A Tactical Analysis Of Inter Under Antonio Conte – Part 2: Build-Up Play

A Tactical Analysis Of Inter Under Antonio Conte – Part 2: Build-Up Play
November 15, 2019 10:30
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This 5 part series aims to analyze Inter’s first 16 official games of the 2019/2020 season, which coincidentally also are the first matches under the Antonio Conte era.

In the first part an introduction was presented, whilst in this piece an in-depth analysis of the Nerazzurri’s build-up phase will be discussed.

Build-Up Phase

Inter’s build-up phase is based on certain principles and movements that stay the same independently of the opponents they face, and these are:

1) Patient passing between the 3 central defenders with the support of the 3 midfielders, the wing-backs and the goalkeeper if needed, until an opportunity for a pass that breaks the opponent’s lines appears.

2) Change of side from wing-back to wing-back with the help of the midfielders if needed.

3) Opposite movements by the forwards. This is one of the main characteristics of almost every team Conte has ever managed. One forward makes a movement towards the ball while the other one makes the opposite movement and runs in the space behind.

4) One wing-back drops/moves towards the ball and makes a diagonal ball, with the opposite foot, towards the forwards who execute the above mentioned movement.

5) The central midfielder the farthest from the ball, attacks the penalty area and usually targets his runs in the space between the two strikers.

6) The central midfielder closest to the ball drops and positions himself close to the line and next to the 3 central defenders.

In theory, this last movement can create many tactical problems for the opponent.

By having the central midfielder drop almost next to the central defenders, Inter creates in essence a 4 man defensive line, responsible for moving the ball up the pitch.

This means that even if the opponent tries to press with 2 or 3 forwards they’ll be in a numerical disadvantage and if they press 4 vs 4 they’ll leave 2 players to stand against 3 in midfield for Inter to take advantage of.

If the opposition central midfielder or defensive midfielder moves up in order to apply pressure on the ball, they will leave space behind them that could be exploited by a well-timed pass or combination.

This pass becomes even more dangerous if we think about the fact that in this space, two quality forwards such Lukaku and Martinez receive the ball and execute the aforementioned opposite movements.

All of the movements discussed so far, can be seen in the video below:

Build-up Against High Pressing Teams

Inter cannot be characterized at all as a team that is afraid to play against an opposition that pressed high.

Building-up with a formation that includes 3 central defenders that consists of two of the best central defenders in the Serie A with the ball at their feet, namely Stefan de Vrij and Milan Skriniar, allows the goalkeeper to keep his calm in pressing situations.

As well as 3 midfielders that are very resistant to pressure like Brozovic, Barella and Sensi, means that Inter is a team that can surpass the opposition’s pressing with calmness and a clear mind.

One of the main characteristics of this team is that when one of the defenders has the ball, he doesn’t only get support from the defensive midfielder but often by both central midfielders at the same time.

This means that if the opponent wants to continue pressing very high up the pitch, they will have to push up, almost to Inter’s penalty area, with not only all their forwards but all their midfielders too, in order to try to match Inter’s numbers.

As a direct consequence, a big space opens up between the opposition’s defensive and midfield lines, for Lukaku or Martinez to drop into and receive a long ball, to then pass it back to one of the upcoming midfielders that now run into the space they have created.

Against Teams Who Press Without Wingers Or With Wingers That Don’t Track Back

Against teams that press high up the pitch but use a formation without wingers, like Juventus and their 4-3-1-2 or have wingers that do not always track back like Barcelona, Inter tries to avoid the pressing by shifting the ball from one side towards a player that is waiting on the opposite sideline.

This player may be a wing-back or Sensi who does not make supporting movements to receive the ball from the defenders usually but waits in order to receive the ball where mentioned.

Against Teams Who Man Mark High Up The Pitch

Against teams that man mark Inter’s defensive line, Conte asks the winger on the side of the ball, to drop closer to the ball from a higher starting position. This movement is executed in order to drag the opposition’s wing-back or fullback out of position and isolate the 2 Inter strikers in a 2 vs 2 situation against the central defenders, high up the pitch.

If the opponent defends with 3 central defenders, the central midfielder on the side of the ball, will make a run that starts from the area in front of the side where the ball is of to the opposition’s central defender and then drop towards the ball.

This way he will drag the third central defender out of position too and will create the 2 vs 2 that Conte wants. These movements are followed by a long ball towards the strikers who make their usual opposite runs, creating a very big advantage for Inter, in part due to their high quality.

Against Teams That Defend Passively

Against teams like Parma, who play a 4-3-1-2 and Hellas Verona who alternate between 3-4-2-1/5-2-2-1 as well as man marking, and who decide not to press but instead defend in their own half in a passive way, the two central midfielders, would position themselves almost on the touchline while the ball is centrally, with the wing-backs moving higher up the pitch.

This positioning aims to stretch the opposition’s midfield line and open up spaces centrally for passes towards the 2 strikers.

Build-Up In a 3-4-2-1

Against Lazio and Udinese, Inter tried to create a 3 vs 3 against the opposition central defenders with their 3-4-2-1 formation, with the intention to take advantage of their fast movement and one touch pass combinations after a vertical pass from the central defenders or the defensive midfielder.

With The Ball In The Final Third

In an area of the pitch where there is a congestion of players and the spaces are significantly reduced, Antonio Conte’s influence on his team’s game is naturally much smaller.

There are some movements however that are executed in order to open up spaces in the opposition defense.

The wing-backs are positioned as high up the pitch as the strikers and stand almost on the touchline in order to stretch the opposition’s defense.

They are ordered to change the sides in the game, as many times as needed, with balls going from one side towards the other, directly or with the help of the midfielders. When the ball reaches the wing-back, he can execute an action directly if he has space and time, such as crossing the ball or go on a 1 vs 1 run against the defender.

If the defender closes him down quickly, there are still many options to choose from. As the closest central midfielder makes a run behind the above mentioned defender, the wing-back can either pass the ball to the central midfielder or move centrally with the ball and shoot with his other foot, cross to the second post or pass the ball to the defensive midfielder for him to either make a vertical pass or recycle the possession.

Direct Build-Up & Stefan de Vrij

Conte’s repeated movements or circuits and his willingness for total control over his team does not mean that his team does not try to take advantage of situations, such as when defenses leave spaces in behind them and time on the ball.

If the central defenders have time and space on the ball they will often play long balls in behind the defensive line of the opponent for

a) the wing-backs that start from an advanced position up the pitch and make diagonal runs towards the penalty area, or;

b) the strikers who make their synchronized movements, or;

c) a striker that takes the initiative to run behind the defense.

The biggest reason why Inter manages to become dangerous in this type of build-up is of course Stefan de Vrij, as the Dutchman with his precision and excellent passing range, is a very big weapon against opponents’ organized defenses.

In the next part of this series, the discussion will focus on defensive transition.

All videos & images used are in accordance with the Copyright Disclaimer under section 107 of the Copyright Act of 1976, where allowance is made for “fair use” for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, education and research.

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By Thanos Chelas


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