Whether it is for the best or not, Mauro Icardi’s days at Inter look numbered. The Argentine striker has been at the centre of an off-the-pitch crisis as negotiations between Icardi’s wife-agent Wanda Nara and the Nerazzurri management turned sour, Icardi only playing his first game since February 9 during the week, scoring and assisting in a 4-0 win over Genoa. Several destinations could beckon for the Argentine, but the matter of his replacement must first be addressed.
Inter already have the services of talented young striker Lautaro Martinez, but the Nerazzurri will want another forward, one of proven calibre, yet with room to grow, to act as a foil for El Toro – helping both grow and lead the front line.
One of the obvious choices is Atalanta forward Duvan Zapata, who has had a break-out season for the Bergamo club – scoring 20 goals in 30 league games this season. Zapata is on loan with Atalanta from Sampdoria until the summer of 2020, Atalanta having an option to purchase him permanently at any point. Zapata only joined Sampdoria from Napoli last summer, moving for €17m after a loan spell at the Genoese club.
There are a few different qualities Inter will want in their next forward. Firstly, they will want someone on a similar level to Icardi. Although by no means does Zapata have as high of a reputation as Icardi, the statistics paint a picture of their similar goal-scoring capabilities. Icardi has 10 goals in 21 Serie A appearances this season, whilst Zapata has nearly double, and therefore would certainly be no downgrade. Having said that, this is Duvan’s stand-out campaign, whereas Icardi’s consistency over the last five years speaks volumes.
Zapata offers Inter a complete forward, able to finish not only with his feet but his head too – as well as opting to help bring his teammates into the game. His combination of experience and talent makes him a viable option for Inter to replace their former captain with.
Zapata is two years older than Icardi, at 28, but therefore offers Inter a lower-cost alternative, allowing the Nerazzurri to invest the rest of their funds elsewhere – bolstering aspects of their squad that need it most. Icardi could fetch upwards of €100m on the market whilst Atalanta may, once they’ve redeemed the forward personally, be open to accepting offers in the region of around €50m or less.
Whilst Icardi and Lautaro Martinez are similar in that they are reliant primarily on the finishing aspect of their play, Zapata would complement Lautaro in the sense that the Colombian offers a lot in the way of build-up. His competent passing ability and intricate movement allows him to combine well with other forwards, as demonstrated in his strong performances alongside Alejandro Gomez and Josip Ilicic at Atalanta. If Luciano Spalletti complains constantly that Icardi doesn’t link up enough with the rest of the team, that is certainly not an issue for the Colombian, who often starts runs from midfield.
We could see on Sunday just how much Duvan Zapata contributes, as he is suspended and will therefore not participate in an Atalanta match for the first time this season. He's always been there, either starting or off the bench, in Serie A, the Coppa Italia and Europa League preliminary rounds.
Replacing Icardi with Zapata would also help quell issues off the pitch. With less drama in the press, more focus can be had on developing their game and the Nerazzurri could well benefit from a break from controversy.
Spalletti is reportedly departing the club this summer and this, along with replacing Icardi with Zapata, offers the club a fresh start as they enter what looks to be one of the most competitive eras for Serie A in some time.