Three main problems for Inter in 2-1 home loss to Juventus

October 30, 2011

The starting line-ups

This was another amazingly open match – all the goals came in the first half. Juventus move top of the table.

The away side weren’t completely dominant. Their first goal came against the run of play as Inter started strongly, but Juve had plenty of opportunities and for a brief spell midway through the first half, they were able to open up the Inter defence at will.

Claudio Ranieri’s side lacked compactness and their defence still seems to be recovering from the early season experiment with a back three under Gian Piero Gasperini – their positioning is frequently poor despite the return to their favoured four-man defence. Lucio seems uncomfortable on the turn and Cristian Chivu isn’t a great partner for him, whilst he full-backs are both stronger going forward than they are defensively.

That wasn’t the main problem in tactical terms, though – the problem was that the back four received little protection from the men ahead of them, and Juve were able to create chances in an entirely predictable fashion. 4-3-1-2 remains a formation vulnerable against sides playing with width – as Inter found out in embarrassing circumstances in the Champions League last season.

It is a particular issue when the front three do little work defensively. In South America, Santos are the Copa Libertadores champions with a 4-3-1-2, but their front three seeks to track, occupy and nullify relevant opponents. Too often in Italy, a 4-3-1-2 means the front three switch off when defending, and that was part of Inter’s problem. That created problems in midfield and also at the back, which combined to make Inter ragged and lacking structure.

It should be noted that Inter had plenty of opportunities themselves – whereas they had a spare man at the back, Juve didn’t. Crosses played towards Giampaolo Pazzini and Mauro Zarate were a threat, whilst Maicon bombed forward from right-back well throughout, often untracked by Mirko Vucinic – and he got their goal. A draw certainly wouldn’t have been a scandalous scoreline, but in the interests of tactical value, the focus here will be on how Juve unlocked Inter.

Problem 1 – Pirlo freedom

Pirlo freedom

Inter played this situation particularly badly. Andrea Pirlo has been in fabulous form this season, and is their real creative fulcrum. The two midfielders ahead – Claudio Marchisio and Arturo Vidal – are very good footballers but are both energetic first, creative second. Pirlo is the brains behind the side – stopping him must be a real priority for opponents.

He was too deep for any of Inter’s midfield trio to pick up, so the responsibility fell to Wesley Sneijder. The Dutchman isn’t very disciplined or defensively disciplined – he does most of his work high up the field, and even when he was playing under Jose Mourinho, generally enjoyed a free role in behind the main striker.

Sneijder was clearly told to keep an eye on Pirlo, as he sometimes tried to move goalside of him. But often this was done lazily, a few yards behind Pirlo and not really preventing him picking up possession. He was in a halfway house that didn’t really suit Inter defensively or offensively – if his defensive play was slack, he may have been better off simply ignoring Pirlo and focusing upon getting into a position to get the ball in space for counter-attacks.

In the end, he did neither. Pirlo (on the ball, highlighted blue) had lots of time to switch the ball out to Inter’s full-backs (highlighted in purple), who were free.

Problem 2 – full-backs with no direct opponent

Full-backs with no direct opponent

This is an inherent problem with the 4-3-1-2 – the opposition full-backs are not up against a winger, and are free to get forward. There is a caveat to this – the full-backs generally have to offer their centre-backs help. Juve’s centre-backs had no spare man and therefore depended upon the full-backs for cover, which made it slightly risky to push both full-backs high up the pitch at the same time – especially with the risk of Sneijder becoming a third forward and creating a 3 v 2 on the break.

Juve had the perfect combination, though – a converted centre-back on one side (Giorgio Chiellini) who often stayed in defensive positions and helped out Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli. Indeed, at one point in the first half he moved all the way to a centre-right defensive position to tackle Sneijder.

On the other side, they had Stephane Lichsteiner (highlighted in blue), who played a very attacking role. He moved forward into the opposition half, and was always looking to receive a lateral ball from Pirlo.

That meant that Joel Obi (highlighted in red) had to move all the way out from a central midfield position to close him down – often he was 30 yards away and therefore Lichsteiner, arguably man of the match, could advance forward into the orange space for a cross.

Problem 3 – midfield runners

midfield runners

When Obi went out to the flank, Esteban Cambiasso and Javier Zanetti would pick up Marchisio and Vidal. Of course, there was also the possibility of Pirlo switching the ball to the left, although this happened less frequently.

When that happened, the Inter midfield trio had to shuffle all the way over to the other side – Javier Zanetti would go to the flank, whilst Esteban Cambiasso and Obi would then pick up Machisio and Vidal.

Inter’s ‘outside’ midfielders were also expected to provide width in attacking positions, and therefore spent much of the time on the flanks – too often they left the centre of the pitch bare and Cambiasso (highlighted in red) was overrun by Vidal and Marchisio (highlighted in purple) These players went forward and linked up with Matri.

So there were three main problems – Pirlo given time on the ball, Lichsteiner given space to attack down the right, and the midfielders allowed to break into the box.

Those factors combined perfectly for Juve’s winning goal – an isolated moment in the game, but one that sums up much of Inter’s problems throughout. (Excuse the poor quality, but it shows the goal all the way through which other videos don’t!)

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