Serie A 2021/22: Inter Milan’s domination and control undone by an intense final 20 from Lazio – tactical analysis
The teams went into the clash with contrasting form as Inter Milan won their previous game before the international break while Lazio suffered a thrashing at the hands of Bologna.
Lazio lined up in a 4-3-3 system where Sarri decided to make three changes to the side that lost heavily to Bologna. Immobile came back into the attack while Basic and Patric replaced Luis Alberto and Francesco Acerbi.
Inzaghi, on the other hand, made four changes to the lineup that beat Sassuolo just before the international break. Dzeko, Dimarco, Gagliardini and Darmian were drafted into the lineup in place of Correa, Martinez, Calhanoglu and Dumfries.
Inter control proceedings right from the start
Inzaghi has taken from where Conte has left off. The former AC Milan star has used the same system that Conte developed in their title-winning run last season. Though it has not been a very perfect start for them, they have a set structure in place and Inzaghi has been able to get the best out of his players like his predecessor. The 3-5-2 has become more of a 3-5-1-1 these days with Perisic being shifted back to forward position from his wing-back role last season.
Lazio pressed in a 4-3-3 and were looking like a typical Sarri side that was set out to press higher up the pitch and maintain possession. The press though had a couple of glaring issues that fell right into the plate for Inter. With Inter building in a 3-1 shape with three CBs, the Lazio forward had to move to press the CBs. The plan was to when the ball went to one of the wide CBs, the winger would step to press. Meanwhile, Immobile would press the central CB while cover-shadowing the CDM. The issue here is the wingers would be very far from reaching and that gave time and space for the CBs to play a ball.
The next issue like in the above image is the presence of Inter wing-backs. Now since the wingers had to press the CBs who were pretty deep, they couldn’t do an angle run from out to in and cut the passing lanes to the WBs. So the onus was on the Lazio FBs to press the WBs from Inter and again they were very far away from their marker. This gave easy progression for Inter down the flank and Lazio struggled in this aspect almost for the entire game.
A much better pressing can be seen in the above example where the Lazio players have close down the markers and also the Lazio CM is in a better space and position and if the Inter CM wants to make a run in behind, he can track him easily due to his headstart. Since Darmian is not so proficient in playing the ball over the defence, Inter can’t also play Dzeko who can make a run into the space. But these situations were rare and were not always present for Lazio to protect themselves.
Another thing that Inter Milan constantly did was overload the flanks with their CMs and CBs along with the WB to bypass the Lazio pressing in the second phase. We can see that in the image above where again Lazio have the same issue of not being able to reach the players at the right time and are left stranded which gave chance for Bastoni and Dimarco to engage in a one-two situation.
The most frustrating thing for them here is the fact that despite having Immobile to cover-shadow Brozovic, due to this height of pressing issue from their pressing, the CBs were easily able to access the Croatian as Immobile’s cover-shadow was only from the central CB to Brozovic and not for the wide CBs. They were easily able to play a pass to him with the angle very clear and straight.
He would then play a pass to the opposite flank and would effortlessly help inter in progressing the ball further upfield. The example can be seen in the image below where he switches to the other flank with the LWB now with huge space ahead of him left to be used.
We can see that the Lazio players are still yet to get themselves adapted to the Sarri-ball and there seems to be an issue concerning the body orientations while defending the space behind them. We can how Inter players are very aware of the space behind them and can make runs in behind and also show for a passing lane by escaping the cover shadows. Barella in the above image can do the same for his team and is able to show himself as a proper passing option.
One of the other things that Inter Milan were able to do was to effectively use their two strikers to drop into space and maintain the height at the same time. This is when one of them drops deep to receives the ball in between the lines while the other makes a run just before that to ensure the defensive line has been stretched behind. This can be seen in the above image where Perisic makes a run while Dzeko drops into the space. Given that Dzeko doesn’t have speed but has very good strength and holdup play, he is able to receive the ball and if he is pressured he can escape it pretty easily.
It wasn’t just with possession but even without it, Inter Milan were able to stamp their authority in the game and made it difficult for Lazio. They insisted on having numerical superiorities and overloads without the ball. Unlike their opponent, Inter Milan’s use of wing-backs was very shrewd and correct as they let them press high and reach the Lazio FBs who weren’t able to do the same to the Inter WBs.
Lazio mostly built in a 2-2 shape with their full-back very narrow and had their 2 midfielders (Lucas and Basic) drop deep as a double pivot while Milinkovic-Savic would stay higher in the half-space or so to ensure that he stay higher to receive a pass. But since Inter had a front-two they were able to cover the passing lanes to the CMs and the 2-2 didn’t work out as expected like in the above image. If they did shift to a 2-1 shape with one of the CMs going up while only Lucas staying deep, it would mean Perisic or Dzeko would take turns to mark him out of the game while the players around were given markers and would be marked tightly.
Sometimes, Lazio would ask one of their FBs to stay deep to solve this problem where they would make a 3-2 shape. A defensive midfielder dropping is something that is usually seen but Lazio wasn’t able to do that because they wanted Milinkovic-Savic higher up the pitch and still wanted to maintain a double-pivot. The only way was to have a FB drop and ensure that the winger on that side drops as a typical WB. This again wasn’t feasible given the wingers couldn’t be a WB for a very long time. So Inter’s approach was never going to be an issue to them.
Inter also maintained their good overloads even without the ball and ensured that the spaces around were covered effectively. We can see how they have overloaded the ball side effectively and Lazio have been outnumbered in a 2v4 situation.
Lazio find the right moments to finish the game
Despite the result, Lazio for major parts or at least until the 70th minute looked very disjointed as a team. Inter’s decision making and quality in the final third let them down on many occasions despite they progressed the ball with ease. There were some changes that Sarri did. The first being a very intense press later in the second half as Lazio went man-man in many instances like in the image below.
This meant that Inter would have to be very careful now with less time and space to react to the press and have to be very clinical in their decision making. And also their use of Milinkovic-Savic in the second phase proved to be vital. Unlike in the first half, he would often drop very frequently deep and also would make sudden dynamic movements upfield after dropping deep. This gave easier passing options into spaces for Lazio’s deeper players.
It also helped the wide players to have a 3rd man and ensure that triangles and combinations can be achieved to move the ball into the final third. We can see an example in the first half for the same but in 2nd half, it was much more common. Also, the dynamic movement added another dimension to how things were played. The triangles helped the team to sustain possession in the wide areas and allowed the players to have time before they make runs around the penalty box.
While all 3 of their goals never came out in a proper open-play possession attack situation, these small changes did improve and help Lazio to maintain possession that helped them to sustain it for large periods while applying pressure consistently on the Inter players.
Inter Milan have finally succumbed to a league defeat, their first of the season, as Sarri’s side produced a remarkable comeback in the later parts of the second half. The loss puts them 5 points behind local rivals while Napoli’s win might even put them 7 points behind after 8 games.
Lazio meanwhile, have themselves had a mixed but an expected start to the season after the arrival of a new manager. They would be hoping to have Sarri’s philosophy and vision implemented throughout the team very soon as we can see they are getting closer.