There was a point this past summer when many thought that Inter would let Matteo Politano leave. Many saw him going the Ivan Perisic route. But the Italian stayed and Antonio Conte knew how to use him.
As the season has gone on though, Politano is close to out of favour already. In Conte’s 3-5-2 shape, Politano has been playing as the second-striker. So far this campaign, he has just two starts to his name. He has come on seven times from the bench. He has played only 236 minutes of first-team football in Serie A.
For a player who is 26 and was playing regularly at Sassuolo, it might not be satisfactory. Indeed, reports have emerged that he is now considering his future at the San Siro.
Fresher reports (TMW via Tuttosport) have said that the Nerazzurri are looking to swap Politano with their former striker Andrea Pinamonti. The youngster was sent on a loan to Genoa, who have the obligation to buy the 20-year-old on a permanent basis next summer.
An approach like that does scream of how Inter never really thought about the Pinamonti deal before loaning him. It was done in a hasty way, for one reason or another.
Politano, on the other hand, is a right-winger by trade. He made 36 appearances in the Serie A under Luciano Spalletti last season- his first since initially joining on loan from the neroverdi. The winger bagged a tally of five goals and six assists, being one of Inter’s best attacking players.
In the 2017-18 campaign, Politano was probably Sassuolo’s best player. He played in three different positions- right-wing, left-wing and the striker’s position. In total, he boasted of a tally of ten goals and four assists in the league.
How versatile he was in that 4-3-3 shape is a reflection of what sort of player he is. He likes to be closer to goal- somewhere he can unleash his pace and directness into the opposition.
Last season, former Sassuolo coach Cristian Bucchi was spot on when praising Politano. He told Sportitalia (via Calciomercato):
“His best position is on the right flank, but he has learned to also play as a second striker. In a 4-2-3-1, he can play on the outside and also as a trequartista. He has great feet and he scores goals, even if he is only young. He is already very mature. Politano can be deadly and he is ready to play for a big club.”
At Inter, there is no such position as a winger- exactly why Perisic left for Bayern. But Politano has played as the second-striker in every game. With one target man in Romelu Lukaku in front of him, he has been given the task of linking up with that player.
That isn’t a strange position at all for Politano. He has played there at the Mapei Stadium in the past. His directness in that position has allowed Politano to complete one dribble per game- just what Conte wants from him.
He brings something different to the plate. That is something no other Inter forward can provide currently. He has this quick turn and pace that can catch opposition teams napping.
That is what happened in Inter’s 2-0 win over Milan. He came on for Lautaro Martinez in the last ten minutes. The 26-year-old took positions down the right, caught the Milan defence off-guard. He set up Nicolo Barella, who assisted Lukaku for the goal.
It was a change from a 3-5-2 to a 4-3-3 that had unlocked Milan. In Champions League games against Barcelona and Borussia Dortmund, Conte had left it too late for Politano to make an impact. He had come on when the opposition had already taken a firm grip on the game.
If used properly, Politano can still wreak havoc for Inter when things are looking tough. He can on from the bench and change ties. Conte perhaps already knows that, considering how he has used him so far. But Politano needs to be brought on at the right times and right moments for him to make an impact.
And as the season wears on, he will play regularly. Perhaps, that is why Conte kept him at the club in the summer.