With the end of the Serie A season fast approaching, both of these sides should be looking forward to the end of the season gleefully. And why not? What else do they still have to play for? In the case of Inter Milan, perhaps civic pride is at stake. After sealing a sensational 3-2 win over their city rivals AC Milan a few weeks ago, Inter will be hoping to ensure that they finish above them too.
Before beating Genoa on Wednesday night, only one point separated the two Milanese sides. Gennaro Gattuso will be sure to muster his troops to drive Inter all the way down to the wire.
For Genoa, their campaign does not hold much more value. With 33 points and several teams separating them from the relegation places, they appear to be safe in Serie A this season. Whilst a match against their own arch-rivals, Sampdoria, awaits them in a few weeks, there is no conceivable chance of catching them.
No, Genoa went into Wednesday night’s game with Inter hoping to cause an upset. As we shall see, however, Inter were too strong for Cesare Prandelli’s men.
The main headline from this game was, of course, the return of Inter’s controversial centre forward Mauro Icardi. The Argentine frontman has not featured in The Nerazzurri first team squad since the start of February. Whilst it looks like his role within the club is still subject to substantial negotiation and apologies, his inclusion certainly contributed to the victory.
In terms of how Luciano Spalletti got his team to shape up on the field, we saw a fair amount of consistency. In his last five games, Spalletti has used a 4-2-3-1 formation four times.
The only divergence during this period was in the derby against AC Milan. Against their city-rivals, they shaped up in a 4-3-3. This proved capable of withstanding their rival’s control of possession, but with enough potential to transition. They went on to record a memorable 3-2 victory.
On the other hand, Prandelli’s chosen 4-4-2 formation has not always been a given since his return to Italian football in December. Whilst the veteran coach often likes to pack the midfield with five players, he is always willing to tinker with his tactics. Despite getting a shock 2-0 victory over Juventus just over two weeks ago, Prandelli opted for a more defensive looking 4-4-1-1 against relegation-threatened Udinese a week later.
The ensuing defeat prompted the Genoa boss to revert to his 4-4-2 against Inter. No doubt he was hoping that his well-drilled, frenetic side would regain the form which had toppled the league leaders.
Inter’s creative attacking movement
From the kick-off, Inter looked sharp and their attacking foursome linked up well to find space for one another and confuse Genoa’s backline. Throughout the 90 minutes, the chief architects of Inter’s victory were playmaker Radja Nainggolan and wide man Ivan Perišić.
According to sofascore.com, Inter held as much as 77% possession across the game. Indeed, the first and second half saw them with 76% and 78% respectively. With so much dominance of the ball, their attacking line had plenty of opportunities to be creative in their movement.
Perišić proved to be a particular menace for Genoa’s defence. Whilst nominally occupying a wide left position, the Croatian was keen to move inside, opening up space for Kwadwo Asamoah. From analysing the heat maps of both of these players, we can see how much space was opening up for the left back to move into higher up the pitch. Asamoah’s cross for Roberto Gagliardini’s first goal was the result of such movement.
Nainggolan, the Belgian attacker, took up a role similar to that of a classic number 9. Despite the initial impression being that he would be sitting deeper, Nainggolan linked up very well with Icardi.
Whilst Perišić and Matteo Politano utilised superb movement inside and out; Nainggolan was very effective at making lateral runs. There were times when he played exceptionally close to Icardi. For instance, he eased the ball forward for Icardi’s chance in the first half, which crashed off the post.
Icardi’s movement should also be highlighted. The striker linked up brilliantly with his deeper-lying attackers and did well to often get on the shoulder of his centre back. Shortly before the corner which Nainggolan won, leading to Gagliardini’s second goal (Inter’s fourth), we saw an example of him moving into this space intelligently. Andrei Radu was forced to make a good save.
Genoa’s ‘tidal’ pressing
One of the major themes of the game, which could probably be lost in the scoreline, is how Genoa’s aggressive pressing was patchy. This is not to say that the team did not come together to drive back Inter or win possession. Rather, they went through periods of very successful, high, aggressive pressing, as well as periods where they completely stood-off.
The easiest event to point to, which dictated how Genoa defended, was the red card shown to Cristian Romero near the end of the first half. By pulling Icardi back, Romero had denied him a clear goal-scoring opportunity. Their reduction to 10 men certainly hampered the home-side. However, in the second half, we also saw periods of well-measured, positional defending.
According to whoscored.com, in this game, Genoa made a total of 14 interceptions. Whilst eight were won in the first half and six in the second, it could be argued that most of these were all won when Genoa carried out an aggressive, man-orientated press.
In the first half, before Romero’s dismissal, Genoa defended from the front. The attacking duo of Antonio Sanabria and Christian Kouamé pressed on the Inter backline. The spare man picked up short passing options.
They were also buttressed by their midfielders, who aimed to equally keep the lines tight and prevent Nainggolan, Gagliardini and Marcelo Brozovic from being able to turn on the ball. They hoped to disrupt Inter’s patient passing game.
It seems that the decision to condense was Prandelli’s. After half time, Genoa sat off their men and aimed to win the ball through Inter turning over possession. They would then aim to break quickly on the counter.
This wasn’t a bad idea, however, the home side were now too far from goal to attack effectively. Within minutes of the second half, such a chance presented itself. Frustratingly for the home fans, it was snuffed out as Inter had enough time to recover and get men behind the ball. Genoa sent the ball behind for a goal kick.
A later return to a press did look rather successful. Although, trying to squeeze a side set-up to break this pressure with superb one-touch passing, with one man fewer, was always dangerous. Midway through the second half, Esteban Rolón had a spell of trying to assist Kouamé in chasing the ball down. Whilst this was useful in reminding Inter that they weren’t yet home and dry, the lopsided 4-3-2 caused problems out wide on Genoa’s left side.
Inter’s full-back fulcrums
The Milanese side were brilliant in this game and the 4-0 scoreline does not flatter their excellent attacking work. Nonetheless, there were perhaps two players who would appear to have had a negligible influence on paper. The two Inter full-backs: Asamoah on the left and Danilo D’Ambrosio on the right.
In both attack and defence, the two played very well. Outside of the two central midfielders and Milan Škriniar, the full backs secured some of the highest numbers of touches on the field. With statistics derived from whoscored.com, we can see that Asamoah had 110 touches of the ball and D’Ambrosio had 91. The two were keen to push forward and help out when attacking, particularly as the second half drew on and Genoa lost their defensive structure. However, the two were also noticeable for their role in controlling the tempo of the game.
At various points, the two could be seen taking touches on the ball, looking for options to unfold in front of them. This allowed for the centre midfielders, Gagliardini and Brozović, as well as the rest of the attack, to move deeper inside the Genoa half. This tactic certainly gave Gagliardini chances to move forward and contribute to the attack in earnest.
Naturally, the two were also crucial in assisting the attack more directly. Asamoah made three dribbles in the game and D’Ambrosio also contributed one. Likewise, their desire to push further up the pitch allowed for a tighter pressing game in the Genoa half.
When Nainggolan won the ball on the left-hand side of the pitch to initiate an attack which led to Perišić’s goal, Asamoah’s pressure on his man was a factor. Furthermore, it was his pass which cut through the lines, finding Icardi who then released Perišić to score.
Judging by their league positions alone, a 4-0 away victory for Inter seems pretty standard. In reality, this result could have been even more one-sided. The Milanese side were in complete control of this game from start to finish.
Whilst Genoa clearly went into this game with a game plan: press hard, win the ball, hit them on the counter-attack; it failed to materialise. Inter were confident out of the blocks. The visitors opted to play patiently from the back, looking for their opportunities to pounce.
Genoa’s press did little to disrupt Inter as the visitors simply played through them with some excellent one-touch passing and fantastic attacking movement. The home side were left vainly chasing shadows. We cannot discount Genoa’s pressing, however. It’s man-marking and discipline held well for periods of the game, but its usage was not consistent.
After being reduced to 10 men, Prandelli’s side tried to condense but this did little except encourage Inter to commit more men forward. Inter’s full-backs were exceptional and deserve just as much credit as their attacking counterparts. The whole team came together to deliver this crucial win for Spalletti.