The new Nerazzurri duo is providing Simone Inzaghi’s side with more flexibility and inter­con­nect­ed­ness, bringing enter­tain­ment back to San Siro.

It seems like ages since the biggest question mark in Inter’s season was their attack. It was the beginning of the summer and the Nerazzurri had just sold Edin Dzeko, one of the previous season’s best players, and failed to secure Romelu Lukaku’s return to Milan, after he had proved to be a factor in the second half of the season.

Inter General Manager Beppe Marotta decided to safeguard the attack by signing Marcus Thuram – who, at 26 years old and after four seasons at Borussia Monchengladbach, hadn’t dissolved all the doubts around him – for free.

In his four years in Germany, Thuram never scored more than 13 goals in the league and seemed to be quite a different talent to Dzeko and Lukaku. He proved to be a striker who loved to play more in front of goal rather than link with teammates, to challenge opponents in 1v1s rather than create plays, and to stretch the field with his runs rather than carry the team on his shoulders. How could such a player pair with a charismatic and technical leader such as Lautaro Martinez at Inter?

Now we know that these fears were mostly misplaced. Inter is the most entertaining team in Serie A from an offensive standpoint. After 9 games, Simone Inzaghi’s side has the most goals in the league with 24, Thuram has already conquered the supporters’ hearts with a superb goal in the Milan derby, and Lautaro Martinez – also thanks to his new partner in crime – is having a tremendous start of the season, with 12 goals in 11 games (Champions League included), also setting the incredible record of becoming the first player to score four goals in a match when starting from the bench.

As always, it’s not easy to identify the exact reasons behind this new-found brilliance – as in football, all variables tend to permeate each other – but one thing is for sure: the new offensive duo is getting along more than fine.

In the past seasons, Inter’s offense mostly worked by complementarity. Both Dzeko and Lukaku are strikers who love to link toward the midfield (the first to create plays, the latter to defend possession and carry almost physically the team forward), and Lautaro had to adapt to them: compensate their physical limits in the pressing phase, occupy the penalty box while playing in the final third, and attack spaces deep.

With Thuram, on the other hand, the technical differences are more subtle, and Inter’s attack seems to work by interchangeability. Lautaro no longer needs to gravitate around another striker like a moon, but can alternate with his teammates in most of the tasks that Inter’s attack assigns him. A winning edge for the Argentinian striker, who can benefit from Thuram’s work ethic, but also for Inter, making the team more unpredictable and suitable to different types of opponents.

The mutability of the relationship between Lautaro and Thuram, and consequently of Inter’s attack, comes to light in the data that Wyscout gathers on single matches.

Against Bologna, in a game in which Inzaghi’s side struggled more than anticipated, Thuram was the one tasked with dealing with the first line of pressure, as confirmed by the many balls he recovered: five, three of which in the opposing half, compared to Lautaro’s single ball recovery.

The Frenchman also took care of all plays in the offensive third, working as an offensive playmaker: he eventually finished the match with zero touches in the opposing box (against Lautaro’s six, more than anyone in the team) and a key pass, despite the only eight total passes in the game. It was visible in the second goal scored by Inter: on a ball won with pressure in the opposing half, Thuram linked back on the offensive third and passed to Lautaro, who then scored with a sensational strike in the top corner.

Inter and Bologna average positions from Wyscout Match Report

On average positions, Thuram (number 9 in the graphic) will finish the game even below Barella (number 23), with Lautaro (number 10) as the only offensive reference upfront.

A few weeks earlier, in the triumphant derby against AC Milan, it was the other way around. On that occasion it was Lautaro who played more as a number 10, while Thuram engaged in 1v1 duels with defenders in the opposing box, as poor Thiaw clearly remembers (11 duels happened between the two). It can be seen, as an example, by the number and position of the dribbles attempted by the two players.

Inter dribbles metrics in the Derby against AC Milan, from Wyscout Match Report

Against the Rossoneri, the Argentinian striker served up two assists without a single shot to goal, while the Frenchman shot three times (two on goal) without a single key pass. What’s more, Lautaro only had two touches in the box during the match, while Thuram had five.

Therefore, Inter’s attack may have lost some creativity without Dzeko or physicality without Lukaku, but with Thuram, it has gained a chameleonic nature that it lacked before. Some say that knowing what to do in advance makes the difference at the highest levels of football, and for the defenders who must face Lautaro and Thuram it’s getting harder and harder to do so.

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