UC Sampdoria – Internazionale: Inter claim victory in hard-fought away game at Samp (0-1)
Internazionale looked like being held to a goalless stalemate away at UC Sampdoria had it not been for Marcelo Brozović’s superb last-gasp winner. The home side began strong, but it was Inter’s sustained pressure and tactical tweaks that arguably sealed the win for Luciano Spalletti’s men.
Marco Giampaolo’s Sampdoria has found their feet in the new Serie A season. Samp won twice, drawn once, netted an impressive nine times and only conceded once since their opening day defeat at Udinese. So, heading into this one, the side would have been more than confident of getting a result on their own turf.
Thanks to their form, it should come as little surprise that Giampaolo made very few changes from their catch-up match with Fiorentina. First-team regular Bartosz Bereszyński replaced Jacopo Sala at right-back and Gianluca Caprari was swapped out for Gastón Ramírez at the number ten position in Giampaolo’s typical diamond system.
On the other side, Luciano Spalletti’s Inter came into this off the back of a crucial last-minute win against Tottenham Hotspur in the first game of their Champions League campaign.
Though the performance still left some questions to be asked of the Milan side, the late comeback allowed fans to breathe a sigh of relief after a worrying start to the season.
Spalletti also made two changes to his side, as Milan Škriniar returned to his favoured position as right-sided centre-half. To facilitate the change, Danilo D’Ambrosio returned to right-back with Stefan de Vrij making way. Further up the pitch, Antonio Candreva rotated in for Ivan Perišić.
The positionioning from all players. The ball is displayed at the feet of Inter’s right central defender Milan Škriniar.
Final third struggles
Sampdoria was very comfortable playing out from their own half, or box, even. Samp displayed excellent combination play in tight areas, and the far midfielder dropping towards the ball helped to connect play into the far side when necessary against Inter’s attempted press that always seemed to be outnumbered.
It was higher up the pitch, though, where Samp’s possession game began to lose its decisiveness. Though its combination play was at times outstanding, maintaining possession in the tightest of areas, Sampdoria never managed to manufacture any openings from it.
Whilst the finger could be pointed at Samp for its lack of attacking threat, it also came down to Inter’s incredibly compact 4-4-2 shape. With the defence remaining fairly stretched to cover width on the far-side, the midfield line squeezed over to the ball-side.
Inter’s compact 4-4-2 on display.
It was the next phase of their possession approach that really stifled them. Left-back Nicola Murru was the host’s free man down the left side. But, as opposed to being the touchline-bearer on his side, he was positioned very deep. This way he could provide an easy link into the far side whilst providing defensive cover against counter-attacks.
The main issue here, however, was that he had very little in the way of support once the ball had arrived at his feet. His only plan seemed to be to try and play into the nearby striker, Fabio Quagliarella. Inter had clearly anticipated this with the stretched backline and easily blocked the lane into the striker and were either able to shut out both sides.
Despite both teams’ varied control of the first half, neither were able to create any kind of half-chances, let alone clear-cut ones. It was only Radja Nainggolan that came close, after his goal was ruled out by VAR shortly before the break.
Inter struggle to cope with Samp’s intensity off the ball
To a much worse extent, Inter also struggled in possession. Unlike in a lot of games featuring Spalletti’s Inter, this one did not feature the asymmetrical back-three quite as much. Commonly, D’Ambrosio would sit deeper with the centre-backs whilst the left-back pushed up into more of a wing-back position. Here, that was not the case. Maybe with the intention of trying to stretch out the Sampdoria shape as much as possible, D’Ambrosio and Asamoah constantly held wide positions.
Inter’s intended plan did not quite pay off though. This could be seen after goal kicks more than anything else. With the slow tempo that is set when playing out from a goal kick, it was easy pickings for the home side. With Sampdoria’s strikers Quagliarella and Gregoire Defrel pressing their respective centre-backs, Dennis Praet and Karol Linetty were tasked with pressing the full-backs whilst remaining slightly narrow to cover any passes into either of Inter’s two holding midfielders, Matías Vecino and Marcelo Brozović. And, of course, Gastón Ramírez, had the role of simply covering whichever of the two midfielders was nearest to the ball. The almost man-for-man setup made it easier for Samp to press with greater intensity and subsequently force a mistake.
Inter’s failure to utilise the man over
In the middle third of the pitch, Inter was a lot more comfortable, but still encountered problems. Throughout the first half, they tried to recycle the ball and open up spaces, but did so without stretching Samporia’s defense enough. Vecino and Brozović were not combining well enough positionally or with the ball. When a center-back played into one, the other rarely tried to do anything to create more space for his midfield counterpart. These static movements made Inter’s midfield duo easy to contain.
Above all, though, it was the severe lack of usage of the wide players that cost Inter for much of the first half. Against a side setting up in a narrow diamond, it was crucial to try and work the narrow shape across from side-to-side as much as possible. Even in the very few situations when Brozović had been given some time in the centre, he resorted to playing into the full-backs rather than getting his head up and aiming for the wingers.
Icardi being starved of service
The problems continued further up the pitch for Inter, too. This was also in part due to Samp’s defensive organisation that made it so hard for them to generate chances from crosses.
When the ball was waiting to be crossed in, the three-man midfield collapsed into the defensive line. The allocated wide midfielder doubled up with the full-back whilst Albin Ekdal covered the gaping space between the full-back and centre-backs. On the other side, the remaining midfielder filed in to further suffocate the spaces in the box.
Matters were only made worse by the crossing technique Inter displayed. Having started with inverted wingers in Candreva and Matteo Politano, all the crosses coming in were floated in-swingers from the corners of the box. Even though that can be an effective crossing strategy, Inter never came near to testing the goalkeeper. Even if the ball had managed to reach the head of an attacker in the crowd, that player had no chance of generating enough power from such a distance to find the back of the net.
Second half alterations help Inter take firmer control
There were very few tweaks in the second half, but two of which were important in seeing Inter take firmer control of the game. Switching left-footed Politano to the left and right-footed Candreva to the right, meant the two wingers did not have to cut in all the time and that they could play more dangerous, faster-paced crosses into the near post.
What’s more, Spalletti had clearly emphasised the need for Brozović to keep switching play from side-to-side. Combining better with Vecino and Nainggolan in the centre and playing off each other to become a nuisance for Ramírez, Brozović was constantly finding space for himself.
From this came the away side’s best chance of the game. Brozović was afforded some space between the strikers before playing a delightful diagonal switch into Candreva, whose low, dipping cross into the near post met the head of Mauro Icardi, who could not convert.
It was clear to see that Samp’s workrate in wide areas had dropped. In response, Giampaolo acted by replacing the two wide midfielders, Praet and Linetty, with Jakub Jankto and Édgar Baretto respectively on the hour mark. This aimed to achieve the same defensive intensity as before, but Inter’s sustained pressure was still ongoing. In the meantime, Spalletti swapped things up by replacing Candreva with Keita Baldé and Politano with Perišić.
Inter was desperate to score the winner and pumped a lot of players forward. So nearly did they make the breakthrough again before Kwadwo Asamoah’s exquisite shot from range was ruled out after another big VAR review. Only minutes later, Samp had a goal in the net not count as Defrel quite clearly mistimed his run through on goal and was offside.
After an exhausting final fifteen minutes, the breakthrough eventually came. With little over a minute left, Brozović picked up the loose ball off the back of a cross and brilliantly drilled it home from a wide angle to take all three points.
In a game where they should have taken a point, Sampdoria’s manager Giampaolo should not feel too displeased with his side’s performance, as it adds to the growing list of strong performances so far this season.
Two unconvincing performances but nonetheless two wins for Spalletti’s men. They might finally begin to find the confidence now to play to the level that the recent results have demanded. For now, question marks still hang over the head of the Italian coach and how far he can take this Inter side.