Inter Milan: Talking Tactics
Tactics is a subject that fascinates me. A subject I am constantly trying to improve my knowledge and understanding of. I’m always interested in how teams set up and why. One formation I have never been keen on is any that starts with 3 at the back. Maybe it was down to lack of understanding, maybe a little ignorance on my part but for me it’s always been simple, 4 at the back at all times
Over the last 12 months or so, anyone who follows Serie A may have noticed that a lot of teams have adopted the three at the back approach, and it’s slowly growing on me. At the beginning of the season it was obvious things were not clicking for Inter and all the talk of what formation to adopt was a common subject. When saw Inter line up with three at the back, all I could think of was Palermo away, Novara away under Gasperini. I was a worried man.
Several games down the line I find myself trying to use three at the back on football manager, which is obviously a clear mark of approval. To be fair to Strama, he came out and said we can’t find the right balance playing with four at the back and a change was needed for the team to progress. Huge respect for the guy to come and say such a thing.
So how’s Strama setting up?
At home, we seem to go for two centre midfielders and have 3 up top, whether that be one behind a front two or one up top with two wide. You still with me?
With the extra man going up top making a trident, we obviously look much better going forward and seem a stronger threat. But having the 3 in the middle away from home makes us hard to break down, which with 9 away wins so far this season, speaks for itself.
The way Strama set up in our recent victory over Juventus surprised many, including myself. Considering we were playing Juventus away, a side unbeaten in 49 who owe a lot to the quality of their midfield, we went with our more attacking system. We sat with Gargano and Cambiasso in the middle and Palacio, Cassano and Milito were our trident. When out of possession one of the tridente, mostly Palacio, would sit between the midfield and front line to reduce the time that Pirlo had on the ball. For me, this was a clear mark of intention from Strama. To me, he’s saying we are aware of the threats of our opponents, but we will play our way and not fear others, we respect you but we are Inter.
There is a lot of hype about how to deal with Pirlo and rightly so, but the courage, strength of character and guts to play such an attacking system really shows the intelligence of the current Inter coach. There is such a fine line between winning and losing, and no doubt if we had lost, people would have said he’s too young and naive and should have started with 3 in the middle. But that’s football.
Whilst at 1-1, Guarin was brought on to replace Cassano. Guarin took a place in the midfield, adding some fresh legs and some power to the middle. Guarin was obviously instrumental in the winning goal, winning the ball back, bringing it forward with a decent long-range effort and allowing Milito to finish the rebound. The Juve game was just a perfect night for Strama, he showcased his knowledge of the tactical side of the game and showed the rest of Serie A, that it’s time to sit up and recognise his Inter.
Some key points on how Strama has Inter set up
- Not afraid to allow opponents to have the ball – allow little space for opponents – built to frustrate and suffocate teams then hit on counter
- Work as a unit and function as a team, moving forward and back, working collectively.
- Space between lines must be narrow – compact in all areas, front line have to work to reduce space and slow opponents down to allow time for back 3 to reshape. If not compact and team loses shape, even the weaker teams will walk right through.
- Keep compact and keep the shape, then teams will really struggle to break through. Much like the derby, Milan left with long-range shots and deep crosses.
- Forwards pressing spaces to allow time for the midfield and defence to organise
- Creative freedom to the front 3. Allows Milito to be a poacher in the box, and others to go wide, drop deep or press higher.
- Ability to switch efficiently from defence to attack, in and out of possession.
- When chasing a game or against weaker opponents, the side can sit higher up the pitch to sustain pressure (from the games I have seen of Inter, I have seen little of this). We tend to sit deeper and press spaces and areas instead of pressuring opponents as an entire 11.
- A centre midfielder such as Cambiasso can be placed in the back 3 to help with moving the ball about and bringing it out of defence. (An approach that’s been seen at Bilbao previously and Barca) And with the injuries to Ranocchia and Samuel we may see more of this.
- Width from the full backs, offensively cause problems and defensively takes up space for opponents attacking full backs and wide players. Nagatomo has thrived in this role, a player I have never really rated has impressed me recently in this position.
The amount of clean sheets away from home is testament to the formation’s ability to shut out the opponents. Mistakes will happen but doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work or a player is poor. But if the team work at it and work together and gel as a team, it will be effective more often than not. Since we started using this formation against the likes of Chievo and Torino, you can clearly see the players are much more confident and comfortable with the style of play. As games have passed, it’s evident that the players are gaining in confidence and as such, we are attacking more compared to earlier encounters in the season.
I am interested to see how Wes is incorporated into this system. Perhaps Wes could take a role in the centre in front of two centre midfielders in that role that Palacio took up against Juve and Coutinho took up against Fiorentina. Sitting a little deeper than his days under Mourinho, but protected by two others. In that role, Wes will be able to spray his passes about, drop in to spaces and help dictate the play. A doubt I have is will he be bullied too much? Once Wes has his ankles clipped a few times, he tends to get frustrated and greedy which is obviously something opponents will look to exploit. Don’t get me wrong, I am a fan of Wes and if anyone can get him to adapt his game and work for the team more like the treble winning season, then that man is Stramaccioni.
The thing I am enjoying most about this formation is, there is a core structure to the set up but minor tweaks can make a huge difference, where as perhaps in other formations there are greater restrictions. The formation allows the entire field to be covered, allowing for fewer weakness. For example, 4312 is a favourite of mine but is obviously narrow, especially if opponents take full backs out of the game, where as the current system seems much harder to defend and attack against. Time will tell how much Strama likes this formation and how long he wishes to use it, but it’s clear he has a great tactical understanding and can read a game and adapt effectively. Those skills and abilities matched with a club that is growing for the future must bring trophies, right?