Internazionale – Fiorentina: Lack of Risk-Taking Will Prove Costly (1-1)
A lethargic and slumped performance is not desired when maximum points are the minimum. Internazionale was adaptable but lacked cohesiveness, with neither team able to capitalize on each other’s imperfections.
Tactical analysis and match report by Joel Parker.
The Scudetto sprint had seen Inter stride into an impressive lead: a team whose structure has kept their strength, despite the change in coach and notable player sales. But since February, control of the crown has slipped out of their hands. Three wins in their last ten, in all competitions, has seen the race blow wide open. Inter had not just lost the derby or drawn away to fellow chasers Napoli, but defeat to Sassuolo and draws to Genoa and Torino, have seen Inzaghi’s team fall four points behind Milan, with a game in hand.
Their reign would face another stern threat in the form of Vincenzo Italiano’s Fiorentina. European ambitions took a huge blow in the sale of Dušan Vlahović, but their ball-heavy style has seen them control a lot of games and concede a small number of shots in the process, the least, per game, in Serie A. Inter have still created in their slump, but converting those chances has been uncharacteristically difficult, within recent weeks.
Marcelo Brozović’s injury has heavily affected Inter’s midfield dynamics: he was still unfit to feature in this game. Arturo Vidal was reintroduced into the midfield, one of three changes made by Inzaghi, following their draw to Torino. The remaining changes came on the right side, with Danilo D’Ambrosio in the backline, whilst Denzel Dumfries was also restored at wing-back.
Fiorentina’s big omission also came in the midfield, with Giacomo Bonaventura unavailable. They also made three changes, with Alfred Duncan taking his place. Lorenzo Venuti returned at right-back, whilst Riccardo Saponara returned to the left of their front three.
Old school ball, with Italiano
Vincenzo Italiano might be one of the younger coaches in Serie A, but his methods at Fiorentina have reflected an old school buildup style in the 4-3-3 formation. This has involved both fullbacks remaining deep when passes are exchanged around the back, rather than pinning or holding the width higher up the field.
As both Cristiano Biraghi and Lorenzo Venuti operated deeper, the wider center-midfielders, Duncan and Gaetano Castrovilli could drift out wide to connect play and allow the inverted wingers, Riccardo Saponara and Nicolás González, to move the ball onto their stronger feet. As the ball is moved forward, they are supported by late overlaps from the fullbacks.
Fiorentina’s slow buildup took center stage in the first fifteen minutes, which relied more upon the individual’s movements to move the ball through Inter’s 5-3-2/3-5-2 block, rather than predetermined patterns that must be followed.
5th minute: Buildup to González’s shot. High-pressure far side resulted in Vidal tucking in too close space in front of attackers, but opened space for Fiorentina to move the ball vertically on the other side of the field.
The visitors found some early success, by Inter’s far sided midfielder constantly tucking in to keep compactness in the center. This was more notable when Fiorentina passed towards the right: with Hakan Çalhanoğlu marking Lucas Torreira, Arturo Vidal had to move more central so the defenders weren’t exposed. If Ivan Perišić was pinned deeper, this allowed Castrovilli or Venuti to receive facing forwards.
Fiorentina was able to move into a few three-versus-two situations on the right, once the ball was out wide, they attempted to play the ball back inside to their narrow forwards, which caused further bunching of the Inter midfield. Italiano’s team moved the ball neatly on the tenth minute to enter the box, but Alessandro Bastoni met Venuti’s underlapping run to stop the cutback. Distanced shots from González and Saponara forced saves out of Samir Handanović, but also indicated the lack of substance once they had entered the final third. In both shooting scenarios, wider options were available which could’ve created a better quality attempt.
After positive initial phases, effectiveness from Fiorentina passes began to nosedive as Inter’s 3-5-2 high press forced a lot of pressure down the channels and Italiano’s team failed to capitalize on the switch or the lateral options that opened after they went more directly into the middle third.
Flexible Inter without the fluidity
Buildup phases switched from Fiorentina to Inter, now that their press forced the opposition longer. Despite positioning amongst Inter players being highly adaptable, without Brozović orchestrating and combinations developing, the Inter build was very dysfunctional to start.
Çalhanoğlu was responsible for the playmaking role that Brozović has made fundamental in their passing. He often moved into the left center-back space as the Inter backline split, their 3-5-2 system looked more like a 4-2-4 formation at times, with the wide center-backs on the touchline and the two wingbacks pushing as high as the forwards. This may have been flexible, but Inter failed to break the lines with little support beyond Barella and Vidal, whilst passing moves amongst Inter were noticeably looser and broke down more often than usual.
Fiorentina sat in a 4-2-3-1 high block, drawn more towards restricting the space behind than engaging with the center-backs high up the field. Torreira pushed up to man-mark Çalhanoğlu, without following his opposite number into the defensive line, whilst Duncan and Castrovilli were also man-orientated towards Barella and Vidal. Inter were restricted, blunted and failed to establish combinations with one another, although variations between Perišić dropping and Vidal pushing up could offer an out ball.
30th minute: Player positions on Bastoni’s pass to Perišić, which created an out ball from Fiorentina pressure. Notice how distorted the positioning of Inter’s midfielders was, whilst no patterns were produced to exploit the huge space that could be drawn.
Later in the half, a more fixed Inter structure saw the hosts create the better chances of the half, as the more advanced midfielders could engage higher up and space on the right for Denzel Dumfries offered an outlet.
It was a Dumfries cross that found Vidal free inside the box, as a high turnover saw space open between Igor Julio and Nikola Milenković, with both occupied by the two strikers. Vidal’s shot was high and wide, the best opportunity so far. Inter would have the ball in the net, thanks to neat work from Edin Džeko and Lautaro Martínez off a throw, as well as Vidal’s run which kept Biraghi infield, whilst Dumfries was free. Martínez may have finished, but the timing of the run was just off.
A slow game breaks character
Despite the stakes, the first half failed to properly break into life. Inter showcased promise by smoothing out some problems but had created very little, whilst Fiorentina shot sporadically. The start of the second half bucked this trend for a short period, as Fiorentina found more patience and Inter brought danger with their directness.
49th minute: Buildup to Fiorentina goal. Castrovilli’s disguise pass puts González through after the winger and fullback drew Inter’s left side away from the box. Poor reaction from the backline, which saw their halfspace massively exposed.
Neither team takes the reigns
Inter’s approach on the ball had focused more on getting the ball over the midfield and towards their charging wingbacks or in front of the two strikers. This did offer more threat, but without baiting Fiorentina into a proper high press, space between the double pivot and the defense was not big enough. Duncan and Castrovilli could support the backline quickly, whilst Dumfries and Perišić made their runs from deep positions, not causing penetration behind the defensive line where either striker could flick on.
Nonetheless, Inzaghi’s team did get into good positions and areas where a cross offered a threat, especially when aimed around the back post area. One of these crosses created a messy exchange, as Martínez was brought down by Venuti and the referee pointed to the spot. Following VAR review, the penalty was cancelled and a golden opportunity missed.
With twenty-five minutes left, the cancelled spot-kick indicated the end of either team taking control of the game. Both teams sank into an uncreative conclusion, a rare occasion for elite games to finish. The direct game plan from Inter failed to get the ball into dangerous areas, whilst Fiorentina didn’t adapt their methods and couldn’t combine down the channels.
Both sides had half-decent opportunities to snatch the points at the death. Substitute Alexis Sánchez had a shot deflect just over the crossbar, whilst new signing Jonathan Ikoné left Çalhanoğlu for dead on the transition, but his shot was from a narrow-angle and stopped by Handanović.
Another huge blow for Inter, combined on a Saturday where both Napoli and Milan picked up points. Even if they win the game in hand, three points would still separate them from their city rivals. Their reign as champions has hit heavy turbulence, and next weeks Derby d’Italia could bring the rallying cry or kiss of death on their Scudetto dreams.
It’s a result more favorable to Fiorentina, but still not as preferable with at least one of Lazio or Roma guaranteed to drop points this weekend. It begs the question as to why this game fell into the bizarre game state that it did. With lofty ambitions established by both, neither team rolled the dice to take control at the end. In a slow match, a half-hour spell of conservatism from both could prove very costly at the end of the season.
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