AC Milan – Internazionale: Textbook Conte display disarms a helpless and toothless Milan side (0-2)
Inter’s responded to their disappointing Champions League draw to Slavia Praha with a textbook Antonio Conte display. This win ensured their rampage in Serie A continued as they disarmed a helpless Milan side still in search of its identity for the season.
Tactical analysis and match report by Kareem Bianchi.
If Antonio Conte’s spell at Inter has been yet another proof of the effectiveness of his methodology, Marco Giampaolo has not had nearly the same early success in Milan. After their loss in the Derby della Madonnina, Milan sit sixth in the league with a game in hand over Lazio and Roma, who could potentially surpass their rival if they were to win their respective games. Surely Milan fans never would have expected such an unstable situation a couple of years ago, when – despite rumors beckoning regarding the unreliability of their new owner – they naively fell for Li Yonghong’s unrealistic ambitions. Yet, here we are, discussing how past errors are holding the new managerial cycle back.
Milan’s first three games in the league have seen them subdue to Udinese in their Serie A debut and beat Brescia and Hellas Verona 1-0. Three unconvincing performances that led Giampaolo himself to question his approach in post-matches, suggesting that there might be overarching problems that could complicate the manager’s plans for the season.
These issues have mainly been related to the inadequacy of player profiles, such as those of Piątek and Suso. Although they have both looked out of place in Giampaolo’s football, they represent the technical leaders of their previous managerial spell and carry their weight in the dressing room, which makes it hard for a new manager to rule them out of his plans. Therefore, Suso featured for his fourth consecutive match, whereas the Polish striker made his third start this season. Aside him, Giampaolo started Rafael Leão, who replaced Paquetá from the winning eleven against Hellas Verona. On the other hand, Milan’s opponent on the day replaced Candreva and Gagliardini with Godín and Barella.
Inter immediately bypassed Milan’s 4-3-1-2 high block A high block refers to a team that regularly leaves their own half out of possession, to disrupt their opponents far into the attacking half. quite easily during buildup. In fact, despite having good central compactness, Conte’s men could free Brozović from Suso’s marking through simple yet effective third man combinations, A passing combination between two players, while a third player simultaneously makes a run, usually in behind the opponent’s defensive line. After the initial combination, the ball is quickly played in depth for the third player to run onto. after which they would find space to attack Milan’s backline.
The center-back played a pass to the dropping Sensi, who served Brozovic behind his marker and with his face towards the goal.
Another pattern utilized by Inter that revolved around the third man concept consisted in Sensi dropping to receive the ball while Brozović ran into depth for the wing-back to assist him.
Surprisingly, albeit understandable given the ease with which they could break through centrally, Inter did not focus on exploiting what is a known structural issue for teams defending in a diamond: width. Although the two wing-backs constantly hugged the touchline, Inter switched the play quite inconsistently and only when near the penalty area. Therefore Milan already had enough men to defend the box, although Conte’s men did create some good opportunities regardless, one of which through a cut-back in the middle of the area that Donnarumma miraculously saved.
Out of possession, Inter had good control of Milan’s buildup, a phase which is still far from what we have become accustomed to from Giampaolo’s football from his time at Empoli and Sampdoria. The defenders often recycled the ball back to the goalkeeper, whose only options were the fullbacks, on which Inter’s wing-backs stepped up aggressively and interrupted their opponent’s progression.
Even when Milan gained ground and Inter retreated into their 5-3-2 medium block, A medium block refers to a team that retreats in their own half out of possession, generally only disrupting their opponents some way into their own half. they could not move the ball upfield as Lucas Biglia, the deeplying playmaker, was immediately surrounded by Sensi and the closest striker and thus unable to pass, let alone turn. Consequently, Milan retained no control of the ball and was only ever able to move forward when Rafael Leão dropped into midfield to receive and carry the ball individually, or on counterattacks, such as in Suso’s run in the fortieth minute. This is a good example of how Giampaolo’s football has not been absorbed yet since the former Sampdoria manager’s ideas revolve around a strictly holistic method, the opposite of the current display.
Inter’s evident superiority during the first half, however, was not matched in the expected goals The amount of goals a team is expected to score based on the quality of the shots they take. department, which was quite similar for both teams. This went to show how close both teams were to each other, while being so far apart at the same time. If a counterattacking approach was sufficient to score one goal – eventually ruled out for handball – and cause havoc against an ineffective counterpressing, then many problems must have been raised for Conte to think through and solve at half-time.
Inter cruise to a win
Conte did not fail to respond, so Inter started the second half in the best way possible by taking the lead just a few minutes into it. The dynamic of the goal was quite random though, coming from a short free-kick and a deflected shot by Brozovic.
The rest of the half saw Milan control 59% of the possession without being able to penetrate Inter’s defensive structure. Whenever they tried accessing Suso between the lines, the Spaniard would be immediately pressed and forced to pass the ball wide where the possession would either be recycled backward or lost.
The possession only improved once Lucas Paquetá was subbed on for the disappointing Hakan Çalhanoğlu. However, despite playing more passes than his teammate in just thirty minutes time and clearly increasing Milan’s initiative on the ball, the Brazilian’s contribution was not sufficient to trouble the opponents, whose defensive structure remained an insurmountable wall. Two shots, none of which on target in the entire second half, paint a pretty disheartening picture of what Giampaolo’s team is at the moment.
Ultimately, all Inter needed to end the game was to sit in their compact medium block A medium block refers to a team that retreats in their own half out of possession, generally only disrupting their opponents some way into their own half. and prevent any entry into dangerous areas. When on the ball, though, they started looking for the wing-backs or one of the midfielders wide on the opposite flank, something they had rarely done in the first half. From the situation described above came Inter’s second goal, which was exactly the culmination of such intentions. After circulating the ball and drawing Milan’s defensive 4-3-1-2 shape, Godín switched the play to Barella on the left wing, who neatly assisted Lukaku in the center of the penalty area to end the game.
Once Milan took control of the game they were unable to replicate the extemporaneous counterattacking actions that had caught Inter unprepared on the counter during the first half. Perhaps Conte recognized the danger and instructed his side to sit deeper to limit risks and the opponent’s threats. As a result, Giampaolo’s men had no solutions to break down their rival’s defense and had their energy drained until Lukaku finally put the game to an end with a header in the 86th minute.
Conte conserved his 100% win record in Serie A to overtake Juventus once again in a season that has all the premises for an exciting duel. Milan, though, can only be described through one word: disheartening. If these first performances are supposed to be an indication of what will be, a very complicated year awaits Giampaolo, who is called to make a step and prove himself as more flexible than what his previous teams showcased. Otherwise, dark times might be ahead for the fallen Milanese giant.
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