Inter vs. Juventus Tactical Analysis: A Solid Defensive Block

In Round 18 of Serie A, we welcomed one of the biggest games of the season so far as Antonio Conte’s Inter took on Juventus in what was a hugely anticipated the Derby d’Italia. It turned out to be a classic display from Conte’s men, who were solid at the back and extremely proficient when in possession.

The 23-year-old rising midfield star Nicolò Barella ran the show yesterday, providing an assist for the opening goal and scoring Inter’s second of the night early in the second half.

It was a statement of intent performance by Inter, indicating the power shifting in the Serie A this season. The Nerazzurri keep breathing down the neck of their fiercest cross-city rivals in what is shaping up to be a thrilling title race until the final day of the season.

This tactical analysis will break down the key playing patterns of both teams, which will explain the intricacies of their game approach.

Starting Lineups and Formations

The starting XI of Inter and Juventus. Photo:

Although the tactical set-up of both teams looked completely different, the live match analysis and average player positions showed us more similarities than one would expect at first thought.

It was no surprise to see Inter line up in a familiar 3-5-2 shape, which has been the Nerazzurri’s go-to formation all season. Unlike Juve, Inter did resemble their theoretical set-up on the pitch when they had the ball. That mostly remained unchanged throughout the course of the game.

At the back, Conte went for a tried and trusted defensive trio in Milan Skriniar, Stefan de Vrij and Alessandro Bastoni, with both wing-backs pushing high and wide into Juventus’ half. Achraf Hakimi and Ashley Young were often integral to Inter’s attack, particularly in the final zones of the pitch, providing the necessary attacking impetus in wide areas.

In midfield, Marcelo Brozovic and Arturo Vidal were the most central of the three, with Barella often joining up with Hakimi in the right inside channel. Upfront, Lautaro Martinez and Romelu Lukaku formed the striker partnership, with the Argentine usually dropping a bit deeper than his Belgian counterpart to drag out the opposing defenders of their positions.

On the opposite side, Juventus were a lot more flexible with their formation in terms of positional set-up when having the ball. Despite originally opting for a back four, Andrea Pirlo’s tactical instructions to have the left-back Gianluca Frabotta higher up the pitch meant that the Bianconeri were building the play from the back using a three-man defense. The Brazilian Danilo was the one who tucked inside and formed the back-three while Rodrigo Bentancur provided additional cover and rarely went forward.

On the flanks, Pirlo insisted on having a central-midfielder on either side, who would be supporting the wide players in Federico Chiesa (right) and Frabotta (left). Cristiano Ronaldo and Alvaro Morata were Juve’s striker duo for this game, with the Portuguese quite often drifting to the right inside channel to support the build-up.

The average player formations of Inter (blue) and Juventus (white). Photo:

Juventus’ Offensive Strategy: Ineffective Right-Side Overload, Switch of Play and Limited Options in Final Third

Even though the Bianconeri place a lot of emphasis on possession-play, trying to build their play from the back using sequences of slow and short passing combinations, Juve are also often capable of adjusting their style of play by adding more directness and verticality to their game.

In order to support the above statements, we delve into some statistical metrics. Pirlo’s men play the second-highest number of progressive passes per game in the league (43.8), only behind the leaders Atalanta, and also the second-most passes into the final third (40.7).

Additionally, Juve’s tendency to play more direct at times can be supported by the total distance their passes have travelled towards the opponent’s goal in yards. Pirlo’s men are the Serie A leaders for this metric, with their completed passes traveling on average 3219.3 yards per game. Contrarily, Sassuolo – a team with the second-highest amount of ball-possession in the league (59.0%) – are only 6th in the league for this metric, with their passes on average traveling 2752.7 yards per game.

Nevertheless, all of that seemed severely lacking in Juve’s game, with the 36-time Scudetto winners completing only 33 progressive passes and 35 passes into the final third – both below their average – and the total distance their passes traveled towards the opposing goals was only 2438 yards, which is 781.3 yards fewer than their season average. It implies that Juventus struggled to move the ball forward with intent and were often trapped by Inter’s solid defensive block.

Such tendencies are presented in the graphical images below as Juve struggled to find the way to breakthrough Inter’s congested blocks. In the first illustration, we can see the most prominent scene of the Bianconeri’s build-up play, with Danilo bringing the ball out from the back while Rabiot, Chiesa and Ronaldo all staying within close proximity to each other. In this way, Juve tried to progress the ball through the inside or outside lines but often found themselves trapped and unable to wiggle their way out.

Juve’s initial phase of build up involving Danilo, Rabiot, Chiesa and Ronaldo

Most of the time, the initial phase of Juventus’ build-up did indeed start on the right side, meaning Inter had to shift across to congest the area, thus leaving Juve more space on the opposite side. In this instance, Brozovic and Vidal were the two who shifted to the right half-space, with Barella staying closer to the left side of the pitch. As a result, if Juve did not find the way to play the ball through on the right side, it was returned to the center-backs – who then switched the play to the left with Ramsey and Frabotta taking over the build-up play duties.

Bonucci unlikely to play a risky pass through Inter’s block; thus, he decides to switch the play to the left side

Inter’s three midfield players were unable to cover the whole width of the pitch in most instances; therefore, Ramsey and Frabotta could often receive the ball unmarked on the left side.

Ramsey and Frabotta with acres of space in front of them

However, despite Juve’s intelligent switch of play looking for different ways to progress the ball further up the pitch, the following image portrays a common struggle they faced against Inter. Despite reaching the final third of the pitch relatively easily, Juve had neither vertical passing options nor player movement in front to be able to cause Inter’s defense some damage. The lateral ball circulation was too predictable and often forced the player on the ball to play it sideways or backwards.

Juve unable to penetrate Inter in the final third

A very similar situation can be observed in the images below. Juventus kept on utilizing the same principle of overloading the right side of the pitch, trying to find ways to play through the lines, and if unsuccessful, switch the play to the opposite side.

Danilo looking to play the ball to Ramsey

Once again, Juve’s back-line are constructing the first phase of build-up and decided to switch the play from right to left. Although they were able to do it without much trouble due to Inter’s resistance to press, Juve were immediately closed down and trapped once the ball bypassed the initial parts of the middle third.

Danilo switching the play with a pass to Chiellini who then finds Frabotta on the outer left flank

As we can see, although Juve’s left-back had a split second to play the ball forward to Ramsey, he insisted against it and played it back to Chiellini. Such is an example of Juventus’ lack of vertical ball progression in this game.

Frabotta refused to play a pass to Ramsey in this situation

The final example of Juventus’ positional play struggles against Inter is presented below. Once again, the reigning champions are emphasizing their build-up play on the right side of the pitch but are unable to play through Inter’s congested lines.

Juventus constructing their play down the right before switching it to the other side

Thus, Juventus switched the play again but, eventually, were left trapped within their own positional mess. In the images below, we can see how unstructured the positioning and the movement of their players are in this instance, making it impossible to progress the ball forward in a cohesive way.

A mess in the centre of midfield with no purposeful ball progression

The statistical graphs displayed below perfectly sum up our analysis presented above. Pirlo’s men spent most of their time (46% of attacks and 141 touches) building-up the play down the right flank, but it clearly did not work, as they had only 18 touches in Inter’s box and created zero big chances throughout the whole match.

The touch and the attacking sides’ maps of Juventus. Photo:

Inter’s Attacking Organization: Effective Progressive Play Down the Right Side as Lukaku & Martinez Help Creating Space

This season, Inter are the perfect example that winning at the highest level is still possible even if your style of play is predominantly based on directness and pragmatism. The Nerazzurri are ranked 5th in the league for most crosses per game (avg. 13.7) and 1st for most crosses into the penalty area (avg. 3.67).

Besides, Conte’s men complete the fourth-highest number of dead ball passes (set-pieces) that lead to a shot, averaging 2.06 per game, and have also scored the second-highest number of set-piece goals this season (8).

Conte’s famous 3-5-2 formation has been working almost flawlessly this Serie A season, with the most emphasis placed on the wing-play and swift counterattacks. It would be fair to say that without quality players, Inter’s rather pragmatic but incredibly effective style of play would not work anywhere near as well as it does now.

Against Juventus, the Nerazzurri exploited their opponents’ left-flank through the passing intricacies of the right-sided players, predominantly Barella and Hakimi. Both mentioned players possess an incredible ability to drive the ball forward in a direct and vertical manner, which accompanied with their intricate positional rotations made it nearly impossible to stop them.

We can see the main ideas of Conte’s game plan presented in the graphical illustrations below. In general, the wing-backs tend to play a major role in the offensive end in a 3-5-2 set-up, and this was no exception on Sunday night. We can see how high Hakimi is positioned in Juventus’ half, with Barella occupying the right inside channel and both strikers pinning Juve’s center-backs.

Inter’s offensive approach in a nutshell

From the examples below, we can get a full picture of how Inter were looking to transition the ball from their own half into the attacking third keeping in mind the positional approach outlined above. As we can see, Barella drifts across to the right half-space, thus dragging the opposing left-back with him, whilst Lukaku and Martinez pin both center-backs. Then, Hakimi plays a vertical pass into feet of Barella who simply lays it off to the Moroccan wing-back.

Interchange of passes between Hakimi and Barella

Inter’s wing-back picks the ball up and makes a bursting run forward into space in front of him created by both strikers and Barella.

A quick give-and-go between Hakimi and Barella

The Moroccan international then charges forward and plays the ball to Ashley Young on the far side.

Hakimi’s long bursting run from his own half

Positional rotations between Hakimi and Barella caused many issues for Juventus in this game. The first goal was exactly a result of their swift interchange, leaving the opponents confused in and around their penalty box. Hakimi’s run into the box opened up space on the right-wing for Barella who whipped a fabulous ball in for Vidal to score.

Hakimi and Barella were a constant danger down the right side throughout the 90 minutes

The final example of Hakimi and Barella partnership is presented below. Once again, the Italian midfielder occupies the inside right channel, thus creating a perfect passing angle for the Moroccan full-back. In this instance, Juventus’ left-back Frabotta had to step out to close down Inter’s right wing-back which left space in behind for Barella to exploit. Both Lukaku and Martinez pinned Bonucci and Chiellini, which meant they could not step out and close the gap in front of them.

Hakimi and Barella destroying Juventus’ left-flank

Inter’s game plan to attack down the right side of the pitch is visible in the statistical touch graph below.

The touch map of Inter. Photo:

Shot Map of Both Teams

xG (expected goals): Inter 1.56 – 0.47 Juventus

Result: Inter – Juventus 2-0

xG (expected goals) shot map of both teams. Photo:


Inter may not be the most entertaining team to watch despite being the league’s top scorers this season, but the fact that they are extremely efficient in what they do cannot be denied. They are immensely solid defensively, deadly on the counterattacks and capable of exploiting the opposition with intelligent positional play at times as well. All of that worked brilliantly against Juve what proved to be another tactical masterclass by Conte.