In an almost completely empty San Siro, Inter played their first official match of the Serie A season in a fascinating game for Italian football: Inter-Fiorentina. After a horror starting and after being behind in goals for a couple of times, falling under the infinite class of the French star Franck Ribéry and his assists, the Nerazzurri managed to come back.
They were able to bring it home with a couple of goals in the last five minutes from their Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku and the evergreen defender Danilo D’Ambrosio. The incredible quality of Inter’s substitutes made the difference, allowing them to keep the pressure up in the last minutes when Fiorentina had no more energy to resist such an assault.
Both teams lined up in their almost standard formations, with the only difference in the position of Christian Eriksen, a player who, despite his enormous quality, hasn’t convinced Antonio Conte yet. So a 3-4-1-2 for the Nerazzurri, with the new signed Aleksandar Kolarov, Alessandro Bastoni and Danilo D’Ambrosio in the defensive line. We saw the return of Ivan Perišić and Ashley Young as wing-backs, Nicolò Barella and Marcelo Brozović as pivots and Christian Eriksen behind the incredible duo Lautaro Martínez-Romelu Lukaku.
Giuseppe Iachini also preferred to play in his classic formation, the 3-5-2. Bartłomiej Drągowski in goal, a back-three with Nikola Milenković, Federico Ceccherini and Martín Cáceres, Federico Chiesa on the right and Cristiano Biraghi on the left side with a pretty new midfield with Gaetano Castrovilli, Giacomo Bonaventura and Sofyan Amrabat. Finally, Franck Ribéry and Christian Kouamé as strikers.
As Fiorentina scored a goal in the first two minutes, the first half of the game was inevitably conditioned by this situation. The Violas had no reason to keep the rhythm high. They opted for a low pressing strategy, leaving Inter’s defenders with a lot of space with the ball at their feet. It’s something that was also proven by Fiorentina’s PPDA (Passes allowed per defensive action in the opposition half) of 24.21, and that’s quite a lot.
To react to this slow pressing, where lots of passing lines were closed, Inter decided to drop one of their pivots, trying to attract at least one of the opposite midfielders out of position and freeing space for a vertical pass to one of their strikers. You can see here how Barella was dropping to the defensive line, attracting Castrovilli, so that Lukaku finds the space to receive the vertical pass.
Especially when behind in goals, Inter’s shape was really like a four-man line of attack, with Perišić and Young being most of the time at the same height as Lukaku and Lautaro, providing width to Inter attacks. Fiorentina’s wing-backs were forced to drop at the level of the defensive trio to cover the option of the long deep-pass.
The work of Eriksen
As we said before in this analysis, one of the most important news in Inter’s tactics is the introduction of a “Number 10” behind the strikers. Eriksen’s position was a real problem to deal with for Fiorentina’s midfield and defensive lines since the Danish player moved in almost every area of the pitch.
In the build-up phase, he sometimes dropped backwards too much, trying to give quality to the first touches. Most of the time he worked between the lines, moving in empty spaces and trying to give something unpredictable to Inter’s playing style. We can see here how Eriksen dropped deep to start Inter’s offensive action, with Barella rotating in his place behind the strikers.
He constantly rotated with other midfielders and also with the strikers, going up on the pitch near Martínez, when Lukaku dropped behind to take vertical passes from defenders.
This kind of work always gave the option of a deep-pass after the Belgian’s protection of the ball or discharge, as we can see in the following image.
Technically speaking, the Danish number 10 never really made proper use of this excellent job in creating spaces for the passes. And he still looked too uninvolved in Inter’s manoeuvres with the feeling with his teammates still not being at the right level. But in the future, he will for sure be a good weapon for Conte’s armoury.
Inter’s five-men pressing
When out of possession, Conte’s team maintained one of their main features: the high-intensity pressing since the first touches of the opposition’s defensive line. The incredible work of Inter’s first line of pressure is proved by their extraordinary PPDA, 5.22, way lower than average.
The way the Nerazzurri tried to counter the back three construction of Fiorentina was by sending one of the midfielders, most of the times Brozović – the player who ran the most in the 2019/20 season of Serie A – on the ball-carrier, and marking the other two defenders man for man with the strikers.
Fiorentina’s wing-backs were constantly followed by Inter’s own, never letting them any space for a build-up from the sides. This kind of “five-man pressing”, evident in the following image, obviously helped also by the two other midfielders going man for man on Fiorentina’s midfielders, and a super-high defensive line forced Fiorentina to play long passes almost all the time during the match.
As Kouamé was not a real tower up front, every action starting like this was kind of a gamble for Fiorentina.
Fiorentina’s build-up phase
As we said before speaking of Inter’s pressing work, most of the action for Fiorentina started with long-passes to the strikers or to the wings, playing lots of aerial duels despite being pretty much physically inferior to Inter’s defenders. In fact, almost no chances came from this kind of long passes. Every time they were just obliged to do it due to the insane amount of pressure put out by Inter on the defenders.
But when this pressure dropped just a little bit, Fiorentina created their most important chances. The ability of their high-quality midfielders Castrovilli and Bonaventura to play diagonal passes and find passing lines was incredible, and Ribéry’s work between the lines was the key for Fiorentina’s attacks throughout the game. On paper, he started in the front two, but the job that he made during the game was pretty different.
Apart from the pressing phase, where he stayed near Kouamé to cut the lines between the three defenders and the midfield, he worked literally as an advanced playmaker, as highlighted in this image.
He was the main focus of almost every offensive action of the Violas, and his unpredictability was a huge problem for Inter throughout the game.
Nevertheless, Inter realised this and tried to double mark him in almost every action. His technical ability in this kind of situations, however, led to the second and the third goal, as shown in the images below.
Fiorentina’s attitude off the ball
With the game flow going like a roller coaster, and with a team up and only after a couple of minutes behind, and then up again, what was striking is the ability of the Violas to change their attitude without losing focus. When ahead, the team was incredibly good at closing every space for Inter’s attacks, staying compact between defence and midfield as you can see in this image.
Eight players, sometimes even nine, with Ribéry dropping behind to create a diamond-shaped midfield to close spaces also between Inter’s midfielders and defenders.
When behind, they raised the lines instead and the centre of gravity of the entire team, which enabled them to create lots of chances and score many goals against a defence considered as one of the hardest to face off in the entire Serie A. Here you can see how Biraghi and Chiesa, always forced on the defensive line in the first half, worked almost at the same height of the two strikers when behind 2-1.
The game was super intense, with the teams playing at a high rhythm and slowing it down in very few cases. Despite the great team effort of Fiorentina, an incredibly well-organised team on the pitch tactically and technically, the substitutions in the second half gave Inter the strength they needed to turn the tables.
Inter won a game and dominated both possession and shots on goal, but with not many real chances created. Since this was just the start of the season for those two teams, they will certainly make us have a lot of fun throughout the entire season.