We’re only two games into the 2018/19 Serie A season and already people are writing Inter off after two disappointing results against Sassuolo and Torino. The Sassuolo performance alongside the result was a cause for concern, but Spalletti’s adaptation for the first home game of the season should frighten the rest of the league.
Both teams opted for a 5 man defence but Mazarri deployed 3 central midfielders whilst Spalletti only used Vecino and Brozovic. Already Torino should, really, be taking control of the midfield with their extra man but this wasn’t the case in the first 45 minutes. Torino failed to control the game in the first half but made drastic improvements in the second 45 for reasons that will be delved into later. These changes brought Belotti into the game and suffocated the Inter duo of Vecino and Brozovic.
Inter’s front 3 lacked some fluidity at stages but that’s to be expected in a fairly new system and this being their first start together, but the early signs were promising for the Nerazzuri.
Whilst Torino did not cover themselves in glory for the first 45 minutes, Inter were nothing short of magnificent, Perisic, Politano and Icardi’s interchanging caused havoc for Torino. Politano in particular had a fantastic first half, Mazarri had his defence mark, and press, man for man, Moretti tried to keep with Politano but the winger was too quick and clever. He would drop deep in order to create space in behind for Icardi, Perisic and Vrsaljko to break into, this was the exact beginning of Inter’s early goal.
Politano drops deep to drag Moretti out of position, this frees up space for De Vrij to find Icardi running in behind who proceeded to play an inch perfect cross for Perisic to sweep home.
This was one of the many occasions where Moretti was given the run around by Politano’s intelligent movement. This early goal also demonstrated what was to come, a more selfless performance from Icardi. Most expect him to take the role of chief goalscorer but against Torino he occupied a role more akin to that of a false 9, dropping deeper to link the midfield and attack, whilst pulling the defence out of position to allow runs in behind from Politano and Perisic.
Again this plan was seen to work to great effect as Politano took a deeper position dragging Moretti with him and then breaking at speed and latching onto De Vrij’s pass. The chance, however, came to nothing, it could potentially have led to more but it would appear that Perisic was anticipating a back-post cross, had he driven towards the centre of the box he may have provided Politano with a simple layoff. There were a few chances during the match where a front post runner could have been useful, potentially something for Spaletti to look at in future matches.
These heatmaps demonstrate how Spalletti intended both Perisic and Politano to have free roles in order to link with each other and also pull the Torino defence out of its position and thus create space for runs from deep.
Inter utilised these deep runs to great effect, although they were not always successful, they gave the Torino backline and midfield issues especially when it came to tracking these runners. Most attacks started through Vecino and Brozovic in the first half when they were afforded so much time to recycle the ball in the midfield until a forward player was free to receive a pass.
Asamoah and Vrsaljko were allowed to push higher and pin back Aina and De Silvestri. This was supplemented, more so on the left side, by Perisic positioning himself in the half-space between LWB and LCB so occupied both, giving Asamoah the ability to provide an outlet and stretch the Torino defence.
Inter struggled to maintain control in the second half as a result of Torino’s pressure, their first half press appeared devoid of any energy and all it did was create space in their midfield for Inter to comfortably exploit. The second half saw Brozovic and Vecino immediately closed down by Soriano and Rincon which definitely disrupted the duo. At this point, a third midfielder or greater central support from the forward line would have been very beneficial, Torino did to Inter, what Inter did to them in the first half, Inter were forced to play backwards and then look for long passes, many of which were aimed into Icardi who was beaten in the air on many challenges. On the 62nd minute, Vrsaljko played a pass which was not utilised enough, a sharp vertical pass into Icardi’s feet to break the lines kick started a counterattack, but unfortunately, Inter’s passing in the second half wasn’t sharp enough and there was too much dwelling for them to take advantage. Inter did look extremely dangerous on the counter attack at times when De Vrij and Skriniar were given time to find passes, however.
The improvement with this new system in terms of Inter’s attacking threat was significant. The number of higher quality chances created was significantly higher than against Sassuolo, and with more training time and more matches, the team will only become more comfortable in this system and it would be expected that these higher quality chances continue to increase.
Saying all this, as disappointing as Inter were in the attacking sense, they arguably had better opportunities than Torino, a better pass and a sharper Perisic and Inter could have potentially grabbed 2 or 3 on the counter.
Whilst Torino didnt provide much threat in the first half, this was partially down to Inter’s solidarity and team pressing. Usually deploying a mid-low block defensively, Inter appeared to be pushing higher and pressing more aggressively this time out. The higher defensive line compresses the pitch and allows the likes of Vecino and Brozovic to press further up the pitch and not compromise their defensive positions.
D’Ambrosio was the elected defender to try and counteract Torino’s midfield advantage, Brozovic and Vecino occupied the passing lanes between Rincon, Soriano and the Torino defence, whilst D’Ambrosio stepped out of the backline to press Meite whenever he received the ball close to the halfway line. This allowed Inter to be more proactive in regaining possession, and also regaining possession in more dangerous positions.
The cohesion between the midfield and forwards in the first half was fantastic, as seen below, when Rincon would receive the ball facing the Torino goal, this was the trigger for Vecino to press. Doing so left Falque free, so Perisic dropped slightly to cut the passing lane and force the ball outwide, Perisic then adjusted to ensure that he was still covering Falque and thus force De Silvestri to pass it back to the defence. This was a tactic deployed fairly often when Torino’s defence had control of the ball, it usually ended in low percentage long balls which the Inter defence were more than happy defending.
This cohesion wasn’t as visible in the second half, a seemingly new system and tired legs can easily lead to this, and if Spalletti sticks with this for future games then Inter will only strengthen. The individual pressing which appeared to take forefront was pointless as Torino had easy passes to break the press and it just pulled Inter players further out of position, and thus the cycle continued.
Inter struggled to cope with Torino’s midfield in the second half, Falque took up more of a “free 8” role and was picking the ball up deep where he was not suffocated by Skriniar, and gave Torino another man advantage in the centre of the pitch. This made it more difficult for Vecino and Brozovic to cut passing lanes and press effectively, with Torino retaining more possession in higher positions. As seen in the image below, in the second half, Torino were able to play vertical passes between the lines as the Inter press began to become more individual than team orientated. This was especially true of Dalbert, who appeared, on a few occasions, to attempt to close down when passing lanes had not been cut so the result was that he just granted a simple pass out wide to De Silvestri who found himself under no pressure.
In addition, there was almost always a spare man as Vecino and Brozovic were already occupied by opposition, Falque’s positioning was key in maintaining this advantage. He often took up wide positions on the right thus forcing Asamoah to stay back, this in turn allowed De Silvestri space and the ability to drive into midfield on occasions, creating more problems for the Inter defence to try and cope with.
Without simply pinning the blame, Handanovic’s involvment in both goals, especially the first, should be questionned. The first was a beginner’s error in which he had no need to rush out, had Belotti missed the ball, Inter receive a goal kick so the smarter play would have been to close Belotti down rather than gamble on any miscontrol. The second is more dubious, but I always believe that if a keeper gets a hand to a ball then it should never be going in, especially as Meite’s shot was not hit with much venom, but then I’m not goalkeeper and am probably just nitpicking.
Overall it may not have been the most ideal of results for Inter, but the first half was brilliant and the counterattacking potential is massive. If Spalletti persists with this new system then there’s a lot for the Nerazzuri to be excited for.
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