Picking up maximum points from their first two games in Serie A, Antonio Conte’s Inter side were looking to make it three from three against Udinese and lay down an early-season challenge to their title rivals. Udinese, meanwhile, were aiming to claim their second Milan scalp of the season, having beaten Inter’s city rivals AC Milan 1-0 in the opening round of fixtures.
Inter emerged 1-0 winners after a hard-fought encounter at the San Siro. In this tactical analysis piece, we’ll explore how both sides approached the game, and look at what made the difference for Conte’s side.
Antonio Conte continues to tweak his side’s tactics. In this game, he opted to field a 3-4-3 formation, with recent signing Romelu Lukaku as the central striker supported by Stefano Sensi and Matteo Politano. Kwadwo Asamoah and Antonio Candreva provided the width down either flank, whilst Marcelo Brozoviĉ and Nicolô Barella were tasked with marshalling the centre of the park. Diego Godin made his first start of the season on the right-hand side of a three-man defence.
Udinese looked to pack the middle of the field, lining up in a 3-5-1-1 formation that saw one of Seko Fofana, Rodrigo De Paul, and Mato Jajalo alternate in the slightly more advanced position supporting lone forward Kevin Lasagna. Walace was deployed as the defensive-minded midfielder, shielding the back three. Jens Stryger Larsen and Ken Sema looked to provide width from wing-back positions.
Inter switch the play
Inter looked to force Udinese onto the backfoot by playing the ball horizontally across the field to switch the play from one side of the pitch to the other. This forced Udinese’s wing-backs to drop back level with the defensive line to compensate – gifting Inter space on either flank to exploit.
This particular tactic is something Inter deployed throughout the game. Here, we see a cross-field pass from Diego Godin, which isolates Stryger Larsen against Asamoah on Inter’s left. If Asamoah is quicker, he potentially could play in Lukaku and Sensi against Udinese’s back three.
Lukaku the Target Man
Inter also looked to utilize the physicality of Lukaku in their build-up play, driving balls into the centre of the field for him to hold up. He did not drift- instead, he provided a focal point from which the rest of the team could construct attacks. Here, we see him with his back to goal, providing an outlet for pressurised defenders or midfielders to play the pass to. This was a frequent component of Inter’s play. From these passes, Lukaku would typically play the ball wide to either his supporting forwards or the wing-backs, to transition the ball to the flanks for crossing opportunities. This tactic did not prove particularly successful – Udinese’s decision to play with three central midfielders meant that the centre of the pitch was often congested, preventing Inter from building up passing plays.
Udinese start brightly, fade quickly
When in possession, Udinese looked to exploit the full width of the field, pushing their wing-backs high and wide and stretching Inter’s midfield. The two wing-backs – Sema and Stryger Larsen, hugged the touchline, whilst the back three where happy to play out from the back. Build-up play focused on short passing triangles, with runners moving laterally as well as vertically to provide passing lanes.
Unfortunately, Udinese’s attacking threat was nullified following the sending off of Rodrigo de Paul in the 35th minute. A man down for the rest of the game, Udinese looked to lock down the game and nullify Inter’s attack threat.
Without possession for significant periods of the game, Udinese were happy to drop into a deep block, providing little opposition to Inter’s ball progression in the central third. This involved the wing-backs dropping deep into a back five, and the formation of a midfield diamond to restrict ball possession in the centre. The result funnelled Inter’s play down the channels, restricting Lukaku’s involvement in the game, resulting in him being substituted in the second half for the more mobile Alexis Sánchez.
The problem with Udinese’s approach was that it allowed Inter’s left and right centre-backs too much space on the ball, allowing them to roam forwards, overloading the wings. Here we see Inter’s solitary goal; the result of a cross from Godin into the box for Sensi to head home.
Whilst Inter fans will no doubt be pleased with their side’s win against Udinese, their side looked less than convincing. The sending off of Rodrigo de Paul proved to be the deciding factor in the game, removing much of Udinese’s attacking threat. When playing against 11 men, Inter struggled to break down the opposition defence. This should be a concern for Antonio Conti, as it is likely that many sides in Serie A will look to play defensively against Inter.
For Udinese, it was a disappointing result but with encouraging signs. Their offensive threat for the first 35 minutes was good, and they were more than able to match Inter defensively. With more ball possession against lesser opponents, it will be interesting to see how they fare.
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