As the boisterous Interesti started to fill the Guiseppe Meazza, slowly turning the footballing cathedral from orange to blue & black, the feeling of trepidation grew at an equal rate.
Internazionale coach Antonio Conte has been on a crusade to banish the unwanted nickname “Pazza Inter” (Crazy Inter) – even going as far as banning the pre-match traditional broadcasting of the song ‘Pazza Inter Amala’.
Having made a very convincing start to that, a midweek 3-2 loss to Borussia Dortmund from a lead of 2-0 in the Champions League has left Inter fans fearing that the nickname is not ready for a clean break just yet.
Ivan Juric’ Verona made the short trip looking to capitalise on that feeling. Shoulder to shoulder with Juventus for the least goals conceded in Serie A, and with the momentum of two victories against Brescia and Parma, Hellas Verona are a team enjoying their return to the top flight.
The conflicting styles made for an extremely interesting tactical analysis. Would one of the best attacking teams in the league be able to breach one of the best defences, or would the proverbial bus be too well parked? We analyse the game below to see exactly how the tactics clashed on a mild night in Milano.
(Taken from Wyscout)
Inter lined up in a 3-5-2 formation, with Nicolo Barella and Matias Vecino providing attacking support to the in-form strike partnership of Lautaro Martinez and Romelu Lukaku. Marcelo Brozović kept his place, with the crocked Croatian playing nearly 1,800 minutes of football already this season and its only November.
Ivan Jurić has favoured a 3-4-2-1 for his Verona team this season. This is generally for two reasons:
- He can call on the discipline of Sofyan Amarabat and Matteo Pessina to fill in any gaps between the defensive three.
- Lazovic and Faraoni have the pace and technique needed to spring counter-attacks – which is a tactic Juric likes his teams to adopt.
Both sets of fans will have been analysing the performance of Eddie Salcedo of Verona, on loan from Internazionale. He has looked promising this season and the Colombian-born striker is tipped for big things, perhaps following in the footsteps of Zapata and Muriel at Atalanta.
Verona’s defensive seven (yes, seven) and the counter-attack
Verona are sitting comfortably in mid-table and it’s no surprise that their solid defence is to thank for this. Throughout the first half, they frustrated Inter by defending in two solid blocks of three and seven. The midfield four and defensive three would be positioned in a solid line, allowing little space for Martinez, Barella or Lukaku to exploit.
As the four Verona midfielders would sit back into that defensive unit, they could stay tight to Conte’s attacking wing-backs without the need to engage.
If they won the ball back they would spring forward as a unit. Verona would do this at such pace that the defensive transition would see a defensive seven turn into an attacking overload.
Below you see the speed and desire of Lazović to influence the counter-attack from his defensive position above.
Lazović makes up the ground on Lazaro so quickly that he ends up playing the final ball to win Verona a penalty, resulting in a goal.
Lazović has now passed his marker Lazaro and is about to play a simple ball through for Zaccagni to run onto and win a penalty. This frame shouldn’t make for good viewing for the Inter goalkeeper, Handanović. His positioning is too deep and his feet look in an unnatural position, and could be a reason as to why Zaccagni managed to get to the ball first in this situation.
Ivan Jurić set up his team tactics to exploit the wide channels, with Lazović the key outlet in this. The first half pass map below highlights this, showing that the key passing channel was between the winger Lazović and his midfield colleague Pessina.
Inter stretching the Verona defence in the second half
If Verona presented a bus in front of Inter in the first half, Conte seemed determined to leave that bus in a scrap heap by the second. Tactically, he demanded his wing-backs to stretch the Verona backline more to leave gaps for Barella and Vecino to exploit. He replaced Bareghi on the left with the experienced Candreva, the former having made little impact in the first half.
Inter pushed many more players forward in attack, often matching Verona’s defensive seven with an equal attacking showing. Inter would look to open up space for the wing-backs, Lazaro and Candreva.
They could do this through bunching Verona’s defensive three centrally; using Lukaku, Martinez and Barella/Vecino to draw the defenders together and create space for the wing-backs. In this example, Inter utilise the width of the pitch and play it out to Lazaro.
This is how Inter score their equaliser. Again, Inter have caused wide gaps to appear in between the wide defenders and the central three. From the crossed ball of Lazaro, Vecino leaps highest and powers a great header at goal. It’s not a coincidence too that Inter have five players in the box here. The more players they threw into attacks, the better those chances became.
Conte’s shoot on sight strategy
Verona defending deep and with considerable numbers presented a problem for Antonio Conte. How do you score against a team sitting so deep?
Well, if Verona weren’t willing to press Inter until they were outside the box, Inter were going to try their chance with long shots. Conte allowed his players to shoot on sight, resulting in 44% of all shots coming from outside the box.
Inter are not a team you want to start playing target practice with, and especially not if the ball falls to the feet of Nicolo Barella. The man from Cagliari is keen to showcase why the Nerrazurri paid so much for his services in the summer. His finish to beat Verona will certainly go a long way in doing that.
When Barella moves into the position he scores from, the pressure on him from Verona is minimal. He has enough time to look up, pick his spot and connect. Unfortunately for the ex-Leeds goalkeeper in the Verona net, the spot Barella picks was one that was simply impossible to save.
The conclusion of this tactical analysis is fairly straightforward. Verona’s gameplay was to sit as many players behind the ball as possible, and nick a goal or two on the counter-attack. However, they found that it was not possible to play this way for 90+ minutes against such a dynamic team like Inter.
In the second half, Internazionale had too much time and too many options to find their way back in the game. They aggressively stole control of the wings from Verona, stretched the play and lay siege to the Verona net. Had it not been for valiant efforts from Silvestri in goal, and the Verona back three, Inter could have added made the scoreline more convincing of their dominance.
Jurić will take comfort in knowing the counter-attacking style did look to have the better of Inter’s tactics in the first half. However, Inter showed they are made of stronger stuff than they were last season and will be pleased to see their big summer signing, Barella, provide a touch of magic to take them to the top of Serie A. For a day at least…
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