Borussia Dortmund Already Feeling the Effects of Achraf Hakimi's Exit
As Mahmoud Dahoud received Erling Braut Haaland's pass amid a characteristically swift piece of build-up play from Borussia Dortmund, the German checked to see a perhaps unfamiliar face galavanting down the right flank.
For two seasons at BVB it was Achraf Hakimi executing these sorts of penetrating runs, but on this occasion, it was Thomas Meunier.
Signed as Hakimi's replacement following the expiration of the Moroccan's two-year loan spell at Signal Iduna Park in the summer, Meunier, after receiving Dahoud's pass, had a golden chance to draw his side level against Bayern Munich in the German Super Cup.
The Belgian's effort, though, as Manuel Neuer rushed to close him down, was woeful - blazing his shot hopelessly over the bar. Haaland would soon bring Lucien Favre's side level, but BVB's horrid inferiority complex in regards to facing Bayern reared it's ugly head once more, as Joshua Kimmich's improvised finish handed Die Roten a 3-2 victory.
Nevertheless, Meunier's 47th-minute sequence was one which epitomised his early woes at his new club. It was a chance that Hakimi would've gobbled up without hesitation, no doubt.
But unfortunately for Favre, the financial strains brought upon the footballing world by COVID-19 meant securing a permanent deal for the Moroccan was incredibly tricky. Instead, it's Inter - who splurged a tame £36m to prize him away from Real Madrid - who are poised to be the beneficiaries of the 21-year-old's frightening talent.
Hakimi's move to the Nerazzurri was one that had all the makings of a match made in heaven, and it's no surprise that he's hit the ground running almost immediately following his summer move.
In the build-up to Meunier's clanger in Munich, Hakimi was making his first Inter start over 1,000 kilometres and two borders away at Pippo Inzaghi's Benevento.
In the end, it was a contest Antonio Conte's side dominated, running out 5-2 victors. The Godfather's words post-match regarding his new electric toy at wing-back, meanwhile, neatly encapsulated Hakimi's showing.
"He was born to play at wing-back and this formation enhances his abilities and quality. He was our investment for this year: he is a great player with great potential. He played great today."
The Moroccan was named man of the match by plenty of Italian news outlets in the wake of Inter's triumph; within 30 seconds he combined with Alexis Sanchez before teeing up Romelu Lukaku for the game's opener and would round off the first half with his maiden Nerazzurri goal, making the most of some shoddy Benevento defending to score from close range.
The 21-year-old was born to play as a wing-back under Antonio Conte, and the Italian manager is already attempting a plethora of ploys to get the scintillating best out of the Moroccan.
This was exemplified when Inter attempted to build-up from goal kicks. While opposite flankman Ashley Young sat deeper, looking to provide an immediate option for the centre-halves in the Nerazzurri half, Hakimi was stationed almost parallel to Lukaku and Sanchez upfield.
Much of Inter's play in the first phase targeted the left-hand side through fellow new-boy Aleksandar Kolarov, while pivot midfielder Roberto Gagliardini often looked to create a four-vs-three superiority in the Nerazzurri's favour by frequently dropping deep into the left-half space to aid Inter's progression. Thus, the Nerazzurri's focus on the left flank shifted Benevento's shape over to that side, leaving Hakimi - advanced on the right - isolated against Federico Barba, while a rotation between Inter's strike pairing often opened up plenty of space for the Moroccan with Barba drawn infield.
It was the overload to isolate principle in all its glory, working a treat for Lukaku's opener - the second time the Belgian has been spoon-fed by Hakimi already in Serie A this season.
The first came amid the most typical of 'Pazza Inter' contests; a thrilling come-from-behind 4-3 victory over a Franck Ribery-inspired Fiorentina on matchday one.
Entering the fray almost immediately after Federico Chiesa handed the visitors a 3-2 lead in the second period, it took just 23 minutes for Hakimi to notch what will inevitably be his first of about 300 assists for Lukaku this term, as the 21-year-old latched onto Sanchez's deft loft in behind Cristiano Biraghi following a perfectly-timed run before requiring a mere subtle touch to supply the prolific Belgian across goal.
Hakimi's super-sub showing and Inter's enterprising display against La Viola distinctly contrasted Dortmund's turgid 2-0 defeat at Augsburg - and the performance of Meunier - on Saturday afternoon.
In a contest where their positional play was poor and Augsburg's compact block was stifling, BVB needed inspiration from the flanks to provide alternative solutions to their attacking woes.
It was the sort of game where Hakimi's remarkable ability to exploit space out wide and combine efficiently with Dortmund's crafty inside forwards would've been overwhelmingly handy, but instead, all Haaland & co. were treated to was a lumbering Belgian misfiring with almost every crossing attempt and failing to beat his opposite number one-v-one.
It was a display that dire that some jokester tagged @h15mmels on Twitter deemed it worthy of a 90-second compilation video, accompanied by a humorously out of tune iteration of Coldplay's Viva La Vida, showing off his most unflattering moments.
Poor old Thomas Meunier, eh?
The former Paris Saint-Germain 'star' was never going to be able to fill Achraf Hakimi's jet-heeled boots at Dortmund, but the early indications suggest the downgrade might be starker than first feared.
Inter, meanwhile, should surely be considered Scudetto favourites with the marauding presence of the 21-year-old down Conte's right flank.