“Win your individual battles”. This is the mantra of a manager employing man-on-man marking. Win the battle on restarts, when isolated, and with or without the ball. This is because 1v1 success inevitably increases the likelihood of 11v11 victory. And so, paired with each tactical posturing is this personal pursuit. With the many dynamic, dribbling attackers and foul-catching cameras in the modern era, sometimes these 1v1 situations in dangerous areas are seen as a shortcoming or an ill-advised 50:50 from the defending side. Seemingly, to a certain extent, AC Milan and Inter Milan beg to differ.
During their recent Serie A match at San Siro, the two teams employed distinctly different formations (specifically, AC Milan lined up in a 4-2-3-1 while Inter opted for a 3-5-2), which positioned players in similar spaces and set the stage for pitch-wide 1v1s. Whoever could force their opponent out of shape by the pass, dribble, or run was sure to gain the upper hand.
In actuality, the two sides’ unique tactical preferences mitigated some of the man-on-man opportunities. Inter characteristically sat slightly deeper, looking to capitalize on changes in possession and counter with pace. AC Milan sought to work the ball side-to-side, breaking lines with a pass into an attacking player when space was found. Despite these key differences, players from front to back on both sides could be seen following their mark closely, with a heavy reliance on the defensive midfielders to shield their center backs from direct passing and dribbling pressure.
In the end, this tight game, like so many before it, was decided by two key dead-ball situations. But the energy and excitement spanned the ninety minutes, exhibited in innumerable 1v1 moments between two of the top teams in European football. The takeaway? When teams line up in juxtaposition, fans are in for a treat.
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