Simeone Inzaghi and Michael Corleone in the 1972 film The Godfather have something in common-they know to fight difficult battles- Unlike Micheal Corleone who killed the heads of the five families -Stracci, Tattaglia, Barzini, Curneo, Moe Greene and Gambino – in one day, Inzaghi had to take out his gradually. Now, he faces his Hyman Roth in Pep Guardiola. Yet seems good that we examine how he likes to take down his opponents via the tactical set-up of his Inter Milan team.
In possession, Inter Milan set up to create numerical superiority of 4 players that include: Andre Onana (goalkeeper) and 3 central defenders — Alessandro Bastoni, Matteo Darmian and Francesco Acerbi – Inter seeks to evade pressure from the opposition by splitting two central defenders on either side of Onana with one being positioned outside the box as an auxiliary fullback.
The wing-backs advance and operate as wingers because of Marcelo Brozovic, who as a pivot, seeks cover spaces and slot into the defence when the centre-backs move into midfield or join the defenders and get involved in the build-up phase e.g the game against Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena, with Leroy Sane pressing Daniele D’Ambrosio, Sadio Mane covering Milan Skriniar and Kingsley Coman on Bastoni.
Brozovic dropped into the defence to create numerical superiority and help progress the ball out the defence. The switch by Brozovic into defence alter the shape such that Mkhitaryan and Calhanoglu had to drop deeper into midfield. Hence, on the occasions that a Bayern player got attracted to Brozovic and Bayern men marked Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Hakan Calhanoglu, Edin Dzeko dropped into midfield to receive the ball directly from Brozovic.
Another way Inter handled this situation was for either Calhanoglu or Mkhitaryan to receive a pass from Brozovic and then progress the ball; this was possible through the actions of Dzeko, dropping deep created a dilemma for Bayern because if they focused him, either deep midfielders were free to receive the ball and if switched attention to the Calhanoglu and Mkhitaryan, Dzeko was free to receive a pass. Brozovic’s ability to move across the deeper parts of the pitch- the defence, just outside the box, the left and right-hand sides of the pitch and deeper region in midfield- to create triangular passing options make him a supreme asset to the team.
As stated earlier, the defenders are comfortable on the ball and in the build-up, either Bastoni or Acerbi join in midfield to generate numerical superiority. Inzaghi seems to favour attacking on the left since his time at Lazio. At Lazio, Stefan Radu — the left centre-back — supplied the attacker with great passes to work with. A constant feature of Radu’s game was overlapping runs and operating as an auxiliary winger; he could switch play to right in the build-up phase to relieve pressure and maximize space.
At present, Bastoni -a left-sided centre-back- will operate temporarily as a left-back to create pass options. Then he will overlap and join Mkhitaryan and wingback, Federico Dimarco – who is great at stretching defences and is blessed with a crossing ability to deliver accurate balls into the box for the strikers or attacking midfielders to attack.-to create numerical superiority on the left and provide crosses into the box or move to into half space into half space to provide the cross. On the right, Denzel Dumfries is a versatile right-sided player who primarily operates as a right-back or right-wing-back.
The Dutchman possesses excellent physical attributes, including pace and strength, which make him a potent attacking threat. Dumfries’ ability to deliver crosses and his goal-scoring instincts are valuable in the final third. In the defensive phase, Dumfries’ physicality and defensive awareness are crucial. Additionally, Dumfries’ ability to win aerial duels is beneficial in both defensive and offensive set-pieces.
In attack, Inter uses the strength of Romelu Lukaku and Dzeko to good effect which allows players to run off them. Inter ensure that they have at least four options in the box to force the opponents to add an extra when defending and free up space on the wings.
Pressing and Control out of Possession
Inter‘s pressing structure usually consists of two strikers – Dzeko and Lautaro Martinez – pressing two centre-backs of the opposition. Next, two Inter midfielders will tie themselves to the double pivot of the opposition. The last midfielder mark player, makes good use of his cover shadow. In the event of a long pass from the goalkeeper or the defence in general, one of the three central defenders move out to press the ball carrier of the opposition. In the first leg of the UEFA Champions League semi-final against Milan, the two strikers of Inter pressed the two AC Milan centre-backs in such a that they could use curved runs to cut off.
Passes from the goalkeeper to either of the centre-backs. Mkhitaryan and Cahanoglu were stationed on the two of Milan and Nicolo Barella’s job was to pick up the full-back on the wing. The wingbacks of Inter stayed behind in the back 5 to mark the wingers of Milan and Darmian was able to set our defence to mark Diaz because the structure allowed other defenders to handle Olivier Giroud.
Inter find joy in ceding possession to the opposition control space and making central progression difficult. One key aspect of their defensive strategy is dropping into a back-five formation, effectively compacting the entire team in front of the box. This tactical setup allows multiple players to attack the same space simultaneously, creating challenges for the opposition.
A notable consequence of Inter’s compact structure is the shorter distances between individual players, which in turn makes penetrative passes more difficult for the opposition. The minimized passing lanes force opponents to navigate through multiple players who are ready to challenge any through balls if necessary. This strategic approach was evident in Inter Milan’s Champions League group stage match against Barcelona in Italy. Inzaghi sat his two strikers in the game- Martinez and Joaquin Correa- in front of Sergio Busquets and Pedri – Barca’s double pivot.
Mkhitaryan and Barella handled Gavi and Raphinha in the half-spaces. While Cahanoglu prevented the ball from reaching Robert Lewandoski in zone 14. Hence, central progression was made difficult. When Barcelona sought to entice them by going through Sergi Roberto in order to attract Mkhitaryan to himself and release a pass to Ousmane Dembele and Gavi could receive the space initially occupied by Mkhitaryan.
Nevertheless, this was nullified by Inter’s man-oriented press; Skriniar was on Raphinha, Arcebi on Lewandoski, Darmian marking Marcos Alonso and Dimarco who man marked Dembele. Hence, when Mkhitaryan moved out to press Roberto, Dimarco followed Dembele and Bastoni dropped with the Gavi.
Another way Inter prevent central progression is by the use of the touchline and a midfielder. When a wingback goes to press an opposition player (due to a deficiency of Mkhitaryan which will be touched on later in this piece), a central defender shits to temporarily full-back, a midfield joins in central defence and the opposition is pushed to wings where the touchline acts an extra defender. Since the wings give you the option of going one way, pushing the opposition towards the touchline makes decision-making difficult and they can easily be stopped except if they utilize dribbling skills or have players with dribbling ability.
And as we draw closer to the epic finale in Istanbul on June 10, it’s a clash that pits the underdogs, Inter Milan, against the formidable might of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City. But make no mistake, this Inter Milan side under the tactical brilliance of Simone Inzaghi has a resilience that knows no bounds. With the tireless work of Edin Dzeko and the electrifying partnership of Lautaro Martínez and Romelu Lukaku, this team possesses a lethal combination that can unlock even the most impregnable defences. And let’s not forget the impact that Lukaku, a force of nature, can make when called upon off the bench.
With a solid defensive unit featuring several veterans and a 24-year-old center back with the composure of a veteran in Alessandro Bastoni, Inter Milan can withstand the relentless waves of the City’s attack. The stage is set for an enthralling battle, where the underdogs have the chance to etch their names in footballing lore. Will this be the night when Inter Milan rises, defying all odds, and delivers a performance that will be remembered for generations to come? It’s a moment when dreams converge with destiny, and the world will witness a spectacle that will leave us breathless. Istanbul awaits as the theatre for this epic clash, where heroes will be made, and legends will be written.
By: Tobi Peter / @keepIT_tactical
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Mattia Ozbot – Inter / FC Internazionale