Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics


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Inter are Brentford on steroids

June 10, 2023 — Inter is my favorite to win the Champions League Final if Manchester City fails to tackle these seven challenges.

I’m going to frame what I’m saying as if I’m Manchester City because I feel they have the harder task.

If we were to compare Inter to a team in the Premier League, it would be Brentford, but Inter is Brentford on steroids. City has had trouble breaking Brentford down this season, losing both of their matches 0-1 and 1-2.

Inter is strong, confident, and organized in all phases of play. This should be Manchester City’s toughest opponent this season.

Limit Alessandro Bastoni’s space

Alessandro Bastoni is in charge of conducting the buildup from the back. A lot of Inter’s first phase buildup forms through him.

Aggressive Inter heavily relies on Alessandro Bastoni May 22, 2023 — Napoli exposed Inter’s weakness yesterday. They depend a lot on left center-back Alessandro Bastoni, and if you can pressure him, you have a good chance of forcing a turnover.

Figure 1.1 - Napoli overload Inter's right side, forcing them to pass back and out to Alessandro Bastoni.
Figure 1.2 - Alessandro Bastoni passes long, into space.

Inter will avoid playing through their right-side if the pass into Denzel Dumfries is cut-off.

Figure 2.1 - Alessandro Bastoni passes long, into space.
Figure 3.1 - Another Alessandro Bastoni long pass, into space.

Manchester City can’t afford to give Bastoni time and space to spray balls around the pitch, like he did against Napoli in this example.

Figure 4.1 - Napoli pressures Alessandro Bastoni, forcing him to pass back to Andre Onana.
Figure 4.2 - Andre Onana passes long, and the ball goes out of play.

They need to cut down Bastoni’s space in the counter-press to force the ball back to the goalkeeper. That is an effective way to limit the effectiveness of Inter’s first phase buildup.

Control the middle

Controlling the middle of the pitch will be both teams’ most important task. Whoever controls the center will win the match.

To control the center, Manchester City will need to stop:

  • Alessandro Bastoni
  • Marcelo Brozovic
  • Nicolo Barella
Figure 5.1 - Tactics board showing the tight man-marking of Marcelo Brozovic and Nicolo Barella, with pressure on Alessandro Bastoni.

Manchester City will likely counter-press in a 4-2-4 shape, as seen in Figure 5.1. If they can take Barella, Brozovic, and Bastoni out of the match, they should be able to quickly win back the ball. Brozovic and Bastoni are important outlets for the wing-backs and forwards. Limit their creativity.

Figure 6.1 - Denzel Dumfries pins Fiorentina's left-back, Biraghi. The ball is played to Lautaro Martinez in space.

If they do not control those three players, Inter will be able to obtain numerical superiority when they transition into attack and connect the play when the ball is forced direct.

Ignore Inter’s wing-backs

Inter’s wing-backs Federico Dimarco and Denzel Dumfries act as distractions, pinning the opposition full-backs to open space in the center of the pitch.

Figure 7.1 - Inter plays out of the 3v2 overload. Federico Dimarco runs into space on the far side.
Figure 7.2 - Marcelo Brozovic plays Lautaro Martinez in for Inter's first goal.

Ignore them, remain compact. They’re not the main threats.

Subdue Batman and Robin

Batman and Robin May 28, 2023 — Pass into Romelu Lukaku with his back to the goal, hold up play, lay off a simple pass, and play someone into space. This efficient and assertive pattern of play sets Inter apart.

Figure 8.1 - Inter buildup from the back. Alessandro Bastoni passes directly on the ground to Romelu Lukaku.
Figure 8.2 - Romelu Lukaku holds up play, and then passes to Lautaro Martinez.

It is unclear right now whether or not Romelu Lukaku or Edin Dzeko will start the match, but the game-plan from Inter will not change if one is chosen over the other.

Inter will go direct into the taller center-forward, on the ground or through the air, and then they will lay off the ball to Lautaro Martinez or a center-midfielder.

Figure 9.1 - The ball is played directly to Romelu Lukaku. He holds up play and then passes to Marcelo Brozovic. Center-back Francesco Acerbi makes the run into space.
Figure 9.2 - Marcelo Brozovic plays Francesco Acerbi into space.

If Bastoni is stopped, they’ll have one less way to get the ball into Lukaku or Dzeko. If Brozovic and Barallela are stopped, the center-forward will have only Lautaro Martinez to play off of.

Work past Inter’s aggressive counter-press

Inter will provide little to no space for Manchester City to advance on the ground out from the back and past the middle third.

Figure 10.1 - Illustration of Inter's out-of-possession shape against AC Milan.

Inter’s first and second line will form a rigid and compact 3-2 sub-structure, overloading the middle. Once the ball is played wide, they should press the ball carrier aggressively with two to three men.

Figure 11.1 - Mike Maignan kicks the ball vertically upfield to the forwards.
Figure 12.1 - Inter's counter-pressing structure.

Inter’s center-backs are very strong in the air, so they will man-mark to force the goalkeeper to play long, allowing the midfield little room to play out from the back.

Break Inter’s low-block out wide

If Manchester City get past Inter’s counter-press, they will be met by the obvious 5-3-2 shape you’ve heard many talk about leading up to the match.

Inter is organized. They will always leave enough men back to maintain numerical superiority over the opposition’s center-forward. Erling Haaland will have little to no room to operate in, and if he receives the ball he will be immediately closed down by at least two strong defenders.

Inter Bulwark May 25, 2023 — Inter is a very compact and strong side. Their entire team is composed of rocks. They are a collection of very tough and confident players. Inter controlled the middle of the pitch against Fiorentina to win the Coppa Italia.

Figure 13.1 - Inter's 5-3-2 low block.

Inter do like to maintain a narrow shape, so switches of play into the space on the far side will be important when Manchester City looks to create space in the middle.

Stretch Inter wide and then play Ilkay Gündoğan, Erling Haaland, and Kevin De Bruyne through the middle.

Don’t let Inter cross

Inter is the superior team in the air. If Manuel Akanji plays, he will be the weak spot for Manchester City because he is very weak in the air.

Figure 14.1 - Edin Dzeko makes the far post run, and Lautaro Martinez makes the near post run. Nicolo Barella plays the ball to the near post.
Figure 14.2 - Lautaro Martinez scores.

Brozovic and Barella will be the ones to cross, so if they are stopped, you stop the source. They will have a harder time creating these types of chances through their wing-backs into the forwards.

To recap, Manchester City needs to do the following to win:

  • Limit Alessandro Bastoni’s space
  • Control the middle
  • Ignore Inter’s wing-backs
  • Subdue Batman and Robin
  • Work past Inter’s aggressive counter-press
  • Break Inter’s low-block out wide
  • Don’t let Inter cross

All of this assumes that Inter will play in the same way that they did in the past 7 matches.

If Inter is more passive, they will likely lose. Manchester City has too much quality on the ball. If Manchester City lets their guard down, Inter will score either in the air from a cross or in transition through the middle.

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