders at the back, seemed to lose confidence in the player.

Skriniar Regaining His Form

From his emergence in Serie A, Skriniar has made a reputation for himself as a player who can do the basics of defending very well. The Slovak is a physically robust defender, excellent in terms of positioning and one-on-one duels. He has also shown to be capable of moving the ball around efficiently, rarely losing possession when passing it vertically.

These were precisely the qualities Conte found himself needing in 2020, especially after his team’s unconvincing November run of form. The manager’s 3-5-2 system performs best when his men can play in a variety of roles picking up the slack for one another when needed.

Throughout the season, Milan Skriniar has often found himself moving to a right wing-back role. This was done to compensate for the freedom allowed to Achraf Hakimi. The Slovak’s 92.5% passing accuracy makes him capable of developing the attacking play in an efficient manner.

In fact, the right wing-back role has suited Skriniar so thoroughly that Conte has found himself making slight revisions to his tactics in order to best utilize him. This could be witnessed in Inter’s victory over Borussia Monchengladbach in the Champions League. Often times, Nicolò Barella or Matteo Darmian would slide into defensive positions, allowing Skriniar to advance up the flank. When this happens, regularly, Inter will switch to a 4-4-2 formation with two midfielders joining De Stefan Vrij and Simone Bastoni in defense.

Recent Developments in Skriniar’s Career

It’s true that squad issues helped the Slovak’s regular starts this campaign. Diego Godin’s departure to Cagliari eased Skriniar’s chances. Furthermore, Aleksandar Kolarov was also absent for a large part of the campaign. The Serbian can play both as a left-back or center back.

Still, recent weeks have shown just how thoroughly Milan Škriniar has adapted to Conte’s tactical demands. For example, he was Inter’s best-rated player when the Nerazzurri took on Sampdoria, his previous club. The defender had a passing accuracy of 98.6% as he looked to compensate for Hakimi’s switch to a role as an attacking wing-back.

Skriniar played even better in Inter’s next match, the 2-2 draw against Roma. He scored one goal and participated in the second, a very rare occurrence for a defender indeed. Once again, the Slovak supported the right flank attacks but also worked to create defensive stability through the center of the defense.

In the victory against Fiorentina in Coppa Italia, Skriniar was given a similar role. Significantly, he was the only one of Inter’s three regular starting players in the central defender positions to start the match as Andrea Ranocchia and Aleksandar Kolarov rounded out the back three line.

What’s Next for Skriniar?

When he joined Sampdoria, Milan Skriniar earned a reputation as a tough defender who could pull off the basics with great precision and consistency. His playing style has grown recently to encompass other skills.

This breakthrough has been most obvious during the past several months. Is Milan Skriniar a good player? Antonio Conte depends on Milan Skriniar because of his energy, as well as his tactical knowledge and his passing skill. When tasked to stop attacks in the center of the defense, he is one of the best in the Italian league. He is surprisingly effective when leading the charge down the flank. The same goes when needing to pick up the slack for marauding wing-backs.

These are the grounds for the player wearing number 37 of his jersey remaining an important piece of Conte’s tactical puzzle and a player eagerly followed by some of Europe’s finest teams.