Achraf Hakimi has taken Serie A by storm since his arrival in the summer. The former Real Madrid full-back has not just settled immediately but has set the bar for what the modern full-back needs to be. He was outstanding in Ukraine, even though Inter failed to beat Shaktar Donetsk but as the honours were shared, the Moroccan can look back on his performance with pride. If Antonio Conte can learn how to unleash him further, he could help Inter become a much more potent team to face.
Had it not been for the brilliance of Shakhtar’s 19-year-old goalkeeper, Anatoliy Trubin, Lautaro Martinez’s inexplicable miss and the unfortunate placement of the post, then Inter could have managed to grab all three points. Conte used this narrative as he praised the performance of his team whilst also referencing the amount of games played. Whilst these points can be taken on board, the second half display was disappointing and the lack of creativity seems to be a new constant meaning that the team are left hoping that Romelu Lukaku can make the difference.
The creativity issue seems to be laid directly at the feet of the trequartista. Whether this be Nicolo Barella, Christian Eriksen or anyone else, it is seen to be these players who are supposed to unlock the defences even if they sit back deep in numbers as Donetsk did on Tuesday night. This is where arguably Conte is missing a trick. Last night Hakimi was seen on the right (especially in the second half) screaming for the ball and yet receiving it far too little. This was a surprise as his effectiveness had been exhibited against Genoa who at the time were doing exactly the same thing and sitting deep. When Hakimi came on, he was not afraid to terrorise the right hand side meaning that the Genoa players had to overload on him to protect themselves. This allowed Barella space and the Inter goal was forthcoming.
To have a full back as one of your most dangerous attacking options is not a new thing, albeit a modern characteristic. Liverpool showed how Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander Arnold could cause chaos for opposition defences last season. Since Hakimi arrived in Milan and took to the field against Fiorentina, his quality was obvious. He created an assist in that game and then scored and created one more against Benevento. His displays against Lazio and Milan were strong and the influence in the game against Genoa has been discussed.
Against Shaktar, he again showed why he is so highly thought of. Even in the opening minutes he could be seen committing himself high up the pitch but when the move broke down he recovered like and Olympic sprinter. His defensive duties are not ignored and he won all his aerial battles and those on the ground last night. His passing accuracy has never dipped below 83% (against Milan) but mostly is 90% or above. The 21-year-old is very quickly becoming one of the most important players in the squad.
Inter will continue to come up against teams that sit back and defend with six or more. This is the result of the fear that Lukaku and Martinez put in defences and when this happens, they will need to break them down. Admittedly, Hakimi cannot do this on his own and the left sided full back will also need to be able to stretch the other flank but there is no doubt that his electric pace and sublime confidence to both supply dangerous balls in and threaten goal, is a monumental asset. The space this will create for the midfield will allow them to find the opposition more often and let us not forget that even in today’s games crosses from wide areas are still a threat.
There has been much said and written about the way Conte and Inter are performing at present and it certainly seems to divide opinion. Hakimi is certainly a light that shines through the incoming clouds however and Inter can be glad they have him. It may sound strange to say, put your hopes in a 21-year-old full back but he is much more than that. So far, he is an example to the rest of the team as he is making the most of his enormous talent.