Inter gave their hopes of qualification from the Champions League group stage a massive boost with an impressive 2-0 win over Borussia Dortmund, courtesy of goals from Lautaro Martinez and Antonio Candreva.
In a cagey affair, Antonio Conte’s side impressed defensively, and restricted the German side to just five shots throughout, as the win lifts them above Dortmund into second in the group, ahead of their trip to Germany in game week four.
Diego Godin returned to the back three for Inter, whilst Kwadwo Asamoah started at left wing back, with Antonio Conte retaining his preferred 3-5-2 formation.
Struggling with injuries up front, Dortmund chose to line up with Julian Brandt in a central role, as they opted to match Inter with a 3-4-3 formation.
The opening 20 minutes was a cagey affair, as both teams cancelled each other out by matching formations. Inter defended well against the pacey front three of Brandt, Thorgan Hazard and Jadon Sancho, as by sitting deep it allowed them to alleviate the concern of their pace in behind.
The shape also cut off the passing avenues and forced the wingers to drift inside in search of the ball, and in a congested midfield, they struggled to influence the game. Sancho in particular struggled to get involved, as a theme developed throughout the first half of the three attackers being forced centrally.
The influence maps below highlight the positioning of Dortmund’s front three, as their movement inside played into the hands of Inter’s defensive shape, and they subsequently dealt with the threat with ease.
The defensive shape also impacted upon Inter’s creativity, however a theme has started to develop the past few matches. Teams have begun to defend well against the wing backs, in this case Asamoah and Candreva, by blocking off the passing avenues and stopping the overloads out wide.
This has not been helped by Stefano Sensi’s injury, as the young Italian midfielder is instrumental in providing these links out wide, as well as the link play between Marcelo Brozovic and attack.
As a result, Stefan De Vrij has been looking to step forward with the ball and become an extra man in midfield when required, and this was evident once again. Similar to the role he provided against Sassuolo on Sunday, he stepped up into the midfield to create an overload centrally, and as a result dictated possession for Conte’s side.
Completing 49/53 passes in the first half, he saw more of the ball than any player on the pitch, and was instrumental in providing Conte’s side with the break through.
Inter took the lead after 20 minutes as a result of De Vrij stepping up, and as shown below, Dortmund’s defensive shape and high line allowed the Dutchman plenty of time and space to pick his pass.
Martinez timed his run to perfection to run onto De Vrij’s long pass, before slotting home superbly.
Romelu Lukaku in particular struggled to get involved in the game, as the passing channels up to the Belgian striker become shut off both centrally and wide. Once Inter went 1-0 up, the need to force the ball long wasn’t required, and Inter become comfortable with sitting deeper and soaking up pressure.
In possession, Inter tried to invite the German side to press, which they didn’t do until the second half when they began to chase the game. As a result, Lukaku’s involvement was limited, and ended with just the six touches to his name.
Inter looked to press Dortmund high from the off in the second half, before settling back into their defensive shape and frustrating the German side once again. Dortmund were able to push higher initially as Lukaku struggled to hold up the play and offer an outlet in behind, and this allowed Sancho and Hazard to start to influence the game more.
Sancho in particular had more joy in the second half as he tried to link up with Witsel, however the deep defensive line of Inter became even tougher to break down, and played into the hands of Inter’s counter attacking tactics.
Inter’s defensive shape forced Dortmund to play wide and cross the ball into the box, and this desperation played into the hands of the Inter Milan defence, who towered above the aerial threat of Dortmund. Diego Godin impressed in particular, completing 5/5 clearances and 2/2 headed clearances, as the Uruguayan put in an assured defensive display.
A similar theme to the first half developed in possession for Conte’s side, as once again De Vrij and Godin looked to dictate the play. Topping the passes completed with 41/43 in the second half, De Vrij was comfortable on the ball and helped by a more influential Brozovic, who in turn completed 34/36 passes, as the German side eventually pressed higher looking to win the ball back.
De Vrij’s pass map below highlights how deep Inter looked to control possession, as they rarely pressed high into the Dortmund final third for large periods of the second half, as Conte’s side managed the game patiently.
Youngster Sebastiano Esposito was introduced on 62 minutes for the struggling Romelu Lukaku, and the Argentine was influential in Conte’s second half game management. His pace in behind began to stretch the Dortmund backline, which struggled to cope with his pace and willingness to make runs into the channels.
His excellent performance and tenacity were summed up by him winning a penalty on 82 minutes. As Dortmund pressed higher in search of an equaliser, there were large areas of space left in behind, which Esposito was able to capitalise. Latching onto a through ball, he got a run on the Dortmund backline, and was able to force the foul.
Martinez was unable to convert the subsequent penalty, however Inter weren’t made to pay for this, and added a second a minute from time courtesy of wing back Candreva.
The move started with Inter set up defensively as shown below, and this highlights the counter attacking threat that Conte has instilled into this side, building on defensive solidity before targeting a side on the break, particularly when in front.
Looking to quickly transition on the counter, they were able to catch Dortmund out as they overloaded the attacking areas in search of an equaliser.
An expertly timed pass broke the Dortmund offside trap, as the committal of numbers meant there were numerous options for Brozovic to find.
Candreva drove on, and fired home to give Inter a deserved win, courtesy of a super defensive display.
Another case of brilliant game management from Antonio Conte, as his side bounced back from defeat to Barcelona to leave them second in the group, and in the driving seat ahead of a trip to Germany in game week four.
Lautaro Martinez has continued to impress up front, making it six goals for the season, however Lukaku’s inconsistency up front is a cause for concern for Conte moving forward. Parma await in the league on Saturday, as Inter look to build on another assured victory.