Tactical Analysis: U.S. Sassuolo 0-1 F.C. Internazionale Milano

December 19, 2016 19:40
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Date : 18/12/2016
Venue : Mapei Stadium – Città del Tricolore
Competition : Serie A 2016/2017, Matchday 17
The starting line-ups:


Inter left Mapei Stadium with another win, their third in a row for the first time this year, after an unconvincing performance that saw Antonio Candreva score the winning goal.

Stefano Pioli decided to change things up a bit in terms of formation and personnel, choosing to start for the first time this season Felipe Melo next to Marcelo Brozovic, in a move intended to hide the Croatian’s defensive deficiencies that once again proved to be a problem against Genoa but also allow J.Mario to move more freely on offense. A freedom that he was deprived of next to the Croatian International as one of them had to keep the team structure every time the other one had the ball and their combined creative power was never thus maximized.

In terms of formation, the parmigiano coach chose to return to the 4-2-3-1 formation that became 4-4-1-1 when on defense for the first time since his debut in the Inter bench in the Derby della Madonnina .

It was a formation that offered more security in the defensive phase, as in contrast with the 5-2-2-1 against Genoa (in which big spaces on the central areas far from the ball appeared when the near the ball inside forward didn’t return back quickly enough and the two CMs had to shift as a result towards the wing) the two banks of four offered much more balance and opportunities to keep the structure more stable as well as enough width.

First Half

The first half saw both teams trying to build-up from the back without success as possession was changing teams constantly and both the nerazzurri and the neroverdi, due to the lack of available spaces in the central areas, focused on attacking through the wings.

The Milanese side, as a matter of fact, faced a lot of problems against Sassuolo’s defense.


Above you can see how Di Francesco’s side defended against Inter, and how they have been defending for the last few years.
With the opposition starting their build-up with a pass to one of the CBs, the striker’s (Defrel’s) task is to apply pressure to the ball carrier arching his run towards the wing in order to force his direct opponent to move or pass there. Meanwhile the two CMs, Mazzitelli and Pelegrini mark Melo and Brozovic to deprive the CB of any central passing option having help also from the winger who, before initiating his pressing run towards the FB when the ball goes there, stays in the inside channel closing any possible passing options.

It wasn’t just Sassuolo’s way of defending though, that made Inter’s task of building up difficult, as slow ball circulation from side to side allowed Sassuolo to stay at all times organized.

Second Half

Despite the nerazzurri’s stuggles however, it was Sassuolo who conceded a goal after a mistake during their build-up phase as Candreva put the ball in the net after a rebounded J.Mario shot.

As the match was progressing and Inter were not becoming dominant on possession, finishing their attempts primarily after failed crosses in the offensive third and not being able to apply pressure on the ball carrier correctly all the time during defensive transition or during Sassuolo’s build-up, the neroverdi were becoming more dangerous. Their combined runs off the ball became more synchronized and after the entrance of Matri the long ball to a target man seemed to prove a somewhat reliable option too, for avoiding pressure or in order to catch the opponent out of structure.

With no goals being scored however, Di Francesco had to change his team more and so Iemello, another striker, replaced the CM, Mazzitelli.

Sassuolo’s shape didn’t surprisingly lose its balance after this entrance as the ex-Foggia man was becoming a CM during the build-up phase playing next to Mssiroli and moving closer to Matri in the offensive third.

It was a balance that was eventually lost in the final ten minutes, as in desperate need of a goal, Iemello was staying next to Matri. Sassuolo now in 4-4-2, with a numerical disadvantage in the centre and with a lot of players becoming more and more tired after successive transition phases, started to become more disorganized leaving to a lot of spaces at the back.
Spaces that the nerazzurri tried to take advantage of in the last few minutes to no avail as the score stayed 0-1.

The win should not hide the problems

Despite the win against Sassuolo, Pioli’s Inter proved once again that they are far from a finished product as they showed a lot of defensive problems that Di Francesco’s very young and depleted side just couldn’t take advantage of. Problems that as was the case against Napoli, would have been much more obvious against a better opponent.

The midfield’s man-orientation and general prioritization of the opponent at the expense of space proved to be the primary problem, or to be more exact, the bad execution of this style of defense as, as it will be shown below, the CM without the ball didn’t shift towards the side in support of the ball near CM, leaving space between them. Lack of quick shifting was a general problem that Pioli will need to solve as in cases when the ball changed sides and spaces were found by Sassuolo in front of the defensive line, no support from the two CMs was quickly available.


Above, we can see a great example of the just mentioned problems in a case when Di Francesco’s team tried to take advantage of Inter’s man-orientation.

With Antei being the ball carrier, Mazzitelli drops deeper next to Sensi in order to drag Brozovic out of position and create space between the lines.

The space, moreover, becomes deeper as Defrel’s run forces the two CBs to follow him deeper making it larger for Ragusa to run into and receive the ball, without any opponent’s near him as Felipe Melo, despite the fact that Icardi had forced Antei towards Inter’s left side, stays centrally and closer to the harmless, in this situation, Pellegrini.
Another example of the above mentioned problems can be seen below, as Sassuolo executed an off the ball movement they have been doing in every match for years.


With the ball having just come from the opposite side, Inter’s midfield hasn’t shifted quickly enough and Icardi is in a position far from the ball carrier to apply pressure. It is thus a great opportunity for Sassuolo to execute a rotation of positions, with the CM Pellegrini moving towards the wing, dragging with him Felipe Melo and freeing space for Ragusa to move centrally and receive the ball before Brozovic arrives.


Inter took another very important win in their desperate attempt to delete their bad season until now and reach the Champions League places, showing in the meantime a lot of vulnerabilities that would have to correct in time for the very important next match against Lazio.

For more Inter and non-Inter related Tactical Analysis, you can find me on Twitter, @ThanosChelas.

By Thanos Chelas