Football Features

‘He is only behind Rodri’ – Alessandro Costacurta praises Inter Milan midfielder

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 13:55, 18 January 2024 | Updated: 17:00, 25 January 2024

Alessandro Costacurta believes only Rodri is performing better in the defensive midfield role than Hakan Çalhanoğlu.

The former Milan centre-back made the comments following Inter Milan’s ruthless 5-1 win at Monza, which saw Çalhanoğlu register a brace.

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Simone Inzaghi’s men consequently extended their unbeaten run in Serie A to 14 matches (11 wins and three draws).

Last season, then defending champions Inter finished third and 18 points behind Napoli, but after the opening 20 rounds of this campaign they’re on top with a slender lead over second-place Juventus (two points).

One big reason behind Inter’s transformation has been Çalhanoğlu’s evolution. The 29-year-old Turkey international had been nominally utilised as Inter’s attacking midfielder since joining via free agency in 2021, following a spell at city rivals Milan.

But Marcelo Brozović’s departure last summer changed things, with Inzaghi re-jiging his lineup. One notable change was moving Çalhanoğlu into a deep-lying playmaker role, which he recently spoke of enjoying despite the risks that come with it.

“I always did have that hunger to help the team,” he commented after Inter’s 3-0 win over Napoli. “You are just not used to seeing it.

“I can say it is not easy to be a playmaker after being a trequartista. I analysed many situations, the staff helped me. I get a few more yellow cards, but that’s just part of the role.”

Costacurta nevertheless feels Çalhanoğlu is not only among Europe’s best in this position but just one individual can be considered better.

“He is currently the second-best defensive midfielder in the world behind Rodri,” the former Milan centre-back recently said.

As the Nerazzurri ‘number 20’ pointed out, he sees himself more of a deep-lying playmaker. Meanwhile, Rodri is considered a controller, even though both are positioned in front of their respective defences and required to retain and recycle possession.

The numbers, as you might expect, support this distinction.

Çalhanoğlu has created more chances than Rodri (33 to 19) but the Spaniard boasts a significantly higher passing count (1809 attempted to 1262). Both have an equal number of assists (3) but Çalhanoğlu is the more prolific in front of goal (9 strikes to 3). It’s also on the defensive side where Rodri’s strengths compared to Çalhanoğlu become apparent. He senses danger better (16 interceptions to nine) and the stronger when it comes to driving from deep (20 take-ons completed to 4).

It’s also worth pointing out that Çalhanoğlu operates in a midfield three within Inter’s shape (3-5-2). Rodri, on the other hand, is either Manchester City’s single pivot or has another player alongside him.

But Çalhanoğlu isn’t kidding with his yellow card remark. He’s already picked up five this campaign, two more than last season (although Çalhanoğlu finished with 11 in his debut year). Those five cautions have come from 36 fouls committed. Only Bryan Cristante has been more productive in this metric. Rodri incidentally has more bookings (seven) but with fewer conceded fouls (26). Çalhanoğlu though has made slightly more tackles (41 to 36).

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