All it took was the briefest glimpse of goal to spark an improbable comeback.
As Gary Medel muscled Hernanes off the ball and fed Marcelo Brozović, the Croatian midfielder needed no second invitation to unleash a shot before two Juventus defenders converged on him. Even as his effort found the back of the net, it seemed unlikely that Inter would find their way back into the Coppa Italia Semi-Final with the Bianconeri.
Yet 75 minutes after that goal cut the deficit to 3-1, Brozović again bore down on goalkeeper Neto with a chance of victory. The Brazilian would deny him on that occasion and – despite netting his own shootout spot-kick – the Milanese side would ultimately lose on penalties to Max Allegri's in-form team. However, no player had done more to push the Nerazzurri to an unlikely win against a team who had also comfortably despatched them in a league fixture just three days earlier.
Brozović had missed that clash through suspension, but his performance at San Siro was one typical of his time at Inter, which began in January 2014. Lining up between Medel and Geoffrey Kondogbia, he provided the creativity so often lacking from Roberto Mancini's side, with statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com showing he completed 86% of his game-high 93 pass attempts.
He also pressed forward to make five crosses, but never neglected his defensive duties as he made three tackles, four interceptions and two clearances as Inter shut out the reigning Italian champions. That helped his side register their first clean sheet in five games, but while 2016 has seen the Nerazzurri stumble, Brozović is perhaps the only member of the squad who has continued to improve.
Indeed, while his team have won just four of their eleven Serie A outings since the turn of the year, the 23-year-old midfielder has weighed in with three goals and two assists over his last five appearances. That form has seen Arsenal, Chelsea and Barcelona all linked with a summer move for the Zagreb native, with the Corriere dello Sport believing that a sum of around £15 million would be enough to convince Inter to sell.
It appears Brozović could have even moved to Stamford Bridge in January, with Jose Mourinho's departure reportedly the reason a deal failed to materialise. His agent Miroslav Bicanic discussed a transfer at length with the Calciomercato website last month, noting the impact he had already made at Inter but hinting that his future may lay elsewhere as he told them:
“He was looking for a bigger club than Dinamo Zagreb to prove his potential, and Inter wanted substance and freshness in midfield. After a year, we can say it was the right decision for both parties. Now he’s a top player. He’s improved to a European level, and has confidence in his ability to further improve. Other clubs will see that too, Spanish and English. Premier League clubs know him very well and they believe he can improve a lot in the next few years. They also know he’s not cheap though.”
Relatively speaking of course, that aforementioned fee is comfortably affordable for the clubs linked with Brozović, and he would represent excellent value for money given he already possesses experience of playing in the Champions League and at the World Cup. His technical ability and vision are easy to see, while his long-range shooting is rapidly becoming a real threat to opposing defences.
Having already represented four different clubs he has worked under a raft of coaches and in a variety of systems, the Croatian international has also shown himself to be hugely versatile and able to adapt to a variety of roles.
He may need to improve physically should England prove to be his next destination, but Inter would be wise to hold on to the midfielder given his importance to the side, with Mancini all too aware of his talent and immense potential. “Brozović is integrating really well. I think if he were to continue like this he would become one of the best ever,” the former Manchester City boss said at a recent press conference. “We don’t want to sell him, even in the face of a great offer. He must keep working hard, but he clearly has incredible quality.”
Sadly for Mancini and fans of the Nerazzurri, they may have to watch him become just that elsewhere, as the financial reality of Serie A makes holding onto such a player almost impossible.
Having followed compatriot and international team-mate Mateo Kovačić’s path from Dinamo Zagreb to San Siro, Brozović might now be set to leave Inter for a club able to offer regular Champions League football.
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