Adem Ljajic’s Creativity Could Be Key To Unlocking Inter’s Attacking Potential

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In almost all cases, Adem Ljajic has shown a propensity to frustrate those in charge of him. Sinisa Mihajlovic once claimed that Ljajic not only needed to spend less time on his computer, but also that he should try to curb his enthusiasm for eating chocolate. That was with club side Fiorentina, but at international level, too, Mihajlovic and Ljajic butted heads over the latter’s decision not to sing the Serbian national anthem.

Then there was Delio Rossi, who, on May 2, 2012, opted to remove Ljajic from the field, in the 32nd minute, during Fiorentina’s match against Novara. After reacting angrily to his early substitution, Ljajic sarcastically applauded his manager’s decision. Rossi didn’t appreciate the gesture, and subsequently launched into Ljajic with a physical attack.

Naturally enough, the experienced Italian manager was sacked for his actions, and although Ljajic proceeded to improve for Fiorentina, under the guidance of Vincenzo Montella, he soon found a way to upset him as well. In the lead-up to the 2013-14 season, Montella was asked how he was finding Ljajic in training. “A little fatter,” was how he opted to respond, and perhaps unsurprisingly, Fiorentina sold Ljajic to Roma only a few weeks later.

Even with all of his baggage, the capital club still happily parted with €11 million to secure the Serbian playmaker, which, of course, speaks to his enviable ability. Blessed with a mix of quick feet, impressive technique and the kind of creativity for which managers scour the globe, there is a lot to like about Ljajic’s on-pitch abilities. He brings a certain spark to any side for which he plays, but the question, in recent times, has always remained the same: is he worth the effort?

In the previous transfer window, Roma didn’t think so. They offloaded him to Inter, on loan, for an initial €2 million with a €9 million option to make the move a permanent one. Again, this symbolised the ever-present situation surrounding Ljajic, in that a big club showed a willingness to take a chance on the mercurial 24-year-old, in spite of his reputation, simply because of his quality.

So far, as Roberto Mancini’s Inter find themselves 10 games into the Serie A campaign, the jury’s still out on the acquisition. Inter may be near the top of the table, but Ljajic’s contribution to that has been minimal. Indeed, the former Partizan Belgrade man has managed only two starts, and according to Corriere Dello Sport, his attitude is again getting in the way.

They believe Mancini has grown tired of Ljajic’s lack of application in training, and because of that, he’s been forced to play from the bench. If this is the case, then it’s not a great look for a footballer who is continually struggling to overturn his reputation as a troublemaker, and what’s more, he seems like someone who could genuinely help this Inter team to boost their attack.

Of course, the Nerazzurri are only two points off top spot in the league, but it’s been their defence which has shone through so far this season. In fact, they have only conceded seven goals throughout their 10 matches to date, and in six of those games, they’ve managed to keep a clean sheet. That speaks to the impressive performances of the back four, which usually includes some combination of Jeison Murillo, Joao Miranda, Davide Santon, Juan Jesus and Alex Telles, as well as those of screening midfielder Felipe Melo.

Yet while Inter has been overwhelmingly solid at the back, they haven’t found much punch further forward. In simple terms, this is proven by the fact that they’ve only scored one goal per game, and given their relatively lofty standing in Serie A, their goal difference of +3 isn’t overly exciting. Throw in the rather bizarre statistic which shows that, in seven of their 10 games, they’ve entered half-time with the score at 0-0, and what you’re left with is a side that’s strong in defence but lacking fluency up forward.

With so many newly acquired personnel, perhaps this shouldn’t come as a huge surprise, but there’s also a sense that Ljajic could be part of the solution. After all, he’s a crafty attacking midfielder, one who nicely blends sharpness and invention, and these are qualities generally missing from an imposing assembly of Inter players.

By way of illustrating this, Mancini’s midfield four – usually deployed in a diamond – has consisted of Melo, Geoffrey Kondogbia, Fredy Guarin and Ivan Perisic. All of these players are big-bodied and athletic, and though they may be capable of smart passing in a possession sense, they don’t exactly have the tools to regularly unlock an opposition defence. Further afield Icardi doesn’t have that skill-set either, and of those who have started regularly, only Stefan Jovetic is a truly gifted technician, but even he mixes those attributes with size.

Ljajic, meanwhile, is an archetypal trequartista. “Ever since I was little, I’ve always played in the hole,” he said, “but I don’t feel out of place on the left or the right. I can do a job in every position. However, I enjoy playing behind the striker most of all.”

In Inter’s most recent game, against Bologna, Ljajic did get to spend a few minutes in that favoured position, but he actually spent most of his time out on the left-hand side. From that station out wide, however, the enigmatic attacker usually floated inside anyway, looking for pockets to populate in between the lines.

Inter didn’t really move the ball with enough speed for him to take advantage of those spaces, although Ljajic still managed to show glimpses of his talent. He completing two successful take-ons, courtesy of his gift for dribbling, and, more importantly, he produced an impressive four key passes. One of those was an assist for Icardi’s game-winning goal, which was scored after Inter went down to 10 men. The ball itself wasn’t anything special, just a simple square pass, but in terms of overall performance, Ljajic highlighted his creativity.

Without him, this characteristic is often absent for Inter. He can be their point of difference in attack, but before he can do that, he needs to earn the trust of Mancini. For most players, this task would be eminently possible, but for Ljajic it’s not so simple. After all, he has typically failed to win over the man in charge at his Italian clubs, and if his attitude isn’t up to scratch, no amount of clever little flicks will make up for it.

In this sense, it feels like make-or-break time for Ljajic. The support of Jovetic, a footballer with whom he formed an excellent understanding at Fiorentina, should certainly help, and if his comments after the win over Bologna are anything to go by, he at least seems to be trying his best. “I always give it my all in training sessions and during matches, this is very important for me,” he said. “I leave everything out on the pitch, sometimes you do well and other times you don’t.”

This weekend, Inter host Roma, Ljajic’s former club, and if he gets the chance, this will definitely be one match in which he gives his absolute maximum. He’ll be looking to play those slick one-twos before accelerating in behind the opposition defence, and even if he has to do so from the bench, he won’t be lacking motivation for this top-of-the-table clash. (If you’re looking to bet on the game, check out freebets.org to see all of the best free bet offers from the biggest bookmakers.)

More than that, though, it represents another chance for Ljajic to prove that he can be the creative outlet for Inter, the man who can provide Icardi with the service he requires. Mancini knows that Ljajic has the quality, and if the mercurial No 10 can prove his professionalism, then there’s no reason why he can’t become Inter’s most incisive attacker this season.