Conte significantly developed Inter in his first season, and even though Inter is far from the Champions’ League group stage, he is still battling for the League title eight points behind leaders Juventus.
Conte used the 3-5-2 formation which turns to 5-3-2 in the defensive phase during 83% of his games this season, while in some particular moments he changes to 3-4-3 or 3-4-1-2 formation.
Inter mostly use three centre-backs and two midfielders playing a big role to create spaces and opportunities, the midfield trio is responsible to use spaces created by the full-backs and the duo of Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martínez in the front.
Inter usually have no problems during the build-up of the play, because they use six players during this phase. Conte takes full advantage of this number of players who are well-positioned on the field, to create spaces in the opponent’s half.
Firstly, the centre-backs are positioned deep to be able to combine and pass between each other, the full-backs approach the side-line and then they start to spread crosswise, while Marcelo Brozović stays positioned behind the opponent’s first attack-line to provide the option of passing in the front.
This structure provides a lot of passing options to Inter and makes it more comfortable during the play build-up phase, but manager Conte doesn’t use this build-up only to ensure taking the ball out of his area in a simple and easy way, through short passes, he uses this build-up to create spaces in the opponent’s half.
This is the map of Inter defenders and midfielders passes during the build-up of the play, as you may notice, most of their passes are on the wings. If you are wondering why I will explain below.
As I mentioned before, Inter use six players during the build-up phase, four of them are deeply positioned (centre-backs and the pivot player) and they pass the ball between each-others, this will provoke the opponent players and forces them to progress and push forward. Below you see the spaces on the sides that Conte uses to move the ball to opponent’s half through the full-backs, left and right midfielders.
Again, you can see that Inter players are passing the ball more deeply and dragging Four opponent players towards them, then moving the ball to the back-wing Ashley Young. At this moment, Nicolò Barella is positioned in the space behind Juve’s first push line and can receive Young’s ball easily. Hence, Inter got rid of four Juve players, and they have large areas in the Bianconeri half.
This is a similar example, Inter are dragging Lazio players, then moving the ball towards the full-backs, so the opponent’s wing-back is forced to advance and leave spaces behind, so Inter midfielder can use it to advance towards the Lazio’s box. In this picture, Caicedo tried to stick to Vecino to prevent him from taking advantage of the space in behind Lazio full-back. But this way, Brozović is totally free, and Inter could use it to play in behind the opponent, Lazio.
Conte also uses a reverse tactic, trying to collect some players on one side of the field, to drag some of the opponent’s players to that side, then create a numerical superiority on the other side of the field, as we see in this picture.
Romelu Lukaku also plays an important role during the build-up phase, because Conte uses Romelu’s physicality to work as a base on which his teammates can rely upon during the build-up.
This picture below is similar to the previous examples. Inter players drag Milan players deep, after which they move the ball to the sides and force the Milan full-back, Theo, to advance, then space will appear behind, to be used by Matías Vecino, but this time he is followed by Milan midfielder Ismail Bennacer.
But Bennacer moves left into a wide area in the midfield where Lukaku could position himself and take the ball comfortably from Antonio Candreva. Also, he could bypass Alessio Romagnoli and create a 2 vs 2 play with Lautaro against the Milan defence.
In this picture, Inter players drag back Juve players, then play a long pass to Lukaku. The Belgian then has three passing options.
As mentioned earlier, most of the Inter attacks are through the spaces they create in the build-up phase, but they also have other plans that they use in case their attack was disrupted or their opponent was staying firm in their half.
The principles remain almost the same and the wings remain the most important attacking resource for Nerazzurri, but of course, with minor alterations.
In this picture, the wing-back approaches the touch-line, the attacking duo are well-positioned closely to prevent the opponent’s centre-backs from supporting the full-back and cover his progressing towards Young. Then, Batali will create a large space to which Barella will move.
Conte also tries to create a positional superiority or put the full-back in a one-to-one situation, by dragging the other team’s players to one side of the field, then reversing the play direction as you can see in this picture against Lazio.
Quick and smart moves and swapping positions are all important principles in Conte’s philosophy and he uses them extensively to create loopholes in the opponent’s line-up.
In this picture, Young, the one with the ball, is being pushed by Samuel Castillejo, Barella entering the sides and Casey is forced to look after him because he cannot leave him in a one vs one tackle with the full-back. Milan Škriniar advancing to get involved forcing Hakan Çalhanoğlu to look after him, and Vecino is positioned next to the attacking duo and Theo Hernandez is forced to stick with him, leaving Candreva alone on the right side. This created a central area deep in the oppositions half for Brozović. Milan’s Bennacer can’t face him and leave the back-line without protection.
Here also, Barella’s entry into the depth confuses Milan players, and if you notice, the duo of Castillejo and Theo advance to push up leaving Young alone.
Inter players are also trying to take advantage of the physicality of Lukaku to pass the ball through the opponent’s lines.
Most of the time, Inter don’t press strongly in the opponent’s half, they just try to close the central pass loopholes and push the opponent towards the sides. Like this picture, Inter is closing in the depth centrally but leaving the sides.
These stats confirm that Inter is nor violent neither aggressive when it comes to pressing in the last third.
But Inter under Conte is using situations where they can use pressure, also known as pressing triggers. For example, in this picture, the ball is next to the touch-line and there are few Napoli players in the build-up process. This made Inter players move forward, to reduce the area of play as well as eliminate all forward passing options.
Should the opponent manage to overcome that pressure, they would return to their 5-3-2 formation, forming a tight low to mid-block, also narrowing the spaces between the lines and pushing the opponent towards the sides.
As the opponent heads towards the sides, Inter players get help from one midfielder and one defender, then fiercely push to retrieve the ball.
As a conclusion for this tactical analysis, we have to say that the Inter Project has begun to emerge. The Nerazzurri under Conte has become one of the best tactical teams, they are eight points behind the leader. Who knows, maybe they will win the league’s title by the end of the season, which has only just resumed.