In this week's tactical analysis, we once again return to Serie A during one of the most intense title races we have seen in ages. Inter hosted Juventus in a 2-0 win that saw the experienced Antonio Conte tactically outclass new coach and Juventus manager Andrea Pirlo from start to finish.
In terms of xG, Inter were clear of Juventus leading it 1.41 to 0.43. Inter consistently created quality chances, while using different tactics when going forward to keep Juventus guessing as to what their next move might be. Meanwhile, Juventus struggled to even get the ball into midfield courtesy of Inter’s rigid mid-block.
In this analysis we will be discussing Inter’s build-up play, defensive structure and how they looked to attack Juventus, while also analyzing how everything went wrong for Juventus.
Inter lined-up in what is considered to be their strongest team and formation. A very disciplined 5-3-2 in defense, with the flexibility to become a sort of 3-3-4 in attack, with the wing-backs Ashley Young and Anchraf Hakimi acting as wingers, and Nicola Barella linking play between midfielders Marcelo Brozovic and Arturo Vidal to the forward players.
Juventus were missing Paulo Dybala and Matthijs de Ligt, the only real players worth noting as Dybala is the link between midfield and attack for Juventus this season, and de Ligt has reinforced his reputation as one of the brightest defensive prospects in the world. Juventus lined-up in a 4-4-2 that shifted to a 3-4-3 in attack, with Aaron Ramsey tucking in more centrally, and Federico Chiesa joining the forward line of Cristiano Ronaldo and Alvaro Morata.
Moving the ball from defense to the midfield was a struggle for Juventus from the first moment to the last in this match. Lautaro Martínez and Romelu Lukaku were tasked with screening the Juventus midfield players. In the example below, it’s just Rodrigo Bentancur. Aaron Ramsey is too far from the action, but was monitored by Barella often. On the ball is Leonardo Bonucci. He has no midfield passing option, just the wide right full-back Danilo, and his more forward teammates. Juventus rarely had high quality passing options in this match, thanks to Inter’s intelligent screening.
Juventus struggled to create chances in this match for many reasons, the first one being the lack of service to the midfield players. Below, we see once again that Lukaku and Martínez are screening Bentancur, with Barella keeping a close eye on Ramsey as we see play move to the right side of the pitch to Chiellini. Juventus were forced to make sideways passes that never threatened Inter. Once the ball moved to either side of the pitch, that flanks widest players would lead the press. For example, Lukaku and Barella look to change direction below. If Juventus were to move forward, right wing-back Hakimi would be able to help press.
Inter have tactically astute and versatile players, comfortable trading defensive duties in-between transitions. Below we see an example of just that. Chiellini steps into the Inter half, so Hakimi presses the closest the widest player, Frabotta. When Hakimi presses, the space left behind him could be occupied by Ramsey. To prevent any threat, Barella marked Ramsey and would follow him as Ramsey went further into Inter’s final third.
Juventus often tried to overload players on one side of the pitch to create chances for themselves. To defend against this, Inter remained in their 5-3-2 shape. Young steps to Ronaldo, who has the ball. Bastoni marks Rabiot, while Barella and Brozovic pay close attention to Juventus’ central passing options. Inter’s defensive shape can be seen illustrated by the yellow lines below.
Mentioned previously was Juventus’ recurring theme of overloading one side of the pitch. While a solid tactic, it should not be the only one you use. Below, Barella can be seen starting one of the many Inter counter-attacks we saw in this match. When Juventus attempted these overloads, they would leave the opposite flank vulnerable.
To compound this problem, Juventus also deployed a very high defensive line consisting of 36 year old Giorgio Chiellini and 33 year old Leonardo Bonucci, players not known for their speed. Juventus foolishly overloaded the left side of the pitch and pushed Frabotta up to the opposite flank to add width. As soon as possession was lost, Inter punished Juventus with their quick counters.
Below we see a five versus five matchup in Inter’s half as they build-up play from defense on the flank. Barella was given freedom to roam where he was needed as Inter’s main creative outlet, so, he would help link play from a deeper midfielder like Brozovic in the example below, to the attack. Lukaku sits on the shoulder of the last defender while Hakimi sits in the lowest part of the middle third of the pitch.
Inter can draw Juventus players to the wide area because they know Barella will find space to play in so he can receive the ball. Juventus often switched between a narrow and compact low-block to an aggressive press in Inter’s half. However, as we saw, these different defending styles did not complement each other well. The players seemed in two minds tactically and this indecisiveness proved costly on the pitch.
Below we see an example of Inter’s build-up play and how Juventus never threatened to win the ball high up the field. In the build-up phase, Inter would switch from a back five to a back four, while one defender stepped into midfield. In this example, it’s Stefan de Vrij. Now, Inter have three midfield passing options in addition to their wing-back teammates Young and Hakimi. Antonio Conte has set-up his team so that they will always have passing options when trying to play out of their defense.
When playing out from the back, Inter would use the flanks to draw a Juventus press while Inter’s midfielders moved into the space left behind. Below, we see just that. Brozovic is about to receive the ball. He has an immediate passing option in front of him in Hakimi, who has lost his marker Frabotta. Brozovic has drawn three pressing Juventus players, leaving space for Barella and Vidal to drop into. Inter would not stay on the flanks longer than they needed to, and would look to move the ball centrally, to a player like Vidal below, as soon as possible in order to start an attack.
Going forward, Inter would deploy wing-backs Hakimi and Young high up the pitch, tasking them with stretching the Juventus backline so that a midfielder like Brozovic or Vidal could exploit the gaps in defense with late runs into the box. Below we see how Hakimi had pulled Juventus’ left full-back Frabotta out of position, while also encouraging Ramsey to leave his midfield position to help defend. The Inter attacking line, illustrated by the black lines, goes man-for-man against the Juventus defensive line, illustrated by the yellow lines, while also dragging the entire Juventus midfield deeper into their own half. Inter committed six players going forward, but Juventus needed seven to defend due how easily Inter exploited the wide areas.
When Juventus remained narrow, Inter would have one of the wing-backs tuck in more centrally, while the other stayed wide. Below we see Young on the left wing, while Hakimi moves centrally. On the ball is Brozovic, looking to play Barella who can exploit the right wide space. Juventus struggled to defend the wide spaces and central areas, especially when Inter attacked both at the same time. To defend against this, Juventus should have tasked Ramsey and Chiesa to man-mark Hakimi and Young. .
Conte bested Pirlo tactically from the start. Juventus did not look prepared to defend against Inter on the counter-attack, nor when Inter were able to enjoy long spells of possession. Going forward, we only saw one idea from Juventus, and that was to allow Ronaldo to go to any flank he wanted so that he could help overload that flank. Additionally, Juventus rarely got out of their own half despite only having to get past Lukaku and Martínez, the first line in the Inter mid-block. Juventus did not play like Serie A champions, and are not showing that they deserve to be in the conversation for who will be crowned 2020/2021 Serie A champions.
Inter on the other hand, are now joint first with rivals AC Milan, who have a game in hand over Inter, and are playing some very entertaining football. Conte has been criticized heavily for his poor substitute choices this season, and deservedly so, however, that may be the only real shortcoming of this Inter side. As long as Conte doesn't tinker with his squad too much when it comes time to make substitutes, Inter will remain favorites for the Serie A title just as much as AC Milan.