In this week’s tactical analysis we take a look at the Serie A match between Roma vs Inter Milan. Second versus third with only three points separating the two teams, and only nine points separating first and fifth. It would prove to be an entralling spectacle between two evenly matched sides, with Inter fighting back to lead 2-1 and looking set for victory before a late Mancini header restored parity at the death (2-2).
The xG of this match (Roma 1.00 - 1.94 Inter) showed that Inter dominated the game in terms of quality of chances. If Inter are to be considered Serie A title challengers however, these types of matches will prove to be costly at the end of the season. They were unable to shut up shop accordingly. In this article we will focus on both side’s use of overlapping center-backs, different ideas in the build-up, and a comparison between the Inter and Roma attacking patterns.
Both sides deployed a system that would allow them to use their wide center-backs to overlap their respective wings. This was done to help overload their opponent’s last line of defense. Both teams have routinely used a three center-back system this season, with the ability to turn into a five at the back system when the wing-backs come back to defend.
Roma’s 3-4-2-1 was fluid, with the exception of Edin Dzeko who remained central for the entire game. Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Lorenzo Pellegrini were given the freedom to roam where they could find space, with Mkhitaryan often coming more central to play a sort of “number 10” creative role. Most of Roma’s possession went through Jordan Veretout who completed 78 passes, with 42 of them going into Inter’s half. Ibañez and Gianluca Mancini were given the responsibility of overlapping their wings, while Chris Smalling almost always remained central.
Inter’s 3-5-2 was very rigid in defense, but fluid going forward. The only exception being Marcelo Brozovic, who was responsible for dropping into Inter’s defensive line to carry possession further up the pitch and orchestrating attacks from midfield. He created seven chances and earned two assists. 45 of his passes were made in his own half, showing how critical his presence was in Inter’s build-up play from defense. Achraf Hakimi and Matteo Darmian (who was soon replaced by Ashley Young through injury) provided width for Inter, but it was center-back Alessandro Bastoni who impressed the most. Bastoni would join the attack as an overlapping center-back as we will see in this analysis.
Below we can see Brozovic dropping between center-backs Milan Skriniar and Stefan de Vrij. Bastoni takes up the left full-back role, and Barella comes deep to retrieve the ball. This creates a five versus four scenario that favors Inter, ensuring an easy way to maintain possession and wait for opportunities to present themselves. Roma are not an intense pressing team, but they do remain narrow when defending, so using the width provided by Bastoni and Skriniar is crucial. Hakimi and Darmian are not pictured because they have joined Inter’s forward line. If Roma press this set up, then an excellent passer like Brozovic can exploit the space left behind to find his wide wing-backs.
Roma would only commit Dzeko, Pellegrini, Veretout and Mkhitaryan forward like we see below. The front four would not press, rather just keep players like de Vrij and Brozovic in their sights, forcing Inter to play a long, over the top pass, or play wide. Both of these options were favourable for Inter as they had wide players in their own half and Roma’s. This Roma press would not last long as Inter frequently played around it.
Roma frequently used Ibañez or Spinazzola on the left side of the pitch to build possession from. Below we see Spinazzola on the ball. Mkhitaryan comes into the space left by the pressing Barella and Brozovic, and then can lay off a pass to Ibañez. An easy one-two pass combination. Inter rarely pressed into Roma’s final third of the pitch, instead choosing to deploy a mid-block all too aware of Roma's ability to play out of the press.
Below we see the mid-block from Inter. To beat this, Roma would use one of their wider center-backs, in this example Ibañez, to carry the ball into midfield while the wing-back pushes forward. Here, Spinazzola moves forward to Hakimi. Barella leaves the Inter midfield to press the space Ibañez is entering, while Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez keep an eye on Ibañez’s sideways passing options. This style of build-up allows Roma to fracture the Inter defensive structure enough to move the ball forward, as it draws another Inter player deeper into the Roma half.
The tactical theme of this week’s analysis is overlapping center-backs. Both Inter and Roma used this to overload each other’s midfield and defensive lines. Inter did it to greater effect however. Up first, we have Roma’s Ibañez entering the Inter half, drawing Brozovic. Barella covers Mkhitaryan, but Hakimi has left space for Roma’s left wing-back, Spinazzola, to occupy. Mkhitaryan, Spinazzola and now Ibañez are all able to play on the same side of the pitch. Brozovic and Barella cannot play against three Roma players who will always have Veretout to return a pass to. Roma did not use this advantage to its fullest potential.
Below we see Inter’s Bastoni on the ball, carrying it up Roma’s right flank. When Inter use an overlapping center-back in attack, it creates a front five made up of Young, Martinez, Lukaku, Barella (or Vidal, they rotated in this attacking role) and Hakimi (pulling out wide waiting for a switch of play). This gives Inter five attackers versus five defenders. A routine training ground exercise. While this happened, Martinez and Lukaku would take turns dropping deeper to draw a Roma defender out of position, while the other would make a run in behind.
We can isolate Inter’s overlapping center-back tactic even more. De Vrij is on the ball below. Bastoni and Young are playing on the same side. Karsdorp is the widest Roma defender, so he must defend Inter’s widest attacker, however, Young can sit inside the Roma defensive line and drop deep at the same time, encouraging Roma defender Mancini to leave their defensive position. While Young does this, Bastoni can make that overlapping run we usually see full-backs and wing-backs make. This is how Inter routinely created two versus two scenarios on either side of the pitch. While this overlapping center-back problem persists, Inter also encourage the opposite flank’s wing-back to push high and wide into Roma’s half. In this example, it is Hakimi.
When Bastoni stopped terrorizing Roma defenders, Inter would set up as we see below. Darmian/Young and Hakimi occupy the flanks and hug the touchline in an attempt to stretch the Roma defense. Martinez and Lukaku remain central, while one of Inter’s midfielders would look to make late runs forward. In this example, Barella stays between the Roma defensive and midfield lines.
Below, Brozovic carries the ball into the Roma half. Pellegrini covers Vidal, but Brozovic’s target is further forward. Young stays wide to keep Karsdorp wide, while Lukaku drags both Smalling and Mancini with him as markers. When this happens, Martinez moves against the run of play and often acting as the link between Inter’s midfield and attack.
Roma did not create much going forward. This is mostly because Inter are not an easy team to break down. However, when they did attack, it usually went as we see below. Dzeko and Mkhitaryan would remain central. The wing-back in possession, Spinazzola in this example, moves wide while the opposite wing-back, Karsdorp moves centrally.
When Roma were losing they committed more numbers forward and relied on long passes over the top of the Inter midfielder to create chances. Here we see Spinazzola keeping close to Hakimi, Mkhitaryan looks to Skriniar, while Dzeko is marked by de Vrij. One of the Roma midfielders, Pellegrini in this example, makes a run into the Inter defense when the Inter wing-back leaves their defensive position. Karsdorp is able to drag Young out of position, creating problems for the Inter backline.
Inter were unlucky to not come away with all three points this week. Antonio Conte has shown this week that he is tactically astute, however, by bringing on Kolarov for Hakimi for example, he shows that he has a clear lack of quality on the Inter bench. Hakimi was Inter’s best attacking player in this match, and Kolarov is far past his best. Inter conceding late in such a crucial game could either be the fire they need to make a title charge, or a sign of capitulation.
Roma would have wanted to earn three points to help them in one of the tightest Serie A seasons we’ve ever seen. However, after giving up a lead and rescuing a draw, they will consider themselves lucky and look forward to forgetting about this game.