Milan 0-1 Inter: Inter strike early, then hold on with ten men despite constant Milan pressure
Inter preserved a one-goal lead for almost the entire match after Walter Samuel’s crucial early goal.
Max Allegri played Daniele Bonera at right-back rather than Ignazio Abate, and used Urby Emanuelson on the right flank.
Andrea Stramaccioni named the same XI that defeated Fiorentina last weekend, in a 3-4-1-2 starting shape.
There was barely a tactical battle at 0-0 – Inter went ahead after 3 minutes, making it difficult to tell whether Milan’s dominance of possession was because of the formations and overall approaches, or because they needed to get back into the game and Inter were content to defend.
The major difference at the start of the game was the level of pressing. Inter started very energetically, trying to win the ball high up the pitch. In fact, they should have been 2-0 up early on after Christian Abbiati’s disastrous pass was played straight to Diego Milito, who wasted the opportunity.
On the other hand, Milan were very passive, sitting back and waiting to win the ball in their own half. Bojan Krkic dropped off alongside Kevin-Prince Boateng and got goalside of Esteban Cambiasso and Walter Gargano, leaving Inter’s back three to play the ball around at the back slowly. They struggled to find a forward pass, but were happy to slow the tempo of the game.
Inter offered little attacking threat, struggling to connect the defensive seven players with the attacking three. Coutinho wasn’t involved, with Nigel De Jong and Riccardo Montolivo both in his zone, although in fairness to the Brazilian, his work without the ball was impressive, trying to cut off the pass to the two central midfielders in turn.
Milan dominate possession and the flanks
The real battle was on the flanks, as the 3-4-1-2 has problems when playing against a 4-2-3-1. Inter had no immediate problem with a 3 v 1 situation at the back, especially as Bojan isn’t the most threatening of lone strikers. The issue was how to defend against Urby Emanuelson on the right, and Stephan El Shaaraway on the left. Milan understandably didn’t want to leave 3 v 3 at the back, as their backline would become stretched and dragged out of position, but the alternative was to play 5 v 3.
That’s pretty much what happened – Javier Zanetti tracked Emanuelson, who stayed wide and therefore was naturally dealt with by a wing-back. On the other side, however, El Shaaraway was playing narrower and trying to break into the box. He probably should have been dealt with by Andrea Ranocchia, but instead Yuto Nagatomo dropped back goalside of El Shaaraway, making 5 v 3 at the back.
De Sciglio freedom
Inter were fine in defence, but the problem was higher up the pitch, as they couldn’t get the ball to enjoy spells of possession and relieve the pressure. Furthermore, they had no way of dealing with Milan’s left back Mattia De Scilgio, who could charge forward completely unchecked. On the other flank, Bonera was often occupied by Antonio Cassano, while Emanuelson’s tendency to stay wide meant there wasn’t space for overlapping anyway.
De Sciglio, then, was free to get crosses into the box. It was such an obvious area of opportunity for Milan that it’s natural to question why Stramaccioni didn’t do something about it. But then, did he need to? De Sciglio was painfully right-footed whenever he got the ball in a promising position, often trying to stab it into the box with the outside of his right boot, when a whipped ball with his left would have been preferable. Besides, with 5′7 Bojan the only target, Inter’s back three was comfortable with any crosses played into the box.
At half-time Stramaccioni decided to replace Coutinho with Fredy Guarin, who played much deeper and in theory offered more energy to close down Montolivo and De Jong. However, Nagatomo’s dismissal, just three minutes into the second half, changed the game significantly.
Having been under heavy pressure for most of the game already, Inter abandoned any hope of possession football and offered little counter-attacking threat. Instead, they became very defensive and concentrated on keeping a clean sheet.
Nagatomo’s dismissal caused a problem for Inter at the back, although the versatility of Javier Zanetti was very helpful – he went to right-back in a back four. Stramaccioni then removed Cassano in favour of Alvaro Pereira down the left – this initially seemed to signal a return to a back three, with Pereira and Zanetti both natural wing-backs, but actually Inter stayed in more of a back four, with Pereira higher up the pitch and Zanetti tucked in much deeper. It was roughly 4-4-1 – there was little support for Diego Milito, who was replaced by Rodrigo Palacio 20 minutes from time.
Milan didn’t equalise, but all three of Allegri’s changes were logical. His first move, straight after the red card, was to replace Bonera with Abate, a more attack-minded player. This allowed Milan an overlapping threat down both flanks, and prompted Stamaccioni to introduce Pereira to track his runs, so it was a good substitution as it further nullified Inter’s attacking threat and pushed them back.
The next man to enter was Robinho, which meant Emanuelson going to an advanced left-back position, where he’s a natural. This broadly worked well – Robinho didn’t do anything special, but Emanuelson was a much better option at left-back than Di Sciglio and forced Walter Gargano over to that side, as Inter didn’t have a proper right-sided midfielder.
The third change was Giampaolo Pazzini, who replaced El Shaarawy and provided an aerial target for crosses. Pazzini might not have scored, but he offered significantly more of an attacking threat inside the penalty box from wide deliveries (which was still the real area Milan had control in), and also held the ball up effectively. It was a surprise Pazzini didn’t enter earlier – he was introduced on 71 minutes, when Milan had already enjoyed a one-man advantage for over 20 minutes, and the lack of a penalty box presence was clear.
Yet Milan never broke through Inter’s defence, and probably their best chance of a goal was from Montolivo’s long-range shots – he had seven in total, and while some were wayward, four caused Samir Handanovic significant problems.
Allegri has hardly been convincing so far this season, even taking into account Milan’s summer departures. This derby defeat is likely to fuel further questions about his future at the club, but it’s difficult to question him in a tactical sense here. His side started with a disappointingly tame approach without the ball, but they did dominate possession for the entire game, and each one of Allegri’s substitutions was logical.
More than ever, the simple lack of individual quality from Milan was apparent – especially considering their star of the last two seasons was busy scoring two brilliant goals over in France.
For Inter, it was more about defensive organisation rather than tactics. They allowed Milan space on the flanks, confident their centre-backs would defend any high balls into the box – this was a no-brainer against Bojan, but Pazzini gave them more problems.
Ultimately, the victory was about finishing – Samuel’s chance was no better than a few of Milan’s opportunities.