Inter ended their final home game of the year with a game against Lazio for the 4th year in a row. A match which could be considered the most important of the year so far if Inter want to keep up with the rest battling for a UEFA Champions League spot.
Luciano Spalletti’s Nerazzurri played a 4-2-3-1 with Borja Valero in at the CAM spot for João Mário who was dropped given his dreadful display midweek in the derby. Also, to give more creativity in the final third and to give more sturdiness between the defence and attack with Vecino and Gagliardini. The only other change was Santon for Nagatomo at LB.
Lazio continued with their 3-5-1-1 formation – the same that Udinese used just 3 games ago to win 3-1 at the San Siro – with Luis Alberto playing as a second striker floating in-between the channels. Immobile was back leading the line with Caicedo being side-lined for a month through injury. Lucas Leiva was tasked to hold the midfield whilst Milinković-Savić and Parolo were given more of a licence to push forward. The wide men who can both defend and attack were allowed to support the play but offered cover when necessary.
The home side started the game off with real energy, especially from Ivan and Mauro, pressing very high up the pitch and staying compact forcing Lazio to opt for the high ball which was easy to pick off with some poor passes on display.
A tendency in the opening exchanges was Candreva drifting into the right half space with Cancelo glued out wide whilst overlapping pinning Lulic back since he knew he had to cover should whoever was pressing Antonio didn’t manage to win possession. Something that has been introduced to the attacking play with João in at RB as he has the pace to recover and also has the capabilities to cross. Coincidently, we also have a similar player who can do the same on the other side in summer signing Dalbert however he hasn’t been trusted just yet due to his shaky performances but he is certainly a player to be considered should Inter want to force teams back.
The same was done on the left-hand side however with both Santon and Perišić being inverted players given the side they were playing on; the ball usually came back into the middle or went backwards to recycle. Not only that, Inzaghi had set up the team to deal with these types of attacks since both Bastos and Radu knew to track Perišić and Candreva respectively with Marušić and Lulić doing the same with their men.
Borja Valero was given the freedom to roam leading to him frequently dropping into a #6 role instead of his designated #10 role in order to collect the ball from either Ranocchia or Škriniar creating a 2-1 and with Lucas Leiva not tracking him that far up the pitch, he was given permission to start Inter’s attacks.
Not only was Borja dropping in deeper, Icardi was also coming deeper to get involved in the play; it did seem more like he was just getting frustrated with the lack of chances being created for him so he wanted a piece of the action over the fact to drag anyone out since de Vrij didn’t track him and the Lazio midfield was able to cope just fine with the extra man. The Biancocelesti were very well drilled maintaining their positions and all of them knowing their roles making it difficult for Inter to create even when the three in behind Mauro interchanged.
Inter’s tight shape was clear to see and continued from the get go, whether they were pressing high or defending deep, they would always be firm and difficult to pass through yet if the away side were able to switch the ball well, the person receiving the ball on the respective side would be in a good deal of space.
One thing that Lazio did fluctuate between is a back four and a back three. For the opening exchanges of the second half, Lazio were mainly holding a back four with Marušić tucking in at RB with Perišić pinning him back whilst Radu played as a LB which he is perfectly capable of doing. Candreva was not pushing as high as his teammate on the opposite flank meaning Lulić operated as a LM forming a four-man midfield and the only time he would drop back in was when Antonio moved into a more advanced position. Lulić was removed after 57 minutes due to fatigue having played 90 minutes on Tuesday and having to deal with Cancelo and Candreva both bombing up and down his flank. The differences can be seen below.
With the introduction of Lukaku and Felipe Anderson, Lazio were injected with energy unlike Inter with Spalletti yet to make a substitution (70th min), leading to the home side being slow in possession causing Lazio little, to no problems at all whereas the men in light blue looked threatening on the attack with Felipe Anderson finding many pockets of space between the defence and midfield with Lukaku charging up and down the left-hand side for his side.
Like in the first half, the three in behind Icardi kept interchanging to not keep things simple and in the hope it would cause some sort of confusion amongst the Lazio backline; not only that, João Mário had fresh legs so he was the one drifting into the middle more often to track back and try to create chances however it was Lazio’s subs unsurprisingly who made the better impact. Especially Brazilian Felipe Anderson who had a handful of chances which on another day he would’ve put away. Inter on the other hand yet again struggled to create anything for the majority of the match, even with the likes of João Mário and Brozović coming on.
Even with all the attacking quality available to both sides including Perišić and Icardi for the Nerazzurri as well as Milinković-Savić and Immobile for Lazio, both teams were poor going forward often giving away possession needlessly and instead, it was the defensive side of both teams which shone today. One player that really impressed me was Stefan de Vrij and with his contract up at the end of the season, Inter should break their backs trying to get this man in. A good point overall against a talented side who are also fighting near the top of the table so hopefully the players will gain some confidence from their performance heading into another tough game and the final fixture before the well needed winter break against Fiorentina in Florence.