Hakan Çalhanoğlu came to Inter Milan with little expectations in the summer of 2021. The Turkish international underwhelmed at cross-city rivals AC Milan. Few Nerazzurri supporters felt the midfielder can fill the void of Eriksen’s absence.

However, the set-piece specialist proved his doubters wrong immediately. He scored in the season opener for Inter’s title defense in his first game in black and blue. The San Siro erupted in celebration.

His performances continued to impress in the first half of the season. In the month of November, Çalhanoğlu racked up 3 goals and added 1 assist. His performances, pocketed him his first Serie A Player of the Month award. His contribution was critical to Inter’s Coppa Italia and Supercoppa success. Hakan’s world class delivery transformed Inter into one of Europe’s most potent sides on set pieces. He ended his first campaign with Inter totaling 12 assists across all competitions.

Stumble out of the gates

His performances left Nerazzuri fans excited. He combined with Barella and Brozovic to form a strong midfield trio. That trio helped Inter to finish second in the league, on top of other cup successes. Unfortunately, their anticipation was cut short. Croatian star Brozovic suffering a thigh injury in September.

With no immediate replacement besides a young and inexperienced Asllani, most supporters felt the season was doomed. The Nerazzurri’s poor start to the season already left them well behind their competitors. Thus, the absence of their midfield’s heart was a significant concern. These concerns were immediately justified. Inter lost its first match without Brozovic in embarrassing fashion. The Curva Nord entered panic mode, calling for Inzaghi to be sacked. Something needed to change ahead of a critical UCL double-header against Barcelona if he wanted to keep his job.

Hakan Çalhanoğlu provides impetus for Inter Milan

As lineups were announced for their first match against the Spanish giants, Nerazzurri supporters were shellshocked to see Çalhanoğlu in Brozovic’s regista role. The Turkish international had never played as a deep midfielder in his career. However, as he did in his Inter debut, Çalhanoğlu made Inter fans bite their words. He scored the lone goal of the game in Italy just before half time. Beyond featuring on the scoresheet, Çalhanoğlu impressed with his defensive rigor. His fearless tackles and tireless movement were pertinent to Inter’s clean sheet.

The following weekend, Çalhanoğlu continued his incredible performance in the regista role. His defensive display against Sassuolo was critical to Inter returning to winning ways in Serie A. The club only looked forward since then. In the return leg at Camp Nou, Hakan once again put on a stellar display. He sprayed balls across the pitch to create offensive chances. Defensively, he made critical tackles and challenges to break up Barcelona’s possession. He ended the match with 4 tackles and a critical assist. The result all but guaranteed a spot for Inter in the Champions League round of 16. The following weekend he added another assist in Inter’s triumph against Salernitana.

Since then, Inter have continued their winning ways. the club grinded out a dramatic win over Fiorentina. Then, back in the Champions League, Inter officially wrapped up a Champions League spot with a rout of Viktoria Plzen.

Once again, Çalhanoğlu displayed his world class dead-ball delivery this past weekend, assisting Stefan de Vrij’s winning goal.

Locking up a role

Since Çalhanoğlu’s transition to the regista role, Inter has been unbeaten. This tactical discovery has not only saved Inter’s season, but it has also saved the under-fire Simone Inzaghi.

Brozovic looks set to return soon. Çalhanoğlu faces a challenge in maintaining his electric form as he returns to the traditional mezzela position. Regardless, Inter fans feel at ease. No longer do they rely on ‘Epic Brozo’ to anchor a three-man midfield.

PHOTO: IMAGO / Marco Canoniero