Inter 2-0 Milan: Leonardo fails to exploit Inter’s numerical disadvantage

January 24, 2010

Mourinho 2-0 Leonardo. Or, to use an aggregate score, Mourinho 6-0 Leonardo. They may be two of the most stylish and exciting coaches in Europe, but tonight Mourinho got his tactics spot on, whilst Leonardo’s Milan side seemed rigid and uncomfortable.

Inter dominated the first half hour by virtue of having an extra central midfielder – Milan’s midfield being an inverted ‘V’ (ie with the central player, Pirlo, playing just ahead of the other two) meant that Sneijder constantly found space between the three, and completely dominated proceedings.

When Sneijder was sent-off after 30mins, Inter matched Milan 3 v 3 in midfield, and kept two upfront, with Pandev and Milito working the channels between centre-back and full-back brilliantly throughout. Midfield support was rare, but Muntari ocassionally attempted to join the front two. Right-sided width came from Maicon motoring forward from full-back, and Javier Zanetti dropped into right-back so Ronaldinho was not left free.

Milan completely failed to take advantage of the fact they had an extra player on the pitch. They replaced Gatusso with Seedorf at half-time, which gave their midfield triangle a more attacking slant, but their real problem (as in yesterday’s game) was a lack of width. Beckham and Ronaldinho played reasonably wide, but they rarely got any support from their full-backs, which is so vital. Antonini should have been replaced with Jankulovski far sooner, to provide an overlap on the left, allowing Ronaldinho to move closer to Borriello. There was also possibly a case for moving Beckham to an advanced right-back position, where he would have found more space to deliver crosses, and put on another forward (Inzaghi remained on the bench, and Huntelaar came on late), with Seedorf covering the right-hand side from midfield.

When you have an extra player, you have to make it count. The best way to do this is to expand the ‘active playing area’ – (ie the area where players are positioned), to make the opposition run more, and tire them out. There are two ways to do this – either laterally (through wide players) or by forcing the opposition to defend deeper (by using pacey forwards) but Milan had neither attacking full-backs, nor any real pace upfront. And neither did they have an extra man in the centre of midfield.

In the end, the two midfield trios cancelled each other out, whilst Milan’s simple tactic of shifting the ball to Beckham/Ronaldinho and attempting to get Borriello’s head on the ball failed because that’s exactly what Lucio and Samuel want – neither are as mobile as they used to be, but they are both still excellent in the air.

Milan were trailing for the entire hour in which they had an extra player, and yet they never created an overload in an attacking zone.


  • If you have an extra man, you should play wider than previously, to exploit the man advantage.
  • Your tactics should also, in some way, change. If your approach against ten men is no different from your approach against eleven, you’re making it easy for the opposition side to cope (especially considering they sometimes have to make an immediate substitution).
  • A 4-3-3ish system must have a ‘link player’ in central midfield to join midfield and attack – Milan started with Pirlo, Gattuso and Ambrosini, none of which looked to drive at the opposition defence.
  • If Ronaldinho plays wide left, he needs an overlapping left-back, to shift the opposition right-back’s position, and allow Ronaldinho to come inside. Otherwise, the right-back (today it was Maicon) can simply show Ronaldinho down the touchline onto his weaker foot, and he’s not much of a threat.
  • The fact that Milito and Pandev looked to work the channels meant Leonardo was relucant to replace his full-backs with more attacking players. If you go down to ten men, keeping two upfront and telling them to play wide can often be better defensively than inserting another midfield player, as it keeps the opposition back four occupied, and means they don’t have a numerical advantage when coming forward.

Full match report here

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