Renowned journalist Fabrizio Romano recently reported that Antonio Conte pegged back Barcelona’s efforts to sign Stefan de Vrij this summer. The same report also claimed that Barca wanted to sign the Dutchman on a free transfer before he joined Inter in the summer of 2018 as well.
This shows how much Conte values De Vrij and how much importance he carries for the Nerazzurri. He doesn’t catch the eye in a team that has Diego Godin and Milan Skriniar, but he goes about his job silently and effectively.
The 27-year-old has appeared five times this season- initially at the right of a back three. He has also played in the centre of the 3-5-2 shape, with Skriniar and Godin playing at his sides.
His performances, especially in the games against Milan and Lazio, have been as good as the other two defenders. There’s no doubting the abilities of Skriniar and Godin but De Vrij hasn’t been given due credit so far.
Playing centrally has suited him very well. Godin and Skriniar compliment that, as they go about tackling and winning the ball back. Skriniar and De Vrij take part in the build-up from the back, using Kwadwo Asamoah in the left wing-back spot to aim their passes.
De Vrij’s positioning allows him to play the role of a sweeper to perfection. He does the simple things right and because of that, has a passing percentage of 95 percent. That is the highest in the current Inter squad, as per Whoscored.
Not just that, but De Vrij has also been dribbled past only once this season- the lowest in the Inter side. He has lost just one tackle and has a tackle success rate of around 87 percent. It is also worth noting that he has made only 1.2 tackles per game- a sign of quality and not quantity.
If that isn’t enough, the former Lazio man has also made the highest number of blocks this season for the Nerazzurri- seven. Skriniar has made four and Godin has made two. His no-nonsense approach has helped him make the second-highest amount of clearances too; second to Skriniar.
Playing deeper has also allowed him to make use of his aerial abilities in an effective amount. De Vrij has also won the third-highest number of aerial duels for Inter- eight. That is the same number as Skriniar.
By no means are these comparisons meant to prove that De Vrij is a better player than Godin or Skriniar though. It a sign of how the Inter defence is a machine and works in just about perfect cohesion; much like their midfield. All of the three defenders deserve equal praise and credit.
Having Marcelo Brozovic and Nicolo Barella in front of them helps the three defenders a lot too. Barella is the more aggressive midfielder out of the two, but Brozovic keeps play ticking by circulating the ball forward with poise.
De Vrij’s performances have given rise an argument about why he doesn’t play too often for the Dutch national side, with Matthijs de Ligt struggling. But Atalanta and Oranje star Maarten de Roon talked about his issue in an interview that he gave to voetbalzone.
”This is very common in Dutch football culture. In Italy, for example, people do not understand why Stefan de Vrij is not playing with the Netherlands. In their eyes, a strong defender should always play. Many guys here have trained in the best clubs. There is much focus on ball possession, technique, position play. This is not my great strength, so I can imagine the discussion. It’s like comparing apples and pears.”
This explains the thinking behind De Vrij’s exclusions from the Dutch national side. He isn’t exactly a ball-playing defender like De Ligt or Virgil van Dijk can claim to be. He’s more of a no-nonsense defender who is a jack of all trades, but a master of none.
Conte has tapped into his strengths and that is why he sees De Vrij as an indispensable part of his side. He knows how to use him and because of that, De Vrij has excelled under the former Juventus and Chelsea boss.