Tactical analysis Inter - Bologna 0-1 Serie A

Internazionale – Bologna FC: Wretched And Uninspiring Offensive Performance By Inter Leads To Shock Home Defeat (0-1)

Bologna had won only two Serie A games so far, but managed to take a fully deserved three points back home from the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza. Inter’s first half display might have been poor, what they showed in the second half was nothing short of dreadful. Apart from some deep crosses, they were not able to create chances against Serie A’s number eighteen.

Tactical analysis and match report by Erik Elias.

Bologna traveled north to play this match under a well-known dynamic in the world of football: a new manager at the helm! Filippo Inzaghi apparently is better at poaching goals than managing football teams, as he has now been sacked by three clubs in a row. Bologna’s new manager is called Siniša Mihajlović, who knows the Serie A like the back of his hand. This is his seventh job as head coach in Italy, and actually the second spell at Bologna, as Mihajlović started his managerial career there in 2008.

Inzaghi had been switching between formations throughout the season, largely deploying three central defenders, before switch back to four at the back in the last two matches before his dismissal. Mihajlović maintained that shape, but shook up the starting lineup a bit, fielding four different names. The midfield  consisted of captain Andrea Poli, combative midfielder Erick Pulgar and Roberto Soriano. Soriano’s role made it quite hard to say whether it counts as a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 shape, so we will leave that to the devotees of the ‘every football tactic must be numbered’ fan club. Lyanco, a Brazilian defender freshly bought from Torino, made his first start as a center-back.

Internazionale played their customary 4-2-3-1 formation, with Radja Nainggolan shortly behind Mauro Icardi and Ivan Perišić and Antonio Candreva on the wings. At right back, new boy Cédric Soares made his Serie A debut, after coming in as a substitute in Inter’s Coppa d’Italia loss against Lazio. Inter had gathered only one point from their last two league games, so it is fair to say there was quite some pressure on this match.

Preview Inter - Bologna 0-1 Serie A

Match prediction, standings and implications going into the weekend.

Bologna open match positively

Bologna fluffed their very first buildup, as Poli intended to pass the ball to his goalkeeper, but fed Mauro Icardi inside the penalty area. Icardi missed the chance in wild fashion, as his shot went far wide. It would turn out to be Inter’s biggest chance of the match, and it came inside forty seconds… This also serves as a great example of how random the outcome of a game is, sometimes.

After that start, Bologna kept their calm and followed their game plan. Knowing Inter lost with a one goal deficit, as a reader, you might think this would be a story about how Inter failed down to break down Bologna’s tight defense. Even though that element certainly will come into play later on, the first twenty-five minutes or so, this game was played mostly on Inter’s half. Bologna opened very positive, trying to press Inter when they commenced their buildup by letting Soriano aid striker Federico Santander and letting midfielders Poli and Pulgar step up in his back.

The way Bologna tried to press Inter’s build-up. Ball displayed at the feet of Inter’s center-back Milan Škriniar

The way Bologna tried to press Inter’s buildup. Ball displayed at the feet of Inter’s center-back Milan Škriniar.

This man-oriented pressing approach worked well, as Inter were forced to play long balls, which were then mostly picked up by Bologna. The much-praised triangle Stefan de Vrij, Milan Škriniar and Marcelo Brozović was unable to deal with this pressure, and the space – which was either on the other side or with number ten Nainggolan – was seldom found.

In possession, Bologna’s approach was less pronounced. They circulated the ball among their four defenders and the goalkeeper, pretending to play out from the back. As soon as Inter stepped out with some players, they played a long aerial ball in the general direction of their attackers. Most of their danger came from the left side, which featured Rodrigo Palacio – former Inter poacher, now more of a hard-working left winger – and the energetic Dutch left back Mitchell Dijks.

Inter rarely enjoyed long spells of possession on Bologna’s half, and the match continued in more or less the same rhythm for the entire first half, as chances were scarce. In the 28th minute, Soriano and Santander combined through the middle brilliantly, as the latter’s shot was stopped by Inter’s goalkeeper Samir Handanovič. Four minutes later, there was no denying Santander, as he very powerfully headed in a corner at the near post.

Asymmetric formation does not help Inter

After a very poor first half, Inter manager Luciano Spalletti decided to introduce striker Lautaro Martínez for Candreva. To go with this personnel change, the manager instilled a sort of 4-4-2 / 4-3-3 hybrid shape, wherein Vecino was constantly shuttling between central midfield and the right wing. Nainggolan was put into central midfield alongside Brozović.

General positioning and movements in Inter’s shape after half-time. Bologna depicted in their 4-4-1-1 / 4-5-1 shape.

General positioning and movements in Inter’s shape after half-time. Bologna depicted in their 4-4-1-1 / 4-5-1 shape.

The only offensive output Inter could produce in their new formation was crossing. They very rarely managed to have the ball in the zone just behind their two prolific Argentine strikers, and relied strictly on flank play to create offense.

Now, there are a lot of positions to cross the ball from in football. A low cutback cross from just inside the penalty area is perfectly fine, as is an inswinger from either 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 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. To get in these fortuitous positions, a team needs some slick interplay, an attacker dribbling past his defender because he is put in a one-versus-one situation, a well-timed through ball for a winger to run into, a winger dribbling inside to a purposefully created space…

The entire second half, Inter were rarely able to do this. Their crosses came either from their fullbacks, who launched it from very deep, or from their wingers who were never put into one-versus-one situations, always one-versus-two or two-versus-two at best. Because Inter regularly managed to pick up the clearance, it looked like a true barrage at times, even though true danger was not omnipresent.

Of course, it yielded some chances, since Inter still have a great winger in Perišić and a great striker in Icardi. In the 65th minute, Martínez had a fine chance from a set-piece. In the 70th minute, after a half-counter, Perišić chipped in a fine ball, which fell for Icardi again, who missed. In the 75th minute, substitute João Mário dribbled inside and chipped in a cross with his left, which was headed in the goalkeepers hands by Martínez.

Passmap Inter - Bologna 0-1 Serie A

Andrea Ranocchia symbolizes Inter’s total lack of ideas

After all these missed half-chances, Spalletti decided to bring on Andrea Ranocchia in the 78th minute to force the issue. Nearly two meters tall, Ranocchia is a towering presence inside the box, but it is still quite shabby for a club as big as Inter to rely on a center-back that never gets any playing time to act as a striker when you desperately need a goal.

Inter switched to a 3-2-5 formation, with Perišić, Icardi, Ranocchia, Martínez and Mario now forming the front line. With Inter pumping in ball after ball, Bologna’s defense stood tall and headed away every serious opportunity, lead by Lyanco, who impressed in his Bologna debut.

Only two small chances ensued in the closing stage of the game. Ironically, it was Ranocchia who got on the end of a fine chance from a set piece. The imposing Italian showed he is not a natural attacker, as his strike was saved by Bologna’s excellent goalkeeper Łukasz Skorupski. In the very last minute of the game, Martínez had another half chance from the edge of the box, but put it just wide. After that, the referee signaled the end of the match and Bologna had won a Serie A match for just the third time this season.

Expected goals plot Inter - Bologna 0-1 Serie A


Spalletti should worry by now. His team’s buildup play was very easily derailed by a very ordinary pressing Bologna team. The offensive patterns are nowhere to be seen as the team looks truly disjointed in attack. Inter have a very hard time in all phases of play except maybe defending. With one point gathered from the last three Serie A matches, it is truly crisis time and Spalletti and his team should quickly show what they are made of, if they want to rescue their season.

Even though Inter were poor, this is a monumental boost for Bologna. For the first time in his career, Mihajlović managed to win in his first match at a new club. Bologna can build on this, even though they are still in the relegation zone. This Sunday afternoon, Bologna are host to mid-table Genoa, which should offer some possibilities to make this shock defeat the beginning of a streak.

Use the arrows to scroll through all available match plots.

Erik Elias (27) is co-founder and chief editor of Between The Posts. Dutch, so admires Johan Cruijff and his football principles, but enjoys writing about other styles as well. Former youth coach. Videoscout at digital scouting consultancy 11tegen11. 'Quality without results is pointless. Results without quality is boring.' [ View all posts ]


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