Internazionale – ACF Fiorentina: Inter extend run of impressive results despite Fiorentina targeting the midfield battle (2-1)
Internazionale completed a fine week of results despite repeatedly showing vulnerabilities. ACF Fiorentina put them under sustained pressure and was sold short in the final result. Goals were only loosely connected to the tactical story on display, which revolved around Inter finding ways around Fiorentina’s high central pressing.
Inter came into this Serie A match on the back of consecutive wins, both by a single goal, both sealed with last minute winners. Luciano Spalletti’s controversial celebration after one of those last minute winners put his presence on the touchline for this game in doubt. After a successful appeal on the afternoon of the game, Spalletti was indeed allowed to take up his usual position on the sidelines.
Fiorentina have improved their consistency in the league this season, having collected ten points from their opening five matches. They were hoping to continue their fine form in an effort to maintain the hope of mounting a serious challenge for the Champions League places.
Spalletti made two changes to the Inter side that beat Sampdoria 1-0. With Inter clearly still uncertain of their preferred central defensive pairing, Stefan De Vrij replaced Miranda in the back four to pair with Milan Škriniar. Danilo D’Ambrosio and Kwadwo Asamoah played as full backs and would prove to be crucial to Inter’s attacking strategy. The other change was Ivan Perišić replacing Matteo Politano. Again Inter seem to be rotating wide attackers Antonio Candreva, Perišić and Politano in the starting lineups. Matías Vecino partnered Marcelo Brozović in the centre of midfield, with Vecino given license to roam forward towards Radja Nainggolan who was positioned behind Mauro Icardi in attack, giving the side a 4-2-3-1 shape.
Fiorentina made two changes of their own. Marko Pjaca and Gerson were dropped to the substitutes bench to be replaced by Edimilson Fernandes and Kevin Mirallas in their usual 4-3-3 shape. The back four and holding midfielder, Jordan Veretout, have remained consistent and this has given Fiorentina a very solid base to their side so far this season. The front three of Fiorentina played very narrow for large spells of the game. Federico Chiesa lined up on the right with Mirallas on the opposite flank. Each player drifted inside to support Giovanni Simeone in attempting to create chances around the edge of the box.
Coordinated movement on the flanks
Fiorentina pressed high and consistently eliminated the pass from Inter’s center backs to holding midfielder Brozovic. Inter preferred method to progress the ball was to play around this and move forward down either flank. If the ball was taken forward by the full back, the winger in front would usually move inside. Most often this was seen on the left wing with Asamoah driving forward with the ball while Perišić drifted inside. This had the effect of creating space wide for the full back to progress into, but it also gave Inter extra numbers centrally.
Typical Inter attack down the left flank. Perišić’s movement creating space for Asamoah.
If the ball was passed forward to the winger he would stay wide and wait for assistance from the full back They would provide this with a vertical run past the winger, usually as an overlap but from time to time providing variation by switching to run more centrally.
For D’Ambrosio this forward movement was a clear change in role from his previous appearances where he had been more likely to shift into a back three to cover and allow Inter to focus their attacks down the opposite flank with Asamoah.
The intricate movement of Inter’s wingers and fullbacks forced Fiorentina’s defense into making quick decisions to track the correct man. To add to the dynamism, the more structured roles of Brozović and Nainggolan allowed Vecino freedom to roam smartly into positions which were either vacated by Fiorentina defenders or caused them to reassess who they needed to be marking defensively.
A bombardment from wide positions
With the strategic wide play and the focus on causing confusion in the Fiorentina defence to create space for their attackers in place, Inter added to this a bombardment of crosses into the box. This was an attempt to find an eagre looking Icardi on the lookout for this first domestic goal of the season. In addition, the surplus of men in the box with the opposite winger, Vecino and Nainggolan meant there were plenty of targets for the crosses.
The crosses came in, low, high, deep and otherwise but Inter could not connect to cause Alban Lafont any trouble. Fiorentina showed good organisation, strength and intelligent positioning to clear all of the balls being flung into their box.
Inter did however make the breakthrough off a cross. The video assistant referee adjudged that a Candreva cross was handballed by Fiorentina’s central defender Vitor Hugo. This gave Icardi the chance to open his Serie A account for the season from the penalty spot. He put the ball away with the conviction of a top striker and Inter will be hoping this sparks his season into life.
Poor passing hands Fiorentina their chances
Fiorentina were much less structured going forward and had problems creating quality chances from sustained possession play. The front three played very narrow and made runs past each other in all directions, however they were rarely found in positive positions and the Inter defence regained possession due to their well timed tackling and intercepting.
Fiorentina’s best chances came as a result of their high block and aggressive press when Inter were in possession. As mentioned before, they were clearly set up to prevent passes into Inter’s holding midfielder Brozović. In situations where Inter did attempt to play through midfield, Fiorentina rapidly collapsed If all players surrounding the opponent that has just received the ball immediately press him, that is called ‘collapsing’. This is often done when an opposing player in the center of the pitch receives the ball. onto Brozović, who repeatedly proved unable to deal with this and played the ball straight to a Fiorentina attacker in the Inter third of the pitch.
On one of these occasions the ball was quickly played beyond D’Ambrosio to Chiesa in the box. Only with a great save, getting low to the ball on the ground with his hand, was Samir Handanović able to keep Fiorentina from scoring.
For large spells of the game neither team was able to retain possession for any significant period of time. Both teams pressed with high energy in the middle of the field and were successful in breaking up play and regaining possession. However, Inter resorted to crosses rather quickly and Fiorentina were unable to link their narrow front three together. It was clear that this level of energy would be unsustainable for the entire match and if either side’s efforts dipped in this area their opponents would be handed an advantage.
In the 53rd minute, a long range shot from Chiesa deflected heavily off Škriniar and wrong footed Handanović so much he could not keep the ball out of the net. After his team scored the equalizer, Fiorentina’s manager Stefano Pioli identified this midfield area as the key battle to win and replaced the tiring Fernandes with Gerson. This positional straight swap had a big impact on Fiorentina’s ability to win midfield challenges for the ball and Fiorentina improved their ability to retain possession in Inter’s half and put pressure on the Inter defense.
Despite this pressure on his defense, D’Ambrosio continued to show a willingness to get forward when Inter could break and he was rewarded for his efforts in the 76th minute. A quick Inter throw on the right hand side was played to D’Ambrosio just outside the box. After playing a neat one-two with Icardi, D’Ambrosio found himself one-on-one with the goalkeeper and slotted the ball into the near post to put Inter 2-1 up.
Inter saw out the victory comfortably by replacing Perišić with Roberto Gagliardini who, along with Nainggolan and Brozović, created a compact midfield to further stifle Fiorentina’s attempts to create any forward movement from central positions.
Inter wrapped up a successful week in which they took nine points, six in Serie A and three in the Champions League. Their performances did not match with the results in these games however, and the Inter fans will still need to see improvement before feeling confident that these results will continue. Inter’s plan of attack has been very defined so far this season, with the most focus on creating space wide for the full backs to move into. Should opponents start reacting to this strategy in more competent ways, Inter will need to add variation and work the ball towards the box in other ways than by crossing.
Fiorentina will feel hard done by here. The VAR intervention to award Inter the penalty was marginal at best. With the score level at 1-1 in the second half, the smart personnel change of Gerson for Fernandes gave Fiorentina the upper hand for what seemed a crucial spell in the second half. In contrast to their game against Napoli, the offense also looked better against a top team from the Serie A. All in all an unlucky result for Pioli’s hard-working men.