Milan vs Inter Tactical Analysis: An Entertaining Draw

On Sunday, Milan and Inter faced off in a highly anticipated edition of the Derby della Madonnina. The tactical battle pitted Stefano Pioli’s well-known 4-2-3-1 against Simone Inzaghi’s 3-5-2. The match was a spectacle, with Milan winning the first half and Inter responding in the second. Though both teams created several chances, the fixture ended in a 1-1 draw after a Hakan Calhanoglu penalty and a Stephan de Vrij own goal.

Milan’s High Press

After its success against Roma, Pioli returned to the high press. Milan’s attackers aggressively harassed Inter’s defense and midfield, generating a high number of turnovers. Led by Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Rafael Leao and Rade Krunic, the Rossoneri gave their opponents little time to build attacks and retain possession. Marcelo Brozovic, key to the Nerazzurri offense due to his distribution, was a main target of the press.

Milan’s strategy suffocated the defensive midfielder, limiting his ability to play progressive passes and forcing him to quickly distribute. The press also allowed Milan to win the ball in dangerous positions close to the goal. The hosts were able to spend less energy building attacks and focus on overloading the attacking third for sudden chances.

While Milan’s press gave it an attacking advantage, it also left its backline exposed. When breaking out of the high block, Inter could spark a dangerous counter attack. With quick, creative players like Lautaro Martinez and Nicolò Barella, the Nerazzurri were able to take advantage of the space behind the press. However, the athleticism of Franck Kessié, Fikayo Tomori and Simon Kjaer largely nullified these chances.

Kessié played a key box-to-box role in the match. The midfielder was frequently involved in the high block, but he also provided critical support in the defensive third. When Milan built from the back, Kessié would drop between Kjaer and Tomori, allowing Davide Calabria and Fodé Ballo-Touré to advance up the wings. Calabria’s freedom was essential to the Milan offense, and the defender frequently made progressive carries and rectified Brahim Diaz’s lack of offensive contribution.

Milan’s offensive left wing was severely weakened for much of the match. With Theo Hernandez out due to a pair of yellow cards, the Rossoneri started Ballo-Touré. The reserve player had a dreadful match, struggling in all facets of the game. Pierre Kalulu eventually replaced him after halftime, but the 21-year-old remained in a reserved role. In addition to the full-back concerns, Rafael Leao frequently cut inside with the ball without looking to play wide.

As a result, most of Milan’s offensive ventures came from the middle and the right. Rade Krunic returned as the nominal attacking midfielder, though his main responsibility was to harass Brozovic. Brahim Diaz and Zlatan Ibrahimovic rotated freely between the lines, filling the attacking midfield role.

A Pair of Unusual Goals

As fascinating as the tactical battle was, and, despite each club’s multitude of chances, neither of the two goals came from open play. Instead, both were the result of somewhat unlikely circumstances.

Inter opened the scoring after a questionable penalty called by Mr. Daniele Doveri, who continued Serie A’s day of poor refereeing. After Kessié intercepted a pass, Calhanoglu and Edin Dzeko pressured him into the Milan box, eventually winning the ball. There appeared to be a shove against Kessié’s back, and as the midfielder fell, his legs became tangled with Calhanoglu’s, bringing the Turk down. VAR decided not to review the seemingly incorrect call, and Calhanoglu converted the penalty.

Milan erased the deficit six minutes later, forcing an own goal by de Vrij. The press worked to perfection, trapping Inter five yards from the end line.

Milan’s high press brilliantly trapped Inter in the attacking third just before the equalizer

Krunic influenced the turnover, applying quick pressure to Samir Handanovic, channeling the ball into the corner. His teammates finished the job and cut off the short options, allowing Kessié to eventually win the ball. Barella fouled the Ivorian just outside the box, creating a dangerous free kick opportunity for Sandro Tonali. The young midfielder swung the ball into the box, and it deflected off of de Vrij’s head into the net, leveling the score.

Inter’s Second Half Revival

After an intense, back-and-forth affair that saw Milan dominate the first half, the nature of the match changed significantly after the break. Inter adjusted to the Rossoneri press and had a much stronger second half.

The visitors frequently broke out of the high block. Because the Milanese were committing so many numbers forward, there was a significant gap between the defense and those pressing. Inter exploited this space by rotating players more effectively and keeping Barella and Calhanoglu deep. Dzeko and Martinez also occasionally dropped into the midfield to provide an outlet.

The fluid midfield allowed those under pressure, namely Brozovic and the center-backs, the ability to break free. A mid-to-long range pass was all that was required to penetrate the open space.

These elements come together in the above sequence. When Milan begins to press Calhanoglu, a flurry of movement happens in the midfield. First, Brozovic makes a run into space in the channel. Next, Alessandro Bastoni finds space directly behind the pressure, providing a simple option. Then, Lautaro Martinez makes the critical move in the space in the center of the pitch, ten yards from the nearest opposing player. Calhanoglu makes the easy chipped switch and starts an attack for Inter.

Inter’s crosses against Milan. Credit:

As Inzaghi’s squad overcame the press, it found a wealth of space on the wings. With Pioli’s centralized backline focused on preventing counter attacks, the wide channels became Inter’s preferred method of attack. The Nerazzurri moved vertically via Ivan Perisic, Matteo Darmian and later Denzel Dumfries. The visitors drove the ball to the corner flags, looking to fire in crosses towards Dzeko. The club managed seven corners in the second half and finished with 23 crosses on the day.

Stefano Pioli eventually brought on Ante Rebic and Alexis Saelemaekers to stifle Inter’s wing play. The two substitutes injected pace into Milan’s lineup and allowed the Rossoneri to regain control of the match in the final ten minutes.

Ultimately though, Inter’s second half improvements were not enough to break the deadlock, and the 229th edition of the Derby della Madonnina ended in a draw.