Serie A 2020/21: Atalanta vs Inter – tactical analysis
Despite having some of the best attackers in Serie A, Atalanta and Inter didn’t go overboard with their attacking strategies against each other, finishing in a 1-1 draw that saw a lot of physical battles, strategic decisions and missed opportunities. Contrary to their usual attacking approaches, both teams always focus on their defensive actions when playing against each other. They rely on measured movement and smart decisions that could block the opposition’s efforts and help them achieve calmness and fluidity in attack.
The midfield battle was key for the outcome in this game, underlying Atalanta’s existing defensive flaws but also Inter’s inability to take advantage of their opportunities. Atalanta’s creativity up front seemed to be decoded by their opponents who employed an interesting strategy in efforts to block their way to the final third. La Dea weren’t as confident in the final third as we’re used to seeing them but still managed to challenge the Nerazzurri’s defence and threaten the goal.
Both teams got stuck in some repeating patterns in the first half, which affected the game’s intensity. The second half started quite well for Inter but some typical for Gasperini intelligent changes after the break, boosted Atalanta’s performance, making the Milan team’s inability to keep the lead and close a game even more noticeable.
This result left Atalanta and Inter a point apart on the table being sixth and seventh respectively.
Line-ups and formations
There weren’t any unexpected moves when it comes to both teams’ formations. Gian Piero Gasperini opted for 3-4-2-1 but did rely on a slightly different starting XI than his usual one. Despite Pierluigi Gollini being already available after his injury, the coach relied on Marco Sportiello to cover the goal. The three-man defensive line consisted of Rafael Tolói, Cristian Romero and Berat Djimsiti with Romero being one of their best performers third time around.
The midfield saw a new face in the likes of the 18-year-old debutant Matteo Ruggeri who took over the left wing-back spot and was by far the most active player for La Dea in this game. Mario Pašalić, Remo Freuler and Hans Hateboer lined up in midfield next to him, although Inter’s strategy successfully dismissed Hateboer forcing Atalanta to focus their actions on the left.
The attacking trio was formed by Duván Zapata, Ruslan Malinovskyi and Papu Gómez, who occupied the tip of the attack on paper but was actually part of their usual rotations upfront. Leaving Josip Iličić on the bench was another interesting decision by Gasperini that might have cost him the three points, considering Atalanta’s difficulties to penetrate Inter’s block. Gasperini’s smart choices increased the dynamics after he made the right substitutions (something that he has done against Inter previously too). Relying on Aleksei Miranchuk for his first Serie A game paid off and after brining more confidence and versatility to the team’s attack, he managed to equalise.
Inter’s famous 3-5-2 saw Samir Handanović on the goal, supported by Alessandro Bastoni, Stefan de Vrij and Milan Škriniar in defence. Bastoni turned out as key for the team’s ball progression, being the main figure for their combinations on the left. Ashley Young, Arturo Vidal, Marcelo Brozović, Nicolò Barella and Matteo Darmian were all packed in midfield offering a lot of versatility, while Alexis Sánchez and Lautaro Martínez led the attacking actions. The wing-backs choice told a lot about Inter’s approach even before the start of the game, since he chose players that could commit better to their defensive responsibilities having in mind Atalanta’s focus on the wings. It was another mediocre performance by Sanchez who couldn’t capitalise on the opportunities created for him by his teammates and left a lot of their efforts to go to waste. Antonio Conte’s five subs didn’t change much in the game dynamics and couldn’t find a solution to Inter’s uncertainty in the second half.
Inter’s efforts against Atalanta’s press
Inter didn’t change their build-up approach for this game and tried building up from the back as per usual. Their plans were ruined though, due to Atalanta’s aggressive high press which often pinned the Nerazzurri back and didn’t allow them to progress the ball.
Inter had difficulties in opening the passing lanes and being creative in midfield in order to bypass the press, which forced them to look for other ways to pass through their opponent’s block. Atalanta’s actions forced them to rely on long balls to the attackers, which often failed to reach the destination accurately or even when they did, the front duo couldn’t capitalise on the chances.
With the time Inter became more confident in circulating the ball at the back and retaining possession in their own areas until they find a gap they could exploit. Their patience eventually started to pay out, and they found a way to pass through Atalanta’s players with Bastoni having a key role in the whole process. After sending some inaccurate long balls on the flank, he changed the strategy. The left centre-back was the one to dictate their build-up and would constantly aim to progress the ball through either Vidal or Brozović and Young, replying on short pass combinations and quick movement off the ball. The midfield battle was key, and Atalanta didn’t allow Inter a lot of space for movement, and time on the ball, which expectedly affected their attacking performance in the first half.
Things looked differently after the break with the Milano team increasing the tempo, sticking to the left-side actions, which resulted in their goal thanks to Young’s confident movement.
When it comes to Atalanta’s defensive actions, this game underlined their flaws at the back. While their pressing was the main reason for them to concede only one goal, their actions in the final third weren’t as impressive. They employed a mid-low block that Inter easily exploit had they reached the final third. While at first, La Dea seemed well structured and limited the spaces between the lines, the players would allow being dragged out of position, which would immediately result in gaps and opportunities for Inter. Not having Romelu Lukaku with his smart positioning in the starting XI did affect their performance in the final third and they couldn’t take advantage of these opportunities.
The boost at the beginning of the second half came from Conte moving the wing-backs higher up the pitch and changing their role into a more of an attacking one. That helped Inter in the ball progression and pinned Atalanta back.
La Dea’s press provided more security on a counter though which resulted in blocking one of Inter’s strengths. Usually, Atalanta are pretty vulnerable when caught on a counter due to their high positioning and thee man defensive line. In this game, it was clear that they had focused on their defensive actions and managed to stop the Nerazzurri’s efforts to counter-attack them. As we will discuss later, the centre-back Romero had huge merit in their success.
Inter’s efforts to break La Dea’s attacking patterns
Inter also had a strategy for blocking Atalanta’s movement upfront and limiting their options. Atalanta are usually extremely versatile when it comes to their attacking actions. They try to get use of all areas and rely on smart movement along the way. One of their main strengths is the use of the wing-backs and Hateboer’s movement in particular. With his underlapping and overlapping runs, he contributes greatly to La Dea’s actions in the final third. He is key for ball progression but also for finishing the attacks.
Inter seemed to have allocated this and they put efforts into minimising Hateboer’s space for movement and keeping him away from the ball. The Nerazzurri would use smart pressing structures on the flank constantly surrounding the wing-back creating a numerical advantage and applying pressure forcing him either into a mistake or into sending the ball back. This noticeably affected Atalanta’s attacking efficiency which forced them to think of other options in attack.
They also tried to stick to their usual switch of play by attracting the play on the left and then switching to Hateboer on the right, but Inter’s players were so committed to covering the wide areas, that La Dea’s efforts often turned out unsuccessful.
Their overall defensive organisation was well-thought and is something that they have employed particularly against Atalanta before. Dropping in a low block was their main move in order to block their creativity. Of course, limiting the space between the lines works, but what Inter do in order to make their 5-3-2 defensive strategy more efficient and cover the flanks and the half-spaces better was committing the wing-back and one of the central midfielders to covering the ball carrier and creating 2vs1 situations. This way they troubled Atalanta’s actions in the final third, while still having four players in the second line of defence and two players in front of them being ready to cover depth if needed.
Of course, this wasn’t always successful since there’s a risk of overcommitting to the wide areas and leaving gaps centrally, which is actually how Atalanta scored their only goal in the match. Inter started failing in these tactics after dropping back and starting to defend the lead instead of trying to double it.
Cristian Romero’s impact
The centre-back Cristian Romero who receives Gasperini’s trust more and more frequently didn’t fail to meet the expectations once again. He has been one of their most consistent performers lately and despite the team’s unsuccessful run, he has helped them in their efforts to defend the goal. Romero made the difference in La Dea’s half with his measured defensive actions. He didn’t hesitate to dive into challenges in aim to stop Inter from creating chances. Whenever someone needed to step up in the cases when Inter managed to reach the edge of the final third they could rely on him.
His awareness and positioning were key for gaining back possession which is confirmed by his 5/6 won loose ball duels, six interceptions and four tackles in the game. The Argentine didn’t stay away from physical challenges and recovered the ball 18 times, while his teammates in defence Djimsiti and Tolói had a total of 19 recoveries. To finish off the analysis with underlying his solidity and impact on Atalanta’s performance it is worth mentioning that he lost the ball only five times which is an impressive record for a defender, let alone one of the most active players on the pitch.
Despite focusing on their defensive stability, both teams had their chances to score throughout the game but failed to transfer them into goals. They managed to limit each other’s efforts but the managers’ decision to leave some players on the bench might have a lot to do with their underperformance in the final third.
Both teams aren’t playing on their potential and the managers need to find a way to bring them back on track before the gap with the leaders in the table Milan becomes even bigger.