After months of speculation, rumors and daily articles about his transfer to the Milanese club, Antonio Candreva is finally an Inter player. What made him wanted though, so much, by Mancini? Which aspects characterize his game and how is he going to fit in Mancini’s 2016/2017 Inter?
Candreva on Offense
First of all, the Italian comes to solve, immediately, some problems that Mancini’s team faced during the previous year.
Inter’s lack of mobility at the centre of the field, combined with mediocre FBs with the ball on their feet, made the nerazzurri a very easy team to press. The opponents had to simply focus on closing all the central passing lanes, when the game was starting from Handanovic or one of the two CBs, forcing the ball to the wing, where the FBs were losing the ball immediately when under pressure. This situation was moreover worsened by the lack of supporting runs by the wingers.
In this last sentence, we can identify the first problem that Candreva will solve.
His work rate combined with his ability to identify the right space to move into (the wing or the corridors) depending on the pressing run’s arch of the opponent (see image below), will give the FB a passing option and a way to avoid the first “wave” of pressing.
The second reason why Mancini has chosen Candreva, is because he can easily accommodate himself in teams that have players with free movements or free roles, like Banega who likes to move all over the pitch finding spaces to receive the ball, Perisic who cuts inside from the left in order to combine centrally or moves to the opposite wing, and Jovetic who moves where necessary in the offensive third in order to receive the ball and create triangles and one twos.
But what do we mean by accommodate and how will he do that at Mancini’s team?
Firstly, when many players that have “free” roles and like to play a lot with the ball in their possession, are at the same time on the pitch, space overcrowding is a very common occurrence. It wasn’t a rare occasion to see during last year’s matches, two or three of Jovetic/Perisic/Brozovic/Ljajic in a very congested space, ruining each other’s game as they were too close to pass to each other with impact, creating also situations in which it was easier to be pressed (due to their too small distances).
Candreva, by recognizing quickly where the ball, his teammates and the opponents are, will usually move away from the overcrowded spaces and into ones where he can be used as an outlet for a pass, creating a more stable and balanced shape for his team. He will also search to create triangles and one twos, moving between the inside corridors and wings in order to help the ball progress (something very important for Mancini’s Inter that for the majority of last year’s game used to move up the pitch via the wings).
It isn’t rare to see Candreva moving, centrally too when for any reason there is no central presence for his team (for example: the Trequartista dropping deeper, lack of a player between the lines in a possible 4-4-2, or simply in an unorganized formation during transition).
This last characteristic will of course help during the build-up also.
In the above picture we can see, a possible solution to a build-up problem for Inter. With both DMs marked and unable to receive the ball Banega will drop deeper to receive the ball, a move that will initiate a movement from Candreva towards the centre (and probably between the lines),in order to act as an option for Banega to pass to, together with a possible run higher up the pitch from the FB.
His concentration during these situations will also help Inter to solve a problem that is common when players that are tactically anarchic or free, play on a team. How the team will move into a defensive shape during transition.
With Inter not being a team that presses in an organized manner after losing the ball in the offensive third, and a player like Banega who will be caught far from his defensive position during transition, it is of high importance for the team to move into the predestined formation immediately, without hesitation and players moving from one side to the other searching for their positions when the game is played.
Candreva, in these cases will be an assurance as he will move into his closest space that needs to be covered and defended, without hesitation (something which he did often at Lazio when Felipe Anderson was playing and moving all over the pitch).
Limited game and crossing
Moving now into the things in which Candreva does not excel, we have to mention his limited playing style in the offensive third due to his lack of trust and willingness to use a lot his left foot.
When on the right wing, his primary intention is to move upwards (and not cut inside where he will be “forced” to use his left foot). This, together with the fact that he doesn’t like to dribble past opponents (probably due to lack of explosiveness) but instead, separate himself from them with faints and left and right body movements, makes him limited in his game, as the opponents can easily make their strategy to push him towards the side where his only option is to cross.
His crosses can be very inconsistent and in reality the Italian winger has put some of the worst numbers in Europe in terms of percentage of successful crosses, but before we condemn him we should also take into account the lack of organized and coordinated movements inside the area in many Lazio games, together with the lack of runs from the midfield that limited Candreva on crossing only towards the striker. The evident lack of support near him together with his abovementioned movement habits was also a factor that forced him to cross under bad circumstances.
On the other hand when he plays on the left wing, his primary “instinct” is to move towards the central area of the field where he is able to use his right foot more, shooting, combining with the midfielders or changing the side of the game. Of course, noticing this habit, the opponents can force him towards the centre, trap him and win the ball.
Candreva on defense
One of the biggest reasons why Roberto Mancini insisted on bringing Antonio Candreva at Inter was the Italian’s defending.
With Inter being a team that likes to (or at least to have the option to) play many games during the season without the ball (especially against teams like Juventus and Roma), and a first eleven that in reality, without Brozovic and Banega on the pitch, is much more suited towards a non-possession playing style, Candreva’s discipline, concentration and good positioning during the defensive phase is something that will improve the team instantly.
An obvious defensive problem that Inter and Mancini faced, especially when Brozovic was playing on the wing, was the Croat’s lack of timing regarding the start of the pressing runs. As we analyzed to some extent in the match against Empoli, Brozovic’s focus on only his opponent in front of him, without paying attention on who is behind him and how is he going to close that passing lane, created a lot of problems, with opponents taking also advantage of his runs that started too early and created spaces behind him that they could exploit (the coaching aspect of this problem is not going to be discussed in this article).
Candreva’s focus on always protecting the centre, shutting central passing lanes and his ability to arch his pressing runs in order to do this, means that Inter is going to press high or defend in their own half much more successfully.
He is also not attracted by the ball without reason, choosing wisely when to start a pressing run and when not (for example after a bad control of the ball of the closest opponent, or when he is turned towards his own goal and cannot see Candreva), keeping this way the team shape more compact and not creating spaces for the opposition to take advantage of.
His support towards the same side FB is also excellent. Very careful at not leaving him isolated with the opposition winger, he can become also the 5th man of the defense when the team does not have enough defensive width.
The Italian’s discipline and work rate mean that he will also track the runs from deep of the opposition FBs, something that will be very important in case Mancini decides to employ a very man oriented scheme in which the FB will follow the opposition winger, creating spaces behind him.
Finally, being very vocal and looking around him almost at all times during defense in his own half, means that defensive responsibilities (marking) will be passed to his teammates successfully without miscommunication occurring.
To sum everything up, Antonio Candreva is not the messiah that will lead Inter towards the first Scudetto after the Mourinho era. He will neither have the impact that players like Diego Milito had, but there is no question that by coming at Inter he will improve certain aspects of the teams’ game from day 1, without any risks, questions or ifs about his contribution. Candreva is bought and paid not to be the star or the leader, but to eliminate some of Mancini’s headaches and make many, if not all, his teammates’ games better.
For more Inter and non-Inter related Tactical Analysis, you can find me on Twitter, @ThanosChelas.