This Derby della Madonnina between Inter and Milan may have been hosted in Saudi Arabia, but the focus was on the two teams from Milan: the following tactical analysis will seek to explain how Inter were able to dominate most of the match.
For only the second time ever, Inter squared off with Milan in the Supercoppa Italiana final. The last meeting between these two sides in the Supercoppa saw Milan win. However, for them to replicate that result they would have to topple an Inter side that won the same cup in the last campaign.
Inter’s return to the campaign from the World Cup has been an interesting one. After beating league leaders, and clear best side in Italy this season Napoli 1-0, they began a string of less than convincing results. After dropping points to promoted side Monza, they squeaked out a win in the Coppa Italia against Serie B side Parma. The match directly preceding this, Inter found themselves managing to win only 1-0 against Verona.
Milan have been leaving much to be desired as well since the restart. Having not won since January fourth, Milan would need to find a solution and quickly. Having drawn to Roma after conceding two late set-piece goals, losing to Torino in the Coppa Italia, and being fortunate to get a point against Lecce, Milan have looked subpar defensively.
However, despite all the talk about both sides’ form going into the match, a Derby della Madonnina is anyone’s to win. Inter seemed incapable of putting a foot wrong the entire match. The Nerazzurri produced a Simone Inzaghi masterclass in counter-attack football.
As the teams took the pitch, there was no surprise in the shape both managers employed. Stefano Pioli implemented his favored 4-2-3-1 while Simone Inzaghi employed his classic 3-5-2. Both these sides have been using this formation throughout the season and yesterday saw few changes.
This would prove to be an advantage for Inter. Resulting from the high line, and the five across midfield, Inter were able to counterattack effectively. The central midfielders were able to press and overload the defensive midfielders trying to play out of the back for Milan. In addition, because the wing backs took up positions between the full backs and wingers, Inter were able to play out of any Milan pressure with ease.
In fact, the first goal resulted in Matteo Darmian getting the ball from the back three and being able to drive forward. Nicolò Barella pressed effectively but, when he won the ball, he transitioned Inter into attack quickly.
If we look at the Milan defense when all three goals were scored there are commonalties. It is usually disjointed and not a cohesive unit. The center backs are not near each other, and the full backs have been drawn to the nearest attacker. Lastly, all the Inter goals came from quick direct vertical passing that forced Milan to defend.
Inter move the ball quickly from the wing inside then back out of the center, and you can see how Fikayo Tomori and Simon Kjær are caught flat footed. This allows Barella to get the ball between Tomori and the retreating Theo Hernández. Once Barella collects the pass, he can easily send it across to Federico Dimarco who was darting into the space abandoned by Davide Calabria. Dimarco could not have had an easier finish to put the Nerazzurri up 1-0.
Looking at the second goal, Milan’s defense once again is in disarray. A long ball out of the back from Alessandro Bastoni is the textbook example of the direct football that won Inter the match. Bastoni noticed that Kjær had stepped, committed to playing the high line Pioli favors, and Edin Dzeko simply punished the poor communication for Milan. Kjær, Tomori, and Hernández are effectively in a straight line straight down the middle. In addition, the center back pairing is completely disconnected from one another.
Even if Dzeko did not shoot, look again at the massive gap behind the full back. The first goal could have been replicated but with Darmian smashing the ball home at the back post as opposed to Dimarco. This combination of direct play countered with the width from Inter proved to be too much for Milan.
It is important to emphasize that, despite controlling the possession (65%) and technically registering more shots (14 to 12), Milan did not generate many big chances throughout the match. Out of the 14 shots, 11 came from outside the area. Milan had to settle for a barrage of long-range efforts because Inter were able to play in a deep low block. For much of the game after scoring Inter sat off, only going forward when presented with a blunder from Milan. This deep block looked compact and hard to break down.
Inter would go on to keep the clean sheet on route to defending their Supercoppa title. This was done largely by their ability to effectively press and use their width to their advantage. Take nothing away from Inter, they were fantastic, but more is expected out of the Milan defense. They were very poor at times, and it was reflected in the score line. As the second half of the domestic campaign looms real panic seems to be settling in for Milan. If they want to seriously mount a challenge for the Scudetto they need to figure out their defensive problems quicky.
In addition, a weakness in Milan was exposed today. Many for a long time have felt that the key to neutralizing Milan is to emphasize shutting down the left flank. By preventing Hernández getting forward, and Rafael Leao from getting onto the ball, most of the Milan offensive is rather blunt.
However, on the reverse, Inter should be filled with confidence moving forward. They already won a trophy this season, while still being alive in Coppa Italia. In their two biggest matches, against Napoli and this match, they won. While the Scudetto may seem out of reach there is still a lot of football to be played this season. If they can channel that performance into future games Inter will be a force to be reckoned with in the domestic cup and also Champions League.
For now, they will focus on their victory. A historic night in Saudi Arabia for the club made only that much sweeter knowing they completely dominated their rival to lift the cup.