Inter appointed Antonio Conte as their new manager after sacking Luciano Spaletti at the end of last season. The former Juventus and Chelsea manager has already demonstrated his ability to win trophies in his former jobs and has already begun to make an impact at Inter. Diego Godin and Nicolo Barella are two huge statement signings ahead of Conte’s tactical revolution at Inter with rumours swelling still that the Italian’s spending is far from over.
This tactical analysis will provide an overview of what we may expect from Inter ahead of the upcoming 2019/20 Serie A season. Through scout report and analysis of Conte’s last team, Chelsea, as well as Spaletti’s Inter from last season, we will predict what sort of tactics Inter will use next season in order to challenge Juve’s domestic dominance.
Conte’s previous systems
Throughout his time at Juventus, Italy and Chelsea, Conte has always preferred to deploy his side in three-at-the-back formations. Where Conte has shown his flexibility, however, concerns the deployment of his midfield and forward line; throughout his managerial career, he alternated between a 3-5-2 and 3-4-3 lineup.
With Juventus, Conte led his side to three back-to-back League titles using the 3-5-2 formation with a triangle in midfield and two strikers up top. Conte’s Juventus operated with a triangle in midfield, using one holding midfielder to provide the protection so the wing-backs and central midfielders could push forward.
At Chelsea however, Conte won the Premier League in convincing fashion during the 2016/17 season, predominantly deploying his side in a 3-4-3 shape. This was so he could incorporate the quality of depth in the winger position he inherited whilst at Chelsea, these players including Eden Hazard, Willian, and Pedro. The combination of Nemanja Matić and N’Golo Kante proved to be a brick wall for most opposition teams thus allowing Conte to introduce more attackers into his lineups.
There is overwhelming evidence to suggest that Conte will indeed carry on using three-at-the-back systems whilst at Inter. After initially arriving at Chelsea, Conte struggled using the 4-2-3-1 and in a bid to correct these issues, the Italian converted Cesar Azpilicueta, one of the best right-backs in the league at the time, into a third centre-back just so his system could work. The move paid off to wondrous results and saw Chelsea set a historic winning streak at the time which would only be broken some seasons later by Guardiola’s Manchester City.
With the already impressive centre-back partnership at Inter in Milan Skriniar and Stefan de Vrij also being added to by Atletico’s Diego Godin, it’s difficult to see Conte dropping either of those three in favour of a four-at-the-back formation.
Why does Conte prefer three-at-the-back?
Conte’s systems encourage the regular and systematic creation of overloads at each stage of possession. Starting play with three centre-backs and a goalkeeper ensures Conte’s sides are almost always capable of playing around/ through the opposition’s first line of pressure, as rarely does any side press with more than two strikers.
The ability to easily play around and manipulate the opposition’s first line of pressure has the bonus effect of conditioning the opponent to defend in a 4-4-2 shape. This can aid the side’s buildup in the middle third of the pitch as it stretches the opposition vertically and horizontally, opening up spaces in between opposition lines to be exploited.
The initial overload using the three centre-backs against Stoke’s two strikers has provoked Stoke’s midfield to push up the pitch however they are already being stretched. This creates spaces behind Stoke’s midfield which can be exploited by a dropping creative or forward player, in this instance, Pedro is the one to exploit the space created where he can now receive the ball in space behind Stoke’s midfield.
The use of Conte’s back three systems also allows for the deployment of aggressively minded wing-backs. These men are responsible for dominating their respective flanks, to hug the line and stretch the opposition in a horizontal fashion, helping to create the gaps in the centre of the pitch.
The use of aggressive wing-backs helps to pin the opposition backline whilst stretching them at the same time. Not only does this help to create gaps in between the opposition’s backline but also frees up the forward players to drift inside the pitch and exploit the spaces in front of the opposition’s defence where they can’t press because of the advanced wide men.
Why has Inter turned to Conte?
Inter struggled under Spaletti for form last season and despite only eight wins from their last 18 league games, they managed to limp over the line into fourth place in unconvincing fashion. Spaletti’s tactics seemed tired towards the end of his reign and the players rarely applied themselves in a professional manner. The side appeared to lack discipline and it cost the Nerazzurri in heavy defeats such as the one they suffered at the hands of Napoli in May.
Inter’s defenders lack of discipline translated into their possession play, with little effort being made from them in order to create overloads in possession. This again made it easier for Napoli to press them and force the Inter side into making mistakes near their own goal.
Inter’s pressing game was likewise as blunt as it didn’t suit the mercurial nature of players such as Radja Naingollan and Mauro Icardi. The lack of structure and organization further up the field allowed for Napoli’s players to play through and around Inter where their forward runners could lose their markers and overload the backline.
Conte’s sides rarely press high up the pitch, in favour of retreating behind the halfway line where they can maintain a compact defensive shape. This shape seeks to minimize the amount of space available to the opposition in the centre of the pitch and force play down the wings. Conte’s sides are always disciplined with clear offensive and defensive roles for each player which often disrupts the opposition’s gameplan.
Conte’s pedigree and success within the game will demand the respect of his new side and he will no doubt drill this Inter side into a much more functional and disciplined unit.
In Inter’s early pre-season games, Conte has already shown a desire to utilize his 3-5-2 system, a formation that has already brought him extensive success within Serie A. The signings of Godin to strengthen Inter’s centre-back depth as well as Valentino Lazaro to create some competition in the wing-back positions suggest Conte has his heart set on ol’ faithful.
With just about a month left to run on the Italian transfer window, it’s hard not to see Inter bolster their ranks in the forward areas. Continuously linked to the likes of Romelu Lukaku and Edin Dzeko, you’d suspect one of the pair will be bought in sooner or later, likely to partner Lautauro Martinez up top for Inter ahead of a potentially defining campaign.
Inter needed a strong presence to come in and oversee a tactical overhaul and weed out the mercenaries of the old guard like Icardi and Naingollan. Conte will prove to be exactly that and it’s difficult to see Inter not challenging at the top of the table over the coming year and they may perhaps re-establish themselves amongst the European elite.
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