It’s the 91st minute of October’s Derby della Madonnina between the two Milanese football giants, and Inter begin to work the ball patiently down the right flank.
The Argentine striker accelerates through the centre of the penalty area. As Vecino twists his body to swing over a speculative cross, Icardi takes complete control – of himself, his marker and the 79,000 spectators inside the San Siro.
Two steps was all it took to free himself. Two rapid steps toward the near post before peeling backwards sent Milan centre-back Mateo Musacchio off the scent and tumbling to the ground in a flummoxed pile.
With all around him in suspended animation – including Rossoneri goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma and the desperate fans on either side of this grand rivalry – Icardi strode forward, met the ball with his head and drove home the game-winning goal.
It lasted only a matter of seconds, and its subtle brilliance would have forgivably been lost on the masses in attendance, momentarily wild in either jubilation or despair, but Icardi had employed textbook movement and penalty-box savvy to settle one of Europe’s most prestigious fixtures.
Such mastery of the minutiae of centre-forward play ordinarily comes with experience, of trial and error over a period of years, the gathering of an encyclopaedic understanding of how to outfox a dogged marker. But, in the hours after the first Milan derby of 2018/19, a video began to circulate on social media of Icardi as a youngster at Barcelona.
The short clip showed the teenage Icardi using the exact same movement to meet and score from a cross that he executed so expertly against Milan. While his skills have certainly been refined over the years, the 25-year-old is as natural a goalscorer as you’ll find in Europe right now.
In recent seasons, the former Sampdoria striker has added strings to his bow, improving his link-play and becoming more mobile across the frontline, helping create space for others with his lateral movement and even displaying impressive crossing technique when supplying team-mates from wide.
But Icardi’s calling card remains his devastatingly precise finishing. And, at 25, he is still getting better. Last season, his career-high return of 29 Serie A goals made him Capocannoniere – the distinction given to the Italian top flight’s highest scorer – for a second time, and he’s already found the net on eight occasions in 11 all-competition games this term.
Reportedly a long-term Real Madrid transfer target, who are in need of a reliable goal-scorer following Cristiano Ronaldo‘s departure for Juventus, Icardi’s consistency and ice-in-the-veins coolness in front of goal have made him one of the most valuable and sought-after strikers in the world.
Europe's Best Finishers
Stats from July 2017 to present
|Player||Total xG||Open-Play Post-Shot xG Ratio|
|Cristiano Ronaldo||34.32||1.08 (Real Madrid)|
|Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang||21.98||1.06 (Arsenal)|
As the above table shows, Icardi’s reputation as perhaps the most dependably lethal goal-getter in Europe is well earned. This list shows the ten forwards from the Continent’s five major leagues with the highest total expected goals (xG) since the start of the 2017/18 season.
They have been arranged in order of the ratio between their xG and open-play post-shot xG, though – a stat which measures how much they add to their chance quality through their shot placement. Post-shot xG takes into account not only the position of each shot a player takes, but, unlike standard xG, also the location of where the shot subsequently lands on or off target.
Of the conventional No.9s listed, Icardi’s finishing is the most impressive. His shot-placement ratio of 1.13 means that, on average, for every 1.0 xG he accumulates, his finishing accuracy adds thirteen per cent to that value.
So if your team has one scoring chance to settle a big, high-stakes game, Icardi is the man you’d want on the end of it.