Udinese 3-1 Inter: 3-5-1-1 beats 4-3-1-2

January 23, 2011

The starting line-ups

Leonardo suffered his first defeat as Inter manager as Udinese dominated the majority of the game.

Francesco Guidolin made one change from last week’s side which defeated Genoa. Andrea Coda was left out, with Maurizio Domizzi coming in on the left of defence.

Leonardo replaced Marco Materazzi with Ivan Cordoba, and Diego Milito’s absence meant Goran Pandev pushed forward, as did Dejan Stankovic, with Thiago Motta returning on the left of the midfield.

This was an open, exciting game with some very good goals. Although Inter took the lead through Stankovic – and nearly doubled their advantage with another long-range shot from the Serbian international – it was the home side who were better throughout. Rather than being about small factors in the game, this was a good battle between two contrasting systems, with one coming out on top.

Wing-backs important

When one side plays wing-backs, it is generally those two players who are the key to the game. When fielded as the only players on the flank (in other words, not in a 3-4-3 or Chile-style 3-3-1-3), they are naturally expected to cover an entire wing by themselves, which means that their positioning is extremely important – specifically, how far forward they are allowed by the opposition.

Inter’s 4-3-1-2 formation meant a complete lack of attacking width, and therefore both Mauricio Isla and Pablo Armero were allowed to storm forward down the flanks, often becoming the most advanced players after the Udinese forwards. They were able to join the attack without worrying about the situation at the back, where Udinese had a clear 3 v 2 situation, with Christian Zapata sweeping up behind two man-markers, and Gokhan Inler staying goalside of Stankovic.┬áThe system, therefore, was a 3-1-4-2 when Udinese were attacking, which provided plenty of midfield runners.

The formations when Udinese had the ball. Sanchez (highlighted) plays as a forward, and Udinese's wing-backs are relatively free

Sanchez the key player

The second key to the game was Alexis Sanchez, probably man of the match. His pace and dribbling are renowned as his main attributes, but equally important here were his work rate and his positional discipline. He was the key to the nature of the game and played in between the midfield and Antonio di Natale, the main striker, hence the description of the formation as 3-5-1-1 rather than 3-5-2.

This was key because he had two separate jobs. When Udinese lost the ball, the wing-backs retreated and kept an eye on Inter’s full-backs (Maicon got forward more, and was covered by Javier Zanetti) whilst the situation at the back remained the same. Where Udinese may have had a disadvantage, however, was in the centre of midfield, where they had a theoretical 3 v 4 disadvantage. Sanchez dropping in on Esteban Cambisso meant they were outnumbered in this zone, however, and Udinese were defending well with nine men.

Attacking drive

Sanchez had the pace and energy, however, to storm forward and become a second striker when Udinese regained possession, meaning that Inter no longer had a spare man at the back (2 v 2), whereas Udinese always did (3 v 2). The logical problem for Udinese would then be that they had a numerical disadvantage in midfield (3 v 4) but this wasn’t an issue because of the fact their wing-backs were always free on the flanks, available for an easy pass.

Of course, it was up to Inter’s full-backs to stop Isla and Armero. This caused its own problems, though, for two reasons – (a) because the full-backs needed to be covering the centre-backs to a certain extent, as there was no spare man and (b) because when the full-backs moved high up the pitch, Sanchez and di Natale (both players comfortable being used as wide forwards) drifted to the flank and drew Inter’s ageing centre-backs out of place. Therefore, the full-backs had to stay relatively deep, and Isla and Armero had plenty of time on the ball.

Sanchez dropped back into midfield when Udinese lost the ball, meaning the home side weren't outnumbered in midfield

Sanchez dropped back into midfield when Udinese lost the ball, meaning the home side weren't outnumbered in midfield

Udinese energy

The game wasn’t all about the numbers, of course. Sanchez’s trickery caused the Inter centre-backs problems when he got the ball, but the main benefit of Udinese’s system was their combination of movement from the forwards and energy from the midfielders. The forwards created the space and the midfielders expolited it, constantly getting into the box to provide a goal threat from various players.

There was also frequent overloading of Inter’s left side – Giampiero Pinzi shuttled out to the right and combined with the Chilean duo of Isla and Sanchez, finding a way past Motta and Christian Chivu. In all, Udinese were by far the better side and could have won by more than two goals.


Some suspect that Leonardo is not the greatest tactician – this game added weight to that theory, as he was completely out thought by Guidolin, a manager of far more experience. Leonardo could have caused Udinese more of a problem by playing Stankovic and Pandev wide with Eto’o upfront, meaning the home side would have been forced to either (a) subdue their wing-backs or (b) bring two of their centre-backs out to wide areas, stretching their backline, but the lack of any real change meant Udinese were comfortable. Guidolin seems to have found a good system to suit his squad, and the bravery and energy of his side when in possession was very impressive.

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