Antonio Conte – Inter Milan – Tactical Analysis

Antonio Conte and Romelu Lukaku

Since Antonio Conte’s arrival at Inter Milan, the Italian giants have completely transformed into the most effective side in all of Serie A. Conte’s start to life at San Siro has gotten off without a hitch and I Nerazzurri have won all six of their matches to the start off the league campaign. In that time, Conte’s men have scored 13 goals and conceded only 2, maintaining the second highest passing accuracy and fifth highest amount of possession per game in the league. Players like Romelu Lukaku and Kwadwo Asamoah have been able to turn their careers around again, while the likes of Marcelo Brozovic and Stefano Sensi are practically developing into the best in the world at their positions. This is The Mastermind’s Tactical Analysis of Inter Milan so far in 2019-20.

SYSTEM OF PLAY: 3-1-4-2

3-5-2 Inter Milan Antonio Conte

Antonio Conte has always been a proponent of back-three systems. With Inter Milan he’s taken a new spin on his typical system of play and adopted a 3-1-4-2 formation. Typically with Juve and Chelsea, Conte favoured a 3-4-3. When he was the manager of Italy, Conte did indeed play a 3-5-2, but it was more of a flat 3-5-2 than his current set up with Inter Milan. The back-three has been formed by the dominant Stefan De Vrij and Milan Skriniar who have been ever-presents at the back for Antonio Conte’s side this season. The third centre-back has swapped between ex-Atletico captain Diego Godin and ex-Inter captain Andrea Ranocchia.

The two wing-backs have been predominantly Kwadwo Asamoah and Danilo D’Ambrosio, but Antonio Candreva has also fulfilled the role on the right, just as he did for Conte’s Euro 2016 side. Asamoah, who Antonio Conte was a massive fan of back with Juventus, has had a revival so far this season while D’Ambrosio has been selected more often due to being the more defensive option than the slightly more skillful Antonio Candreva.

Importantly, much of Conte’s principles of play and success this season has been rooted in the midfield triangle of Brozovic (the 6), Sensi (the 10) and Barella/Gagliardini (the 8). In this, Brozovic’s positional awareness and ability on the ball has been used to allow Barella and Sensi to drive forward, take up dangerous positions and create chances. This is the key reason why the formation Conte has deployed so far this season at his new club should be thought of as more of a 3-1-4-2 rather than 3-5-2, particularly due to how low Brozovic drops during build-up phases. In some matches, such as their recent 1-0 win over Lazio, the formation has shifted into a double-pivot of Barella and Brozovic with a more advanced ‘number 10’ – that time Matias Vecino. The Italian manager has maintained much consistency this season and the midfield triangle is the only part of the formation that the former Chelsea man has been willing to change.

Up front, the industrious Lautaro Martinez and aerial threat Romelu Lukaku have combined wonderfully well as a front-two. They’ve not only kept talented players like Alexis Sanchez and Matteo Politano out of the side, but they’ve also carried much of the goal threat – contributing to a combined 4 goals.

PLAYING OUT FROM THE BACK

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Conte’s methodology of playing out from the back with Internazionale has for the most part remained consistent with his previous managerial spells. Frequently, Samir Handanovic may choose to bypass a high press by going long, straight to one of the wing-backs. However, they have mostly maintained a coordinated sequence of patterns when playing out from the back.

In build-up phases the back-three will often circulate the ball right to left, looking for opportunities to play in the two central midfielders. If nothing is on for the centre-mid’s in possession, they will look to play in Brozovic, who will circulate and try again, often switching to a wing-back or outside centre-back. The centre backs typically stretch the field very wide, creating more space for Brozovic should an opposition striker choose to press them.

Brozovic becomes key whenever he can get on the ball, and his first look is often either to the outside centre-backs to create space in wide areas and beat the press, or to the wing-backs who often hug the touchline. Sensi and Barella/Gagliardini more frequently get involved higher up the field and their vertical passes forward to a striker are often matched with the striker playing it back to the wing-back, in an attempt to circulate the ball again.

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As almost always is the case when playing out from the back, Inter’s passes are short, crisp and often require much off-the-ball movement. But unlike a Guardiola or Bielsa approach, there isn’t much in the way of positional interchange. What is key however is the dropping movements of one striker, who will often play a one touch backwards pass to a wing-back or the original passer of the ball, and then look to create space again higher up the field. This is made possible with the front-two system, allowing Conte’s side to consistently have an outlet up front even if a forward drops deep to pick up possession. This has made Inter a very efficient side, capable of maintaining possession for large periods of time. They have utilized a patient method of build-up play where they look to attack at the right moments, rather than forcing it long unnecessarily.

PRESSING FROM THE FRONT

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With the new law change to allow defenders inside of the box on goal kicks, many teams are taking advantage of this. As are Inter Milan as they choose to press as high as they possibly can. On goal kicks the two strikers will stick themselves perpendicular to the two centre-backs, waiting just outside the eighteen yard box (which they are required to do). The two attacking mid’s will eliminate any opportunities for the opposition to play in their ‘number 6’ while the wing-back’s will pounce instantly if the ball succeeds in reaching an opposition fullback. When the ball goes left or right, the striker is the first to press, followed by supporting movements of both central midfielders and the near-side wing-back, creating a diamond shape – the perfect shape for pressing.

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Inter maintain a similar high press whenever the opposition are in their own defensive third – with the wing-backs and strikers the key figureheads. This method of pressing was particularly effective in forcing long-balls against AC Milan, which Inter’s back-three easily recovered. In the recent derby between the two teams, Milan simply could not get out of their own half due to Inter’s dynamic diamond press and that is a trend that looks likely to continue over the course of the season.

BROZOVIC’S DOMINATION & MIDFIELD TRIANGLE

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Since his stellar performances at the 2018 World Cup, Marcelo Brozovic has quietly become one of the most accomplished defensive midfielders in the modern game. Throughout his time at Inter Milan his role has always been a bit understated and perhaps at times been overshadowed by the success of Miralem Pjanic at Juventus and Jorginho during his time at Napoli. However, Brozovic should be Conte’s first name on the team sheet every single game, due to his extremely important role at the base of the midfield triangle. The Croatian midfielder is highly industrious, tactically astute and fantastic in possession. He makes smart decisions on the ball and is one of just a few players in the side who actively look to open the game up with long-passes, not just short one-two’s. He’s also easily capable of driving forward, going box-to-box, left to right, providing assists and even scoring goals. Pretty much, he’s become the integral figure to this Inter Milan side under Antonio Conte, particularly with the departure of ex-star man Mauro Icardi, who probably wouldn’t have fit into the system anyway. Playing out from the back, Brozovic intelligently picks up positions in between lines. Out of possession, he’s a complete workhorse, breaking up play and disrupting and disturbing simply with the positions he takes up off-the-ball.

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Although the 26-year old has done well in either a midfield two or three, his role as the lone pivot has perhaps been the most successful method of getting the best out of players like Roberto Gagliardini, Nico Barella and importantly, Stefano Sensi. With Brozovic’s tactical awareness and overall energy, Stefano Sensi has been useful in getting on the ball as much as possible and creating chances higher up the field. So far the Sassuolo loanee has contributed to 5 goals (3 goals, 2 assists) in his first six Serie A matches at Inter, the highest goal contribution of any player in the side. Nicolo Barella hasn’t had quite the same scoring impact, but has also assisted two goals from having the opportunity to advance forward on a more frequent basis, knowing that Brozovic will clean up all the messes left behind. This midfield triangle has been integral to Conte’s success so far at Inter and whatever format he wishes to play them in, he should feel comfortable knowing that they will succeed.

INDUSTRIOUS WING-BACKS

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One of the keys to Inter Milan’s success this season has been their ability to overload wide areas and utilize wing-backs to their success. This has been a key theme of Antonio Conte units wherever he’s gone, such as his ability to transform Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso into two of the Premier League’s best players back in 2016-17. In attacking phases, Asamoah and Candreva/D’Ambrosio maintain their width and stretch the field as wide as they can. They are often utilized as outlets and if the ball-carrying wing-back gets closed down and can’t advance any further, they will often work it through the central midfielders and strikers to switch play to the other side. Key to this pattern of play has also been the shifting of the central midfielders to the side of the ball to overload one area. If Inter can do this effectively while maintaining width on the other side, they can completely free up space on that side for a quick switch of play. This is exactly how Inter scored in their recent 1-0 win over rivals Lazio. The central midfielders looked to switch play via the left-wing-back who at the time was Cristiano Biraghi. Biraghi crossed it into the perfectly timed run of the other wing-back Danilo D’Ambrosio, who headed it in. Rarely would you think that two wing-backs would combine for a goal, however with the way Inter Milan play, it is likely going to happen on a frequent basis this season.

In defensive transitions, Candreva, D’Ambrosio and Asamoah have all shown their incredible fitness levels, often being required to take up positions as the outside defenders in a back-five. Often times they both do this at the same time, creating a very organized line of five players acting as a wall for the opposition to get past. This is perhaps a key reason why Inter have only conceded 3 goals in all competitions so far this season. Their defensive organization has been incredible, led by the dropping movements of their wing-backs out of possession. Back in possession, it would be hard to find a more critical pairing then the width the wing-backs can offer.

CONCLUSION 

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Inter Milan have made an exceptional start to the 2019-20 Serie A season, winning all six of their matches and conceding only 2 goals in league play. In that time they have flourished under the tactical nuances of Antonio Conte’s 3-5-2/3-1-4-2 system and the overall industriousness and energy of the team. Key players like Romelu Lukaku, Stefan De Vrij and Marcelo Brozovic have all performed wonderfully well, as have the loanees in central midfield Nicolo Barella and Stefano Sensi.

Juventus have won Serie A the past eight seasons in a row, but this year might finally be the year they see their biggest challenge, with Antonio Conte urging Inter Milan on every step of the way. Regardless of their title challenge, one thing remains certain: Antonio Conte continues to be one of the most tactically astute managers in world football.

Be sure to check out more articles like this in our Coaching and Tactics sections. Thanks for reading and see you soon! 

You might also like -> The Rise of the 3-1-4-2.

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