Two leaders, two lethal strikers and two very different approaches. Mauro Icardi and Ciro Immobile have so many similarities that they might seem almost identical for the non-regular Serie A viewer.
Both players have been the top goal-scorers for their sides for the last two seasons and both banged in 24 Serie A goals last term. This year the duo are currently first and second in the Capocannoniere race, as the Inter captain is leading the way with 14 strikes, which is just one more than his Italian colleague.
However, despite the obvious similarities between them, both strikers’ playing styles and the way that they interpret the No.9 role are completely different. While their goal tallies are virtually the same, a simple look at the assists reveals a great deal.
With seven assists under his name against just one for Icardi, it’s clear that Immobile is superior when it comes to creating chances for his teammates. A more detailed look at the stats shows that this is completely logical, as with an average of 22.9 completed passes per game and an accuracy of 78%, the ex-Torino man has a significant advantage over the Argentinian, who is averaging just 13.7 passes per game with an accuracy of 71%.
That suggests Immobile is much more involved in the build-up play than Icardi and that the Italian is playing with the ball more often than the Nerazzurri captain. This is also evident by the Italian’s 1.1 dribbles completed per game, which is much higher than Icardi’s average of just 0.3.
Those numbers show another trend, which is pretty obvious for the more seasoned Serie A followers, as Lazio’s top scorer thrives on long balls behind the back of the opposition defense. Immobile’s pace and tenacity make him extremely dangerous in those situations and many of his Serie A goals and assists were executed after such moves.
On the other hand, Icardi’s reduced activity in the build-up play highlights his biggest strength - his pragmatism. Similarly to another Argentinian and a Nerazzurri hero from the past in Diego Milito, Icardi is a natural goalscorer, who posses a predator’s instinct, positional awareness and an incredible finishing ability, which make him an extremely effective weapon in the opposition’s penalty area.
The lack of support is Icardi’s biggest problem, as whenever his teammates are unable to put dangerous balls in the box, the former Sampdoria striker can become a lonely and isolated figure up front. At 1.81 meters, the Argentanian is not the tallest of strikers, nor he is the fastest, so whenever the team is struggling to create chances, Icardi tends to struggle as well.
Unfortunately for the Nerazzurri, this has been the case in their last five games in all competitions, during which they scored just once, as Icardi netted one of the very few chances that Inter created in the 3-1 defeat against Udinese in Week 17.
Creating chances is a bit easier for Immobile, who at 1.85 meters is taller as well as slightly faster than Icardi. However, unlike the Inter forward, the Italy international’s finishing is not so consistent and his mentality can be questionable at times. Immobile’s ability to exploit spaces is lethal when Simone Inzaghi can play his preferred counter-attacking style, but le Aquile’s forward often struggles when the opponent is defending with a tight and deep backline.
Icardi’s main strengths and qualities force Luciano Spalletti to use the full width of the pitch, which puts a lot of pressure on Inter’s wingers, Ivan Perisic and Antonio Candreva. In most games the duo is more than capable of supporting the striker, but the lack of quality of the Nerazzuri’s full-backs has been one of their main problems in recent years. Yuto Nagatomo, Davide Santon, Cristian Ansaldi and Danilo D’Ambrosio have all had their moments, but their inconsistency and lack of end product have often left Icardi starving for support up front.
Unlike the Inter tactician, Inzaghi often counts on the ability of his team to soak up pressure and use Immobile’s pace on the break. When it comes to creating chances, Lazio mainly count on the midfield maestro Luis Alberto as well as the Serbian juggernaut Sergej Milinkovic-Savic. Both players usually play right behind Immobile and while the Spaniard uses his vision and ability on the ball to create openings for the striker, Milinkovic-Savic’s vigor and power make him a handful for any defence.
With the big game between Inter and Lazio just around the corner, the comparison between Immobile and Icardi is not only showing how two of Serie A’s finest goalscorers interpret the Number 9 role, but can also give us a hint on how their teams will try to exploit the precious talents of their attacking gems.