The big one. The one we have all been waiting for. The match Milan keeper, Gianluigi Donnarumma described as a ‘Champions League Play-Off’. I’m not sure about that but nonetheless, this match went beyond just the hatred and rivalry each club has for each other. The need for a result from both sides meant the importance of this match just went up tenfold.
For the fourth game in succession, the line-up remained the same from the boss with his side performing brilliantly since the 0-0 home draw to title chasing Napoli. The team have kept three clean sheets and scored eight goals since this starting XI was put out so heading into this fixture, the Nerazzurri could not be in much better form. A victory would see them move ahead of Roma by one point but crucially, four points ahead of Lazio with the race for top 4 looking like it’s going right to the wire.
As for the opponents, Gennaro Gattuso’s men have had a real up and down season with the Rossoneri reportedly spending close to €200M in the summer in the hope to challenge for the Scudetto and at the very least qualify for the UEFA Champions League again. Neither looked at all possible when previous manager Vincenzo Montella was in control but since ‘Ringhio’ (as he was once nicknamed for his playstyle) was given the reigns, Milan have looked a lot better.
They knew that anything less than a win in this match would see them all but out of the race for the top four. Two changes were made with Montolivo coming in for Biglia and the academy graduate, Patrick Cutrone replacing summer arrival, André Silva from the defeat to Juve in Turin.
Spalletti’s instructions were very similar to previous matches with only minor tweaks being made. That meant that Inter set up in the 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 when in the defensive phase with Rafinha having a very important and specific role without the ball. That role/instruction was to block out Montolivo from the match just like he did against Sampdoria (Torreira) and Napoli (Jorginho). That ultimately stopped them from building up how they would’ve liked and Luciano looked to do the same again.
As you can see, in this example it is a flat 4-4-2 when defending since certain triggers have been set off. One of them being that Romagnoli has the ball and that is a trigger for Rafinha to press him so long as he can cut off the passing lane to Montolivo and recover in time; both of which he can do in this example. If he felt he couldn’t block off Milan’s #18, he would simply allow Romagnoli to play it out as he pleased. However, this didn’t happen when Bonucci was on the ball since he is far better at distributing and breaking the lines, hence why Icardi was told to constantly stick to him and apply immense pressure whenever he had the ball.
When in possession, Inter transitioned from different systems very well. The most important being the midfield transition from a 4-3-3 with Brozović and Gagliardini as a pivot to the former playing in a regista/deep lying playmaker role with Roberto pushing further forward allowing Rafinha to have more space. This also caused confusion since it was clear to see Kessié struggled immensely to stick with his man allowing him to move the ball into great areas as he did.
A common theme and one Spalletti has looked to use often since João Cancelo was employed at RB is Candreva tucking into the half space with the former pushing forward into the winger’s position. This led to what looked like a 3-2-4-1 at times since Cancelo pushed so far forward. What this did was force Milan to be stretched as they wanted to stay narrow and compact but by having both wide men glued to the touchline, then two inside between the lines, (Rafinha and Cancelo) they were forced to commit some out wide and some in the middle thus creating gaps.
Example here, Škriniar is about to receive the ball with Cancelo not in his position on paper like D’Ambrosio is on the opposite side. This means he has two options further forward to pick, either Candreva or Cancelo depending on which he thinks he can deliver the pass to successfully. It looks like it is the RB however Çalhanoğlu is drawn out wide leaving Candreva space for Škriniar to find therefore breaking the lines and giving Inter a great chance to attack in numbers.
Like I mentioned in the first half with the width, that continued throughout and one pass we saw very often was Croat to Croat, Brozović to Perišić. The latter would usually stay wide with Calabria instructed to stay close to Bonucci so this allowed for long balls to be fired his way and this really caused Milan problems since an inform Ivan Perišić can cause almost any team problems, let alone a young, inexperienced and lone fullback like Calabria.
Given the fact it was Milan who were in desperate need of wins in order to keep their UEFA Champions League hopes alive, it was a shock to see how they set up from the off and then continued throughout the match. They clearly set up to sit deep, compact and hit Inter on the counter however they don’t really have the players to do it.
Neither of their fullbacks are on the quick side and the same goes for their wingers. Suso and Çalhanoğlu may be very good on the ball but they need it in the final third to really do any damage which is one of the reasons I felt the Spaniard, Suso was so non-existent. Milan made sure to get enough players behind the ball whenever they could, forcing the Nerazzurri wide. However, like I said, this included their wide players so whenever they won possession, they struggled to actually counter.
Inter managed to maintain their specific press for most of the match forcing players to make mistakes since Gattuso ordered his side to play out from the back meaning they all have to be very comfortable on the ball and have great positional awareness for it to work. The men in black and blue used triggers to press just like in the first half and that could be seen with Icardi pressing Donnarumma whilst also cutting off the passing lane to Bonucci. To add, him doing this forced the Milan shot stopper to go down his left-hand side and slice across the ball; something he clearly didn’t like as he misplaced his passes.
Éder took the place of Candreva with around 15 minutes to go and with the same instructions, but they better suited him since he was obviously fresh and he is actually a second striker which is more of the role Spalletti wants so that Cancelo can attack. Candreva does this job fairly well but this substitution is usually always a good one and yet again, it was. The Nerazzurri continued to dominate the match for the most part and even in the final minute of the match, the tactics of the manager came to show with Cancelo and Éder combining to create a glorious chance for Icardi who had a dreadful game which is very rare.
I feel like we done everything we needed to do in this match, and some, to walk away with all three points but it just wasn’t meant to be. Icardi had a disallowed goal because he was inches offside, very unlucky. Then he misses two chances in one game which he would probably never miss in another match for the rest of his career. Fortune just wasn’t on our side yet we still managed to perform very well, control the match and keep a clean sheet for the fourth match in a row.
Confidence is clearly growing in the squad and there seems to be no reason to change things at the moment however with this game being in the week, we can expect one or two changes for this weekend’s game against Torino. There are 8 games left, 8 cup finals and we must treat every game in this way if we are to be back in the UEFA Champions League next season. Forza Inter!