Inter Milan have been very busy in the transfer market so far with the loan signings of German World Cup winner Lukas Podolski from Arsenal and Swiss international Xherdan Shaqiri from Bayern Munich. Newly appointed manager Roberto Mancini was vocal about the lack of wingers in the Inter squad when he took over from Walter Mazzarri in Novemmber. At this point no one can blame Erick Thohir of not backing the new manager and these two quality additions might well help the Nerazzurri make a charge towards the third place after a desperately poor start to this campaign.
At the age of 23, Shaqiri has already played 41 games on the international stage and has the best years of his career ahead of him. A versatile player who has the experience of playing on either flank as well as behind the front man, Shaqiri’s signing represents the club’s biggest signing of intent since winning the UEFA Champions league in 2010. He is already a protagonist in the attacking third and as demonstrated at the World Cup, he has the ability to drag a team on his own in international competitions. Nicknamed the ‘ Alpine Messi’ Shaqiri is an exceptional dribbler with fine close control. He is a very good crosser of the ball and is deadly on set-piece duties. He is expected to line up on the right of either the 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1 with Podolski on the other flank and Mauro Icardi in the middle. Potentially the greatest advantage of Shaqiri’s introduction to this team is how that is going to alter Mateo Kovacic’s role. The sublime Croat will sit behind Icardi but with genuine wide players stretching the play, there will be more space to operate for Kovacic and he will have runners off him. Shaqiri endured two-and-half difficult seasons at Bayern, stuck behind the likes of Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery and Mario Gotze in the pecking order but still managed nine goals and 11 assists in 52 Bundesliga games. Shaqiri’s signing was secured for around the same price as Saphir Taider and Ishak Belfodil. The Swiss might just turn out to be the signing of this season.
Podolski too has plenty to offer as he already demonstrated after coming on as a sub against Juventus and also against Genoa. His direct running is a powerful asset while his versatility allows him to be used as a supporting striker as well out wide in a 4-2-3-1 module. Podolski follows the footsteps of his countrymen Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Jurgen Klinsmann, Lothar Matthaus and Andreas Brehme in wearing the black and blue of Inter Milan. For all the qualities that Shaqiri and Podolski bring with them it will no doubt take some time for them to adapt to a new league in the middle of the season and also the new tactical systems followed by Roberto Mancini. The German’s versatility should prove valuable to Inter. He may be used as a second striker but can also do a job out wide in a 4-3-3. Podolski had 19 goals and 11 assists in 60 games at Arsenal and he had eight goals in Europe as well. He may not arrive with the expectations Klinsmann did but could have a positive impact as the Nerazzurri look to climb up the table after a slow start.
There are still concerns regarding the qualities at the back and Mancini has admitted that the side still needs strengthening. A central midfielder might arrive with the names of Lucas Leiva and Thiago Motta regularly linked while a defender would be welcome as well. Inter’s fullbacks Dodo and Yuto Nagatomo are very good going forward but they lack the defensive discipline. The signings of Podolski and Shaqiri should represent the starting point only; plenty of work still needs to be done if they are genuinely looking to go for the third place. However, one thing is for sure: the arrivals of these two quality players will no doubt lift the mood of fans and players.