Wednesday night brings us a special occasion to the table: the coveted Champions League is making a big return to the Camp Nou as Barcelona host Inter in Catalonia. Both teams currently sit at one point after their tournament opener and will be looking to tally their first win in the group stage.
Tactical analysis: Inter’s style of play
Under Antonio Conte, Inter have really sprung back to life. Currently, they sit top of the table in Serie A and are looking to extend that fantastic run in the upcoming fixtures. Despite a hiccup or two along the way, including a draw at home with Slavia Prague, the Nerazzurri are definitely flying high at the moment.
The most prominent part of Conte’s tactics is, of course, visible in his tendency to deploy three in the back. On most occasions, Inter will build their attacks up steadily from the back, similarly to what Barcelona tend to do, with a single pivot dropping deeper to assist and form the diamond.
The foundation of those tactics are definitely the Italians’ fantastic ball-playing centre-backs who make it all possible. All three of their defenders are pretty comfortable on the ball and courageous enough to venture forward and play penetrative passes all the way from the back.
Usually, Inter do prefer a more direct approach to their play, meaning that they will look to play vertically and at a high pace whenever possible. When playing a team that presses really high, the lone pivot, usually Marcelo Brozović, will drop deeper in order to help bypass the press and move the ball forward.
When the press is dealt with or if they are facing a compact block, it’s all about creating space and unlocking the opposition’s defence. There are two ways Inter usually do this: intricate movement or long balls into the strikers.
Notice below how the former option usually looks like on the pitch. As soon as they get the ball around the centre of the park, the pieces start moving across the field. The wide midfielder or the winger will stretch the opposition with a timely run out wide to the flanks, pulling his marker with him.
This opens a channel for the striker, usually Romelu Lukaku, to drop just slightly deeper and receive the ball from his defence since the passing lane towards him is now open. After that, it’s all about playing a quick one-two with the overlapping midfielder or the winger who’s bursting forward.
This is a pattern Inter love to utilise often and it’s really difficult to counter because they always make slight adjustments to their tactics. Sometimes you can see their wing-backs going high and as a result, the midfielders would stay deeper and when the midfield pushes out, the defenders stay deep.
But as we’ve already mentioned, it’s not unusual for their centre-backs to venture higher up the pitch and try and play that penetrative pass to their forwards. The next example shows this perfectly.
Against Barcelona at the Camp Nou, however, we could see a more grounded Inter that’s likely to wait for the right opportunity to strike as opposed to being really aggressive.
So far this season, though, we have seen a very aggressive team that Conte is building. They are fast and direct in attack and relentless in defence. Usually, they will deploy a high-pressing man-marking system when they’re off the ball and will look to pounce on loose balls and misplaced passes in the opposition’s third.
If the press is broken and bypassed, the Nerazzurri often retreat to a low-to-mid block, prioritising the complete shut down of the zone 14 and all the central channels, forcing the opposition to go wide.
Once that has been done, they will look to create overloads on the flanks and collapse on the ball-carriers in order to prompt a clearance or just snatch the ball away. Conte is famous for his well-organised and structured defences and Inter are no exception.
After all, they have only conceded two goals in Serie A so far in the 2019/20 campaign and will be looking for a clean sheet at the Camp Nou as well. But despite their obvious qualities going both ways, they are not without weaknesses.
There are two main aspects Barcelona should be looking to exploit when they face Inter on Wednesday night.
Firstly, even though the Nerazzurri love to play from the back and when the stars align, they look impressive at it, there’s certainly a lot of work to be done in that department.
The Blaugrana are a pretty aggressive team themselves and fortunately for them, Inter tend do break down when pressed well. This, of course, comes as a risk when deploying three players in the back with a single pivot as a well-organised opposition can often take advantage of it.
So for Barcelona, the two key things to take into account are: press well and make sure the defensive midfielder (most likely Brozović), is kept at bay and well covered at all times.
Notice above how Inter lose the ball when pressed extremely high up the pitch. This yields the opposition the ball in a dangerous area and is probably what Barcelona will be doing but it depends on which team they field.
A tandem of Luis Suárez and Lionel Messi up front will offer little in the pressing schemes but if we see Carles Pérez and Antoine Griezmann with the Uruguayan up front then Barcelona have a good chance of pressing well.
The success rate of that press, however, is also pretty dependant on how well they manage to mark Brozović out of the game. In a couple of instances when that was done properly, Inter’s build-up would collapse and their chance creation would soon follow.
Seeing how they’ve got a really technical midfield that’s capable of completely taking over the game, it will be crucial for Barcelona to completely nullify them in that department.
Tactical analysis: Barcelona’s style of play
Interestingly enough, the two teams actually share a lot in common and more than it initially meets the eye. Just like the Italians, the Catalans are also pretty famous for their build-up from the back and the importance of their midfield.
Of course, a lot depends just on the fact whether Messi will play on Wednesday evening or not and Barcelona’s tactics will be shaped accordingly. But generally speaking, the Catalans will use their overlapping full-backs and the movement of their forwards to try and unlock Inter’s defence.
When starting their attacks, however, they will have Sergio Busquets drop deeper, sometimes even between the two centre-backs in order to assist the build-up.
If they are pressed high, they will often form a double pivot to try and counter it and advance the ball further up the pitch. Just like Inter, Barcelona also have great ball-playing centre-backs that tend to send penetrative passes further up the pitch.
Once they reach the final third or just succeed in getting the ball past the halfway line, the Catalans will rely on heavy positional play to outsmart their opposition. This usually involves swapping places among the forwards and midfielders and more often than not, strikers dropping deeper to drag their markers out of position.
Notice above how both Griezmann and Suárez are positioned much deeper than they usually are and the whole opposition’s defensive system follows suit, allowing for the wings to get free and bombard forward.
Stopping the overlap and not committing too much to their man-marking schemes will be key for Inter. But so will be not succumbing to the Catalans’ pressing tactics.
Generally speaking, Barcelona will often press really high up the pitch with one forward following the ball and others either completely mirroring the opposition’s shape or just closing down the possible passing channels.
Once the press is broken, Barcelona will revert to a simple 4-4-2 formation with a mid-block. In that situation, they only contest the ball once certain pressing triggers are activated. But as we’ve already mentioned, that highly depends on the lineup they field on the night.
Just like on the other side of the pitch, there are a couple of flaws in Barcelona’s setup that Inter can not only take advantage of but they even have the right tools to execute it properly.
Firstly, Barcelona usually face teams that are quick to surrender them control of the game and then turtle up in the hopes of weathering the storm. So far this season, however, Inter have been a really aggressive team, as we have already mentioned.
Interestingly enough, Barcelona tend to crumble when faced with an energetic high-press. Of course, with the introduction of Frenkie de Jong into the midfield alongside Arthur Melo and Sergio Busquets, they have become more press-resistant than before.
But teams tend to focus on that midfield and make sure Blaugrana’s trident don’t even get a sniff of the ball. Notice below how that generally tends to look like on the pitch.
Barcelona’s midfield is completely caged and unable to get to the ball and seeing how Inter are really good at doing the same thing and putting great focus on their defensive shapes, we could likely see a repeat of this at the Camp Nou.
One other thing Conte’s team tends to do is completely shut down the zone 14, man-mark the opposition’s forwards and force the rest of the squad out wide. This is a common thing Barcelona face and yet, it is a problem they still don’t have a real cure for.
Notice below how their forwards are completely cut off from the rest of the team which means the Catalans have to go wide and without any real target men in the box, those efforts are usually for nought.
Barcelona are slowly but surely getting their troops back from injuries but are still pretty far from being complete. Messi and Ousmane Dembélé are both unlikely to start altogether and the likes of Jordi Alba and Samuel Umtiti are definitely ruled out.
With all of that in mind, here’s what we think Barcelona’s predicted lineup could look like:
Barcelona (4-3-3): Marc-André ter Stegen – Junior Firpo, Clement Lenglet, Gerard Piqué, Nelson Semedo – Sergio Busquets, Frenkie de Jong, Arthur Melo – Antoine Griezmann, Luis Suárez, Carles Pérez
With the absences of the aforementioned players, Griezmann is likely to drop to the left once again and Suárez to start up front. The only natural winger of the team could then be the young Carles Pérez.
Inter, on the other hand, are completely set for their big trip to the Camp Nou apart from Lukaku’s late muscle injury. Other than that, the Nerazzurri are fit and firing on all cylinders and they should be able to deploy their gala XI against Barcelona.
Here’s what we think that will look like:
Inter (3-5-2): Samir Handanović – Stefan de Vrij, Diego Godín, Milan Škriniar – Marcelo Brozović, Stefano Sensi, Nicolò Barella, Kwadwo Asamoah, Danilo D’Ambrosio – Alexis Sánchez, Lautaro Martínez
There should be no big surprises when it comes to Inter’s lineup unless something unexpected happens at the very last moment. The injured Belgian could, however, be replaced by a familiar face to Barcelona – Alexis Sánchez.
Still, this looks like a really formidable team that could pose problems for the Catalans.
Even though Barcelona are still slight favourites going into this clash, this tactical preview has hopefully made it clear that Inter have the weapons and the tactics to hurt their hosts come Wednesday night.
That will, however, depend on how brave they are – if they sit back and let Barcelona dictate the game, the Blaugrana will more likely than not find cracks to exploit, especially because of the venue the game will be played in.
Of course, everything changes if Messi is introduced but even so, this game looks extremely even and for that reason, we’ll go with a 1-1 draw at the Camp Nou.
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