Inter 4-2 Milan: Inter build up play down the left, then spread it to the right
This was a rather eventful Milan derby – not only were there six goals (including three penalties), but the result confirmed Juventus as Serie A champions.
The game was frantic, open and often lacking any kind of shape or structure, which was completely unexpected when the line-ups were announced – it set to be a battle of two narrow, functional 4-3-1-2s.
But thankfully, it wasn’t a boring, attritional contest, mainly thanks to the fact that Inter coach Andrea Stramaccioni instead used a 4-4-1-1 system that had width and fluidity. Inter did what so many teams haven’t against Milan this year – they exploited the fact that Milan are narrow and static without the ball, and lack pace throughout the side. Stramaccioni was brave enough to concede the battle in midfield and didn’t try to win the numbers game there (Milan dominated this zone and therefore possession, with 56%). But Inter’s build-up play was superior, and they were by far the better side.
Inter’s 4-4-1-1 wasn’t a straight, boxy 4-4-1-1. It had many nuances – first, on the left Ricky Alvarez came inside into a number ten position, while Wesley Sneijder drifted from a number ten position to the left wing. Those two were essentially making the reverse movement, and although a couple of times they found themselves in the same position, they combined well.
On the other side, Javier Zanetti was the right-sided midfield player but played very narrow, more as a central midfielder, which allowed Maicon forward on the overlap. In the centre, Esteban Cambiasso sat deep in midfield, while Fredy Guarin shuttled forward to his left.
This meant that Alvarez, Sneijder and Guarin naturally formed a triangle to the left of the pitch, and were joined by Yuto Nagatomo, who could move forward without any opponent tracking his run. This ‘square’ (see right) formed the basis of almost all Inter’s attacks in the first half, and Milan generally only looked to close Inter down in this position with two players (highlighted) – right-back Ignazio Abate, then right-sided central midfielder Antonio Nocerino. Kevin-Prince Boateng didn’t get involved, while Mark van Bommel stayed goalside of Sneijder and prevented him turning, but if Sneijder played backwards passes or sideways balls out to the flank, van Bommel was powerless to stop him. Inter formed a 4 v 2 out on the left.
Milan’s narrow three-man midfield had to shuttle across to that side of the pitch. Not only did this not really help the situation in the right-back zone, it also left them exposed on the opposite side of the pitch. Therefore, Inter could work the ball out to the right with two quick passes (left) – the first to Zanetti, who came inside to offer a short option, then he’d turn the ball onto Maicon on the overlap.
This was a very simple move, but almost all Inter’s good moments (with the exception of chances created from set-pieces), came from build-up play on the left with the initial ‘square’, or after play was quickly transferred from that zone over to Maicon.
These moments included:
11 mins – ending with Nagatomo’s shot
15 mins – ending with Guarin’s shot
17 mins – ending with Maicon cross
20 mins – ending with Sneijder shot, and a corner
26 mins – ending with Nagatomo getting to the byline to win a corner
32 mins – ending with Guatin crosseing and winning a corner
41 mins – ending with van Bommel fouling Sneijder
Considering Milan were so poor at defending set-pieces throughout the game, this continual pressure resulting in set-pieces was very important.
There was one final part of Inter’s approach – Boateng didn’t do much defending but when he saw Maicon moving forward, he’d move out to the left to try to exploit the space on that side of the pitch. However, either Zanetti or Cambiasso would move across to cover (right), and Inter weren’t vulnerable on the break.