Inter’s centre-back Milan Skriniar is on the rise. Even Barcelona is said to be interested in the 22-year-old defender, who had his breakthrough at Sampdoria last season. In our portrait we want to have a look at his career path and his play style.
Skriniar started his career in Slovakian Fortuna Liga for MSK Zilina. But despite there being a huge hype about the defender now, the opinions were quite different back then. The young prospect was a benchwarmer and after not being able to become a starter he was loaned out to Zlaté Moravce. The fans were not impressed of the – back then – defensive midfielder. Too slow, too slender, too weak.
But although the fans were not too excited about him, his managers knew better. Back then already he was a leader, had an excellent technique and worked harder than anybody else.
„All players should work like Milan [Skriniar]. Football is not just about talent.“
– Pavel Hapal, Slovakia’s under-21 national team coach
And his hard work should pay off. He got the chance to prove himself as centre-back, where he could show his qualities way better. With his positional intelligence, his calmness and reading of the game he soon became a starter back at Zilina and later even attracted interest from Italy. Just one and a half years later he signed for Sampdoria, who paid one million Euro for the Slovakian defender.
Difficult start in Genoa
Unsurprisingly the centre-back had some problems in Italy. A new language, a higher tactical level than what he was used to from the Fortuna Liga and strong competition. His first months were hard for him, although one of his colleagues, David Ivan, whom he knew from Slovakia’s youth national teams, helped him to adapt to the new country, league and club. His first season was a catastrophe. Under Vincenzo Montella he only had three appearances and in the match against the acting champion Juventus he was sent off after just 14 minutes, after committing a foul in the penalty box. His colleagues, one man down for the rest of the match, lost the match by 5-0.
But with summer a lot of things were going to change. Marco Giampaolo replaced Vincenzo Montella as manager and Milan Skriniar received a new chance in the preseason. At the Gamper Trophy i blucerchiati were facing Barcelona. While being 3-1 down at half time Marco Giampaolo made some changes and finally played the young Slovak. Skriniar knew to impress with a solid performance and kept a clean sheet against Lionel Messi. Giampaolo was very impressed with the young centre-back and the Slovak gained important reputation, what led to a lot of playing time.
35 matches, to be precise – what made him the youngest defender in Serie A to take part in so many matches. But especially the first half of the season was by far not good. He was very prone to errors, but it seemed like that he actually learned from his mistakes, as his performances in the second half of the season were outstanding. During his time at Sampdoria he played as a left centre-back and played a major role in the build-up. He still is a very slow defender, but his mind is way faster than his legs. He can read the game superbly, knows where to stand and anticipates the opponent’s next steps. He always seems to be a step ahead, what compensates his slowness and makes him win a lot of duels.
Skriniar’s positional intelligence and his re-adjusting of his position makes him a very interesting player. Despite being a conservative defending centre-back, he indeed is a quite modern build-up defender. His passing ability and his ability to start attacks were a very important factor for Giampaolo and his team and also one of the main reasons why Inter later recruited him for 23 million Euro.
Inter and Spalletti
While playing as left centre-back in the last season, he now plays as right centre-back, alongside his centre-back colleague Miranda and his colleague D’Ambrosio. This suits him very well as Inter was lacking defenders that had the qualities of build-up play last season, what resulted in very unclean build-ups and too many passing mistakes. The new CB duo is pairing up superbly so far. In the build-up he finds himself in an interesting three-man backfield despite playing with four in the back, with the leftback very attacking up front, Miranda adapted as left centre-back, Skriniar as middle centre-back and the rightback, usually D’Ambrosio, as the counterpart to Miranda as right centre-back. This flexible formation seems to be very accommodating for the young Slovak.
As Spalletti attaches great importance on the passing ability to ensure progressive possession, what can be preserved by Skriniar’s passing ability, but also – despite his slowness – he is very good at carrying the ball into the midfield due his calmness, if he finds space. The Slovakian usually plays vertical passes in between the opposition lines to help Inter building up their attacks.
But Skriniar is more than just a modern build-up centre-back. He’s also excellent at defending and regaining possession. So far he didn’t miss a single minute this season for Inter and we saw a lot of interceptions due to his anticipation abilities. After regaining possession he tries to carry or pass the ball out of the danger area as quick as possible. Despite looking very slender, he now is very consistent in duels. Same goes for his aerial duels, of which he won 63% this season, mostly followed by a powerful header.
After just two years in Italy he became a huge prospect, one of the best defenders in Italy and even Barcelona is said to be interested in the young Slovakian centre-back. But so far there is a huge hype about the young defender. Yes, he indeed is very good and for being that young, he already is a high level centre-back, but he is just as good as his concentration. So far everything worked very well and mistakes were luckily very rare or remained without consequences, but with higher pressure and more fixtures, due to for example Champions League matches or more call-ups for the Slovkian national team, exhaustion and lack of concentration could rise very quickly. Only if he keeps a step ahead, he stays a fantastic centre-back. But so far this is not of concern this season and with some luck, while everybody is focused on Napoli and their chance of winning the Scudetto, Inter might really have good chance as unexpected underdog this season and may even be the lucky loser out of Juve and Napoli dueling each other.