One of the main storylines from Antonio Conte’s maiden campaign in charge of Inter has been the emergence of Europe’s most potent strike force.
Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez have formed a seemingly telepathic relationship up top in Conte’s 3-5-2, with the ‘Lula’ partnership combining for 39 goals in all competitions this term.
Their individual skillsets compliment one another remarkably well, while they’re also adept at
fluidly interchanging between leading the line and dropping deeper to link play in order to unbalance opposing defences. Overall, they’ve been a fantastic pair to watch.
But after just one year in the spotlight following a difficult debut season operating as the lone forward under Luciano Spalletti, Lautaro already looks set to move on from San Siro in favour of Barcelona, who are desperate to find the heir to Luis Suarez’s throne at Camp Nou.
So, with the Argentine’s departure increasingly likely, Inter will be in need of a replacement themselves.
An intelligent forward capable of scoring a variety of ways and willing to work hard out of possession – Lautaro’s defensive output is one of the best in Europe among strikers – would be ideal, while an adept dribbler would help Conte maintain the dribbler-target man dynamic he likes to establish in his front line.
Here are five options…
I questioned whether Inter could join one of the 367 clubs involved in the Timo Werner sweepstakes, and according to Gazzeta dello Sport, the Nerazzurri could pounce if Liverpool continue to stall over a £52m deal for the German.
Werner would be a fine fit at San Siro; he’s a forward who has thrived off playing with a target man at RB Leipzig in the forms of Yussuf Poulsen and Patrik Schick.
The Dane and Czech’s ability to drop in between the lines to link play and win their aerial duels has benefited Werner massively, with the versatile 24-year-old often drifting out to his favoured zones on the left flank as a result.
The combination play between Schick and Werner has been superb since the Czech cemented his spot in Julian Nagelsmann’s starting XI, and you can envisage the German striking up a formidable relationship with Lukaku. Plus, being apart of pressing-based systems for the entirety of his Leipzig career, Werner would also provide a similar output to Lautaro out of possession.
Potential Price: £52m
The Fiorentina man is destined for a big switch soon, with Juventus and Inter set to battle it out for the Italian starlet’s signature, while La Viola are believed to be preparing a generous contract offer in a bid to convince him to stay in Florence.
Chiesa’s enjoyed a productive campaign, often playing as part of a strike duo alongside the exciting Dusan Vlahovic – scoring a career-high seven times in Serie A this term – in a Fiorentina side that places heavy emphasis on attacking transition, suiting the electric quick Chiesa.
And at Inter you can only imagine the Italian developing as a mightily effective strike partner for Lukaku, with a combination of Chiesa and Conte being one we’d all like to see.
Just think of the counters. Dreamy.
Despite his superior productivity this term, there’s little doubting the maverick and unorthodox Chiesa is more effective out wide, with some of his best performances coming from a familiar right-wing position. Could Conte switch to a 3-4-3 to occupy the mightily talented but still raw Italian?
Potential Price: £55m – £65m
Due to Barcelona’s financial struggles, La Blaugrana’s potential deal for Lautaro only seems possible if a prized asset moves in the opposite direction. Antoine Griezmann may well be that guy.
The Frenchman’s ventures on the left flank under Ernesto Valverde have seen him endure an indifferent debut campaign in Catalonia, but the Frenchman has enjoyed a slightly better time of it since Quique Setien’s arrival; with his intelligent off-the-ball movement, dynamism and superb link-up play coming to the fore.
If he was to join the Nerazzurri ahead of next season, Griezmann would certainly be deployed in a more familiar second striker role – akin to his Atlético days – playing off the shoulder of Lukaku.
And overall, this would be the ideal scenario for Inter if they were to lose El Toro to the Spanish giants.
Potential Price: Included in swap deal for Lautaro.
Let’s forget about his two-goal campaign at Real Madrid for a second and reminisce on what an absolute demon Luka Jovic was in his final season at Eintracht Frankfurt.
The Serb thrived alongside target man Sebastian Haller – scoring 27 times in all competitions.
He proved to be a striker capable of scoring all types of goals, with his instinctive movement inside the area regularly helping him find the ideal positions to score. Not only that but Jovic also excels in the build-up phase and combining with those around him as a result of his fine technique and ability to hold off opponents.
Jovic is certainly a similar profile to Lautaro due to his bullish, fierce nature and his tremendous skillset off the ball and even if Inter can’t bring him in permanently in the next window, they’d be wise to bring him in on an initial loan deal.
Potential Price: Loan / £50m – £63m
Inter are said to be ‘lurking in the background’ over a potential deal for Napoli’s Dries Mertens, with several other clubs also exploring the possibility of bringing in the Belgian on a free at the end of the season.
Despite his age – 32, nearly 33 – the acquistion of Mertens would nonetheless represent an astute bit of business on the Nerazzurri’s behalf.
The Belgian is, of course, familiar with Serie A and has regularly appeared – albeit not as part of a strike duo – alongside Lukaku for the national team. Since his switch to a number nine role under Maurizio Sarri in 2016, Mertens has enjoyed 28, 18 and 16-goal returns in the league before a six-goal campaign in a hampered season this time around.
Not only does the diminutive forward know where the goal is but he’s also an incredible exploiter of space and a willing runner in-behind the oppositions defence. The 32-year-old’s also adept at dropping in between the lines to link with the midfield and capable of finding the final incisive pass when required.
A great short-term option.
Potential Price: Free