We are only at the beginning of the season but it is not so strange to already nominate yesterday’s Milan derby among the matches of the year. A challenge of intensity and competitive spirit until the last moments, but also of individual plays and collective actions that were decisive.
A dance on the edge of chaos that finally saw Milan triumph on several aspects, while Inter came out with more doubts than certainties.
Pioli’s new move
Perhaps also due to the non-possession attitude chosen by both teams, rather cautious on the first construction of the opponent, the very first minutes of the game were characterized by less direct plays, more fragmented maneuvers, several duels on stray balls. As the uncertainty has cleared, however, the game has opened up a little more and the outlines of the respective strategies have been seen more clearly, together with the game dynamics that have subsequently arisen.
The respective plans regarding the pressing, both not very direct on the front lines and more oriented towards aggression in the central area of the field but different in form and substance. Milan with the inverted triangle in midfield and the man-on-man intensity, Inter using the numerical superiority in the last line to absorb the insertions and give cover.
Milan chose to press the construction of Inter by keeping the two winger close to Giroud so as to send them under pressure on the arms of the Nerazzurri defense, while Brozovic was taken over by de Ketelaere and the two midfiels Calhanoglu and Barella by Tonali and Bennacer. At this point the match between fifths and full backs and between central and strikers was quite natural, according to the defensive principles of absolute numerical parity of Pioli’s team. On the other hand, Inter adopted an attitude in some ways even more cautious, with a slightly lower center of gravity and the two strikers more careful to occupy the central space, with Calhanoglu and Barella ready to go out at their sides, but more for cover the ball when it went to the full backs and close the trajectories of passing that to actually try to steal it by pressing.
From this point of view we have seen perhaps the most interesting novelty at the tactical level of the match. When playing against teams that set the left-back blocked, Inter tends to use Barella in the first lateral pressure together with the strikers. Theo Hernandez’s influence on the Rossoneri’s game, by now we know it well, can be distributed on several levels, so much so that the French is used by Pioli more or less inside or outside, forward or backward according to the needs. This time, the idea was to keep it locked and a little more in the center (which also done in other games) but at the same time widening Tonali in the band.
Pioli calls Tonali at the beginning of the game to ask him to stay more permanently open. The overall set-up of Milan can be seen well in the second image (with the ball stationary on the other side of the field, with Leao playing between the inside and the outside of the left wing).
Pegs in the post game stated that this choice was initially aimed at being able to start the action by dribbling to the left with the tranquility of numerical superiority, overloading the band with Tonali in order to create a two-on-one with Barella, and forcing Brozovic to climb in support (also thanks to de Ketelaere’s movements), thus creating the conditions for a quick side change (passing through Bennacer). In this way, Milan could have attacked quickly on the opposite wing, taking advantage of the opponent’s positioning.
There have not been many occasions in which this type of action has materialized, but the position of Tonali and the dynamics that have been created between him, Theo and Leao have had a certain weight in the game. Leao could stay higher thanks to Tonali’s position, and in theory it was Dumfries who had to deal with it, even in a fairly aggressive way, using every means available to disturb him. In fact, however, the Dutchman found himself going out a few times towards Tonali, with Barella remaining on Theo, and thus leaving Leao quite isolated against Skriniar.
Here above two interesting actions born from the left side of Milan. In the first, Tonali launching Giroud from his secluded positioning, finding an easier angle than his theoretical position as central midfielder. In the second, following a restart, there are the first signs of Leao’s good mood and Inter’s difficult defensive game: Brozovic rushes to Skriniar’s rescue, but neither of them disturbs Leao enough, who crosses undisturbed. Close to the spot, Giroud then supports de Ketelaere for the rushing, but he is unable to finalize.
An unfinished Inter with and without the ball
That Leao could be a grace in the evening could be smelled already from her involvement in the first minutes, when on a couple of occasions she immediately sought the duel to go to the bottom or to free herself from the shot, and even if in some ways we can say that was never directly found in a dangerous situation through a three-way combination with Tonali and Theo, the way in which Milan found solidity in possession and occupied the offensive spaces in the long run may have contributed to stress the Inter defense. A good synthesis of these aspects of the match took place in the second and third goals of Milan.
In the third goal it was Tonali who launched for Giroud’s movement to the left, which attracted de Vrij to him and then served Leao with a beautiful bank that was the perfect prelude to the subsequent magic of the Portuguese, found himself in the middle of all three the Nerazzurri power plants, without anyone being able to disturb him. In the second, however, the inconsistency in tactics and attitude of Inter in the penalty area was worrying.
But what made Inter’s match complicated was also the difficulty in building clean actions. Even if Milan has adopted a wait-and-see attitude, it does not mean that they have not been able to break the dribble of Inzaghi’s team even in more advanced areas, as evidenced by Leao’s first goal with the interception of Tonali, but also another couple of actions born by Tonali himself and by Theo Hernandez, both ended with a shot on goal.
Great example of why man-oriented pressing leads to goal scoring opportunities: if you win the duel against your opponent, you’ll create a numerical superiority (Tonali jumps the passing lane and…).
Game is a cycle🔄: you attack how you defend and vice versa. pic.twitter.com/CTJHcLLPV9
– Emanuele Tedoldi (@ Ema272727) September 4, 2022
It is useless to try to find a single explanation for Inter’s difficulties in building maneuvering actions, despite having accustomed us in recent years, with both coaches and in a different way, to fairly high standards of pressure manipulation and fluidity of movement. However, there are small nuances in AC Milan’s style of pressure that may have contributed to slowing down the executions and taking away the security and immediacy of the Inter supporters.
Here, for example, we see how Leao, after Brozovic’s passage towards Barella has passed him, does not go under pressure on Barella, nor under the line of the ball, but moves directly to Skriniar, hindering the possible “recycling” passage. of the Sardinian midfielder. Barella is closed by Tonali, and with Brozovic marked by de Ketelaere he chooses to play forward on Correa, who, as for most of the game, is effectively controlled by Tomori. Milan often closed Inter in a dead end street, from which the Nerazzurri could not come out with the usual positional fluidity, nor could they take advantage of alternatives such as progression through dribbling or more direct and immediate plays on the tips. Something better was seen when Inter managed to build by widening Skriniar and / or Bastoni enough and pushing Dumfries and Darmian higher or taking advantage of the movements on their left wing.
Inter’s most successful progressions have come to the left, with Lautaro’s sideways movements (first image above) or the progress of Sticks (second image). Too little, however, to create dangers, even in terms of continuity. Emblematic, however, that after a few minutes of his entry, Mkhitaryan (third image), who took over from Barella as a right inside, moved to the other side of the field, creating a decisive triangulation with Darmian in the action of Dzeko’s goal. At times Inter seemed to need to force this type of combination a little more, even in smaller spaces, circumstances that perhaps are not often solicited also due to the characteristics of the outsiders. The best action of the match of Inzaghi’s team, that of Brozovic’s goal, instead showed what Inter can be when they manage to manipulate the opponent in the center, exploiting in this case a verticalization of the goalkeeper towards the tip, a combination of the two tips and an insert from behind.
It is worth dwelling on this action not only for the skill of the Inter players, but also for the presence of one of the possible short circuits that can occur with Milan’s defensive approach, which still remains of the highest level. We note how Tomori, who had followed Correa’s encounter movement, continues to follow him after his passage instead of leaving him to Bennacer to position himself next to Kalulu, who in the meantime was engaged in a duel with Lautaro. In the meantime, Brozovic’s inclusion is followed late by de Ketelaere, and this remains the mistake that we can more easily highlight from the outside. Instead, it would be more interesting to understand if Tomori’s choice is due to Milan’s defensive principles, or if instead it is also an error in this case.
Beyond these situations, however, Inter failed to put Milan to the test that much, despite the mobility of both strikers and the propensity of Brozovic and Barella to go between the lines to fill the spaces. This is also something that Inzaghi will presumably want to work on, given Lukaku’s prolonged absence. Of course, Dzeko’s impact from the bench could call into question the composition of the attack from the next, delicate match in the Champions League against Bayern Munich.
For the Inter milieu, the way in which this defeat matured may perhaps be harder than the defeat itself. Although Inzaghi’s team could have even drawn it in the middle of the second half, the match returned a greater distance between the two teams than we thought there was before the kick-off. Between the emotional ups and downs of this match, Milan seemed the most solid, safest team. And this image could weigh even more in the long run than just three points.
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