The current Inter backline cost €18 million. It is a number that defines their recruitment on the defensive side. While Diego Godin and Stefan de Vrij arrived for free, the €18m accounts only for Milan Skriniar’s signing from Sampdoria in the summer of 2017.
Despite spending so less, Inter have the second-best defensive record in the Serie A. They have let in just 10 goals, just two more than Juventus.
Their recent game at Brescia ended 2-1. Skriniar’s accidental own-goal allowed the newly-promoted side a way into the game, but he had a good game otherwise. But someone who dominated the game was none other than Godin himself.
In a game that saw Brescia resort to crossing from wide areas, Inter had to be very good aerially. Godin was key to that, winning as many as five aerial duels. He won 83 percent of his aerial battles- more than anyone else on the pitch and way ahead of Roberto Gagliardini’s tally of 71 percent.
The fact that he came up against burly forwards in Mario Balotelli and Alfredo Donnarumma makes the performance even better.
Godin was impressive in the club’s games against Milan, Lazio and Udinese. He won a total of 11 aerial duels combined, winning 7 tackles too. They are some numbers for a player who is currently 33 years of age.
His ability to get stuck in, win the ball and not allow players past him were key in a tactical league. La Liga has always been known to be a more technical league and Godin was colossal during his time with Atletico Madrid. But in Serie A, his strengths have really been tested.
Godin has been the second-best tackler at the club this season- 1.9. The veteran has won the third-highest number of aerial duels per game- 2.5. Out of players who have played regularly, Godin has been the third-best when it comes to most clearances per game too- 2.4. He is behind Skriniar and De Vrij in this regard (via Whoscored).
De Vrij himself has heaped praise on Godin, calling him ‘one of the best in the world’. The former Lazio man told Inter TV (via Calciomercato):
“I am happy to play alongside very strong players like Milan and Diego, who is one of the strongest defenders in the world and has a lot of experience. It is also easier for me, so I am happy.”
Antonio Conte’s 3-5-2 shape is a cohesive unit. The midfield of Marcelo Brozovic, Nicolo Barella and Stefano Sensi works hard and reduces the burden of the backline. But Godin has played either in the centre of the defence or on the right of the back three.
He played on the right against Brescia, Udinese, Lazio and Milan. But he also played there in slightly underwhelming games against Juventus and Parma. And that is where Godin’s weaknesses have come up- something La Liga could never really exploit on a consistent basis.
In the Derby D’Italia, Godin came up against Cristiano Ronaldo. Like always, Ronaldo forced Godin into one-on-ones and kept pegging him back with pace. He was taken in the second-half for a much quicker defender in Alessandro Bastoni.
In Inter’s 2-2 draw at home to Parma, Gervinho and former Nerazzurri man Yann Karamoh wreaked havoc. They scored a goal each and a quicker frontline caught Godin off-guard again. He had played in the centre of the back three and that made things worse.
Conte took him off in the second-half again, bringing in Stefan de Vrij. The Dutchman helped the backline get a grip on the quick counter-attacks that Parma unleashed. He seemed more assured and composed when called into one-on-one situations.
That has been the story of the season for Godin. He has impressed and has dominated many times. But there have been underwhelming moments that have brought out his weaknesses. Conte has been very quick to take him off in situations like those- something he deserves credit for.
All in all, Godin should be praised for how he has taken to the Serie A after years of playing in Spain. At 33, it would be unfair to expect him to be as quick as he was in his younger days. But his capture should be hailed as a masterclass by Inter. He has been the best free-agent signing in the division this summer, even though Franck Ribery and Miguel Veloso have impressed too.