Inter – Juventus: Modern And Flexible Football Shape The Derby D’Italia (1-2)
Antonio Conte and Maurizio Sarri fought in a close chess match during which the latter demonstrated his flexibility in a display of modern football on both sides. Inter now fall one point behind the new league leaders Juventus, in a title race that has every ingredient for an exciting ride.
Tactical analysis and match report by Kareem Bianchi.
Antonio Conte against Juventus. It would be very hard to summarize what Antonio Conte’s position as an opponent truly symbolizes for Juventus and the implications of it. It is, in fact, very likely that no words would sufficiently express the dynamics and complexities of the love-hate relationship involving Juventus fans and the former player and manager.
When four years ago Antonio Conte left Juventus right in the middle of pre-season a legacy ended. More specifically, a bond broke, one that connected the captain to his faithful people. The current Inter manager, like any professional in football, has quickly moved on, immersing himself into his job at Juve’s historical rivals in no time while being fully motivated to alter the flow that has dictated the happenings of the previous eight Serie A campaigns. But where do Inter and Juventus, the first and second-placed teams in Serie A, stand before they face off in what will determine the stages of both teams’ development?
Inter have looked at their very best since Antonio Conte landed in Milan and their first half display at the Camp Nou will have certainly reassured the manager ahead of San Siro’s big night; the collective’s comprehension of Conte’s principles was never put in doubt as the coach watched his army subdue Barcelona for well over three quarters of an hour.
Juventus, likewise, have found stability after some malfunctioning had Sarri carefully think his next moves through. The win over Bayer Leverkusen painted the picture of the idea upon which the reigning champions aspire to build their fortunes while the Derby d’Italia looked to assess the present and future of the title race.
Besides Romelu Lukaku who came into the eleven in place of his former Manchester United teammate Alexis Sánchez, and Danilo D’Ambrosio replacing Candreva, Antonio Conte fielded the same team that handled Barcelona. Sarri, confident of the guarantees observed in Juve’s midweek Champions League match, made only one change to the lineup. Gonzalo Higuaín stayed on the bench, whereas Paulo Dybala got his fourth start of the season.
Intentions are clear
Right from the start, Inter pressed in their aggressive 5-3-2 shape in which the wing-backs immediately ran towards the receiving fullbacks while the front two conducted the circulation of the ball into wide areas. Lukaku and Lautaro Martínez pressed the center-backs and Sensi stepped onto Pjanić, which naturally deviated the buildup wide.
Juve struggled a lot to bypass the pressing in the first thirty minutes and it is exactly during this period that Inter created their best chances of the first half and imposed their play the most.
Juve, meanwhile, under attack from Inter, defended in a 4-3-1-2 formation where, similarly to the game against Leverkusen, Khedira stepped on the left half-back while the two strikers pressed the remaining central defenders and Bernardeschi controlled Brozović. Matuidi marked Barella closely, up to the extent of following him wide when the midfielder drifted to free the midfield.
Juve’s pressing against Inter’s buildup in a 3-5-2 shape.
Inter dictate the contest
Juve’s game plan did not work on many levels in the opening half an hour – working inconsistently at best. One of these was the pressing. With Sensi positioning himself in the halfspace If you divide the field in five vertical lanes, the halfspaces are the lanes that are not on the wing and not in the center. Because there is no touchline like on the wing, players have the freedom to go everywhere. But this zone often is not as well-defended as the very center. This makes it a very valuable offensive zone to play in and a lot of chances are created by passes or dribbles from the halfspace. between the lines when Škriniar had the ball, the former could block Cuadrado from stepping out on the wing-back. As a result, Asamoah was able to receive from the center-backs and have acres of space at his disposal to carry the ball and make decisions.
Otherwise, if an attacker pressed the half-back and the midfielder shifted to the wing-back, through the halfspace, Inter would look for direct access to the dropping striker. Although Juve took the lead early, Inter was far from defeated and their response indicated their emotional state throughout the game. The home side thus started controlling the play more and more after Dybala scored in an action that symbolized how aggressively Inter aimed to block the center. When Ronaldo received a pass on the halfway line, the two closest midfielders and Stefan de Vrij immediately closed down the Portuguese. Unfortunately for Inter, though, Pjanić intercepted a pass moments after and assisted Dybala.
Given Juve’s narrow defensive shape, once Inter had bypassed the press, a pattern of theirs revolved around continuous switches to the wide wing-backs. Thus, through basic 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. Inter could break through, and by quickly switching the play they found space to attack the goal.
Inter equalized in the eighteenth minute after one of Inter’s numerous crosses during their spell of dominance hit Matthijs de Ligt’s arm for a penalty through which Lautaro Martínez equalized the score.
The tables turn
With the game at a crossroads, Juventus attempted to step up on the ball by combining through the right side, but failed to turn the tables. Inter defended well, and the only chances Juventus were able to organize in the first thirty minutes came on the break. Conversely, Conte’s men accessed the space between the lines with ease, either by passing the ball to Stefano Sensi or Lukaku. The home side had their share of chances on the break too, since Juve’s sloppy passing in buildup gifted Inter possession on a couple of occasions. In the 32nd minute, though, Conte was forced to modify his perfectly working machine. In came Matías Vecino for the injured Sensi who slotted at right center mid.
The following moments were quite open, with neither of the teams being able to hold on to the ball for too long as the attacking spaces increased little by little. However, facilitated by Inter’s decrease in pressing intensity, Juve found space to access players between the center from wide in what was the opener to many of the visitors’ dominant phases throughout the course of the game. Juventus even temporarily took the lead again through Ronaldo, just until the referee disallowed the Portuguese’s goal for offside. What is worth mentioning is the chance dynamic, though, since both Ronaldo’s ruled out-goal and a previous shot from the striker originated from a Dybala lay-off after a pass was whipped in the center from the wing.
Juve impose their football
The opening fifteen minutes of the second half saw Juve dominate the game, as Inter were unable to replicate the intensity from the first half, as well as struggling to cope with their opponents.
During Inter’s buildup, Juventus mainly attempted to disturb the progression rather than immediately regaining possession in deep areas. Consequently, Inter often had time to circulate the ball and create their solutions, which usually revolved around the striker’s participation. As opposed to the first half though, Juve’s defenders won their duels against the attackers frequently and the midfield closed down second balls efficiently. A key to the second balls – in a defensive masterclass – was Pjanić, excellent at closing down passing lanes and pressing the ball when lost. Thus, Juventus could exert territorial supremacy and prevent Inter from building out.
Given the difficulties on the ball, Conte replaced Diego Godín with Alessandro Bastoni, probably hoping for a calmer and cleaner approach in possession. Subsequently, Škriniar moved to right half-back and Bastoni positioned himself on the left.
The substitution did serve Inter right, as the young defender aided his team’s buildup out of the pressing with smart movements and passes.
Ambitious but rational
In the sixtieth minute, coming from fifteen minutes of dominance, Sarri set his goal straight. Rodrigo Bentancur and Gonzalo Higuaín replaced Khedira and Bernardeschi. A declaration of intent, that clearly stated how Juve intended to win the game, but almost cost his side.
Shortly after though, in came Emre Can for Dybala to restore defensive stability after Inter had broken loose by efficiently attacking second balls. The German positioned himself on the right wing in a 4-4-2 shape to which Conte responded by switching to a 5-4-1 out of possession. Barella and Politano acted as the widest midfielders in a new formation that did not completely guarantee the desired effects when defending. Although the 5-4-1 shape did give Inter better cover of width, it also reduced their central density, making it easier for Juve to access through the center.
Inter’s 5-4-1 defensive shape.
In possession, Inter attacked in somewhat of a 3-5-2 / 3-4-3 hybrid shape with Barella and Politano drifting wide to support the otherwise outnumbered wing-backs and cross.
After some contention for the ball, Juventus finally took control again, combining in front of Inter’s 5-4-1 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 switching sides continuously to stretch the midfield line. Higuain’s goal to put his team in front again came exactly after such dynamic brought Juve to combine on the edge of the box. Inter’s efforts in the final stretch were not enough to equalize, so ultimately Juve’s flexibility was the difference maker.
Juventus came on top as winners in what was probably, so far, the game of the season in Serie A. The chess match between two of the best football minds in football at the moment was won by Sarri, but it took numerous intuitions – some of which were ineffective and even harmful – for the game to find a winner. Both Inter and Juventus had their moments, some longer than others, but eventually, Juve’s quality and depth emerged as an additional boost to the manager’s tactical decisions.
As Sarri’s football is slowly finding its full expression in the form of Juventus, Pjanic’s performances are directly proportional his team’s, as well as to the stage at which Juve’s assimilation of the principles is; the Bosnian’s last displays have combined quality on the ball to impressive reading of the game without it.
The night at San Siro marked a new benchmark for Sarri’s regista, in a Juve side that is improving game after game under the third evolution of Sarriball.
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