Inter vs Juventus Tactical Analysis: Nerazzurri More Threatening from Open Play

Sunday night saw the first heavyweight clash of the 2020/21 Serie A campaign as Inter hosted Juventus at the Stadio San Siro in the biggest derby in Italian football.

Inter went into this game having seen a slight drop in performance levels and results in recent matches have experienced a slight drop, as the Nerazzurri had lost and drawn two of their last three games.

Juventus, on the other hand, have turned a corner over the last couple of weeks, winning four games in a row prior to the trip to Milan.

The following tactical analysis will break down the key playing patterns of both teams, explaining the intricacies of their tactical approach to the game.

Teams’ Lineups and Formations

As for the team lineups, both managers kept the same tactical formations they have used so far this season. Inter started the game with a familiar 3-5-2 set-up, while Juventus went for a tried and tested 4-4-2.

In attack, Inter relied on their most common tactical concept, fielding three center-backs across the entire width of the pitch in Milan Skriniar, Stefan de Vrij and Alessandro Bastoni. Two wing-backs in Ivan Perisic and Matteo Darmian occupied the wing spaces, covering plenty of ground up and down the left and right flanks.

Marcelo Brozovic was the deepest of the three midfielders and acted as a single pivot, often dropping deeper to support the three center-backs in ball progression from the back. In contrast, Nicolò Barella and Hakan Calhanoglu occupied the two half-spaces (inner corridors) in order to form passing triangles, especially on the left wing, with Edin Dzeko often moving out wide as the third man. Up front, Dzeko and Lautaro Martinez formed the striker partnership.

On the opposite end of the pitch, Juventus adopted a similar approach when in possession, despite the fact that their original set-up was presented as a 4-4-2. Although on paper Danilo started the game at right-back, throughout the game he operated more as a right-sided center-back, forming the back three alongside Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini.

Consequently, Juan Cuadrado and Alex Sandro moved higher up to play as wing-backs, meaning Federico Bernardeschi moved more into the center, despite originally being deployed as a left-sided midfielder. This meant that Weston McKennie also operated in the inside channels throughout the game, while Manuel Locatelli occupied a single pivot role. Alvaro Morata and Dejan Kulusevski formed the forward duo, with the latter acting more as a second striker and often dropping into midfield.

Tactical Analysis – Inter

Inter were the more dangerous team in the first half. The Nerazzurri recorded an xG value (expected goals) of 0.81 in the first 45 minutes, of which 0.67 were scored from open play. More specifically, Simone Inzaghi’s men recorded 2 big chances from 6 attempts on goal in the first half, but only 0.17 xG from 4 more shots in the second half.

Throughout the game, Inter focused their play mainly on the left flank, especially in the second phase of the build-up from the middle third into the attacking third. They chose to overload the left side with four or five players all in close proximity to draw Juventus to their side of the ball, which then opened up space on the right flank. Inter recorded 8 attacks down the left in this game, which accounted for 33% of their attacks, while in comparison 21% of their attacks were down the right flank.

On other occasions, Inter would maintain the same approach, building their play in phases down the left side of the pitch, but in this case the players would be deeper. This resulted in at least two Juventus defenders stepping out of the defensive line, leaving a gap behind them that stretched the entire back line to their detriment. In this case, one of Inter’s midfielders would run into the vacated space from deep.

As we can see in the picture below, two of the four Juventus defenders stepped out to congest the area, allowing Brozovic to run into the space behind. Consequently, the remaining two defenders had to split up, creating a gap for Dzeko to exploit after a Calhanoglu lofted pass.

On those occasions when Inter were unable to outmaneuver Juventus’ defensive block, the Nerazzurri opted for a switch of play. As we can see in the illustration below, Inter have three players in close proximity, which automatically draws in Juventus’ defenders and frees up space on the right wing for Darmian.

After a switch of play, Inter usually had a few options: 1) Deliver a cross into the box 2) Move the ball laterally to the center zones and take a shot from outside the box 3) Combine with players positioned inside the box.

Tactical Analysis – Juventus

Although Inter did not set the world on fire with their offensive performance on Sunday night in terms of chances created and number of shots on goal, they were the more creative team going forward. Juventus, on the other hand, managed a higher overall xG score (2.12), but only 0.18 of those came from open play. There are two reasons for this: 1) Inter’s 5-3-2 defensive block made it extremely difficult for Juventus to find ways to move the ball through the mid-zones and half-spaces. 2) It revealed Juventus’ weaknesses in positional play, as they were unable to overcome Inter’s solid defensive block.

In the image below, you can see the graphic representation of Inter’s 5-3-2 defensive block. Juventus were able to bypass the midfield line on occasions with a line-breaking pass. However, one of Inter’s strengths is incredibly tight marking once the ball enters a certain zone, giving the player receiving the ball very little room to maneuver.

In these cases, the Bianconeri usually took a more direct approach, playing a long ball over the top for Morata to chase down, as you can see in the picture below.

Inter’s tight man-to-man marking in certain zones is perfectly illustrated in the images below. Juventus’ players had very little time to control the ball on most occasions, which forced them to play it back to one of the defenders, who would have to restart the entire build-up process from the beginning.

Juventus also struggled to outmaneuver their opponents in the tight spaces on the flanks, which meant that the first build-up phase usually had to end with a back pass into the defensive third.

Shot Map of Both Teams

xG (expected goals): Inter 0.98 – 2.12 Juventus

Result: Inter 1-1 Juventus