Serie A 2019/20: Inter Milan vs Sampdoria – tactical analysis
With Inter hot on the trail of a Champions League spot and Sampdoria looking over their shoulder, trying to stay away from the relegation battle this Serie A encounter had an interesting back story. This tactical analysis will look at how Claudio Ranieri’s side tried to combat the tactics used by Antonio Conte and his Inter side as both teams looked to get their restarted campaigns off to positive starts.
With Sampdoria only a point above the relegation zone and Inter trying to cement their place in third and extend the gap between Atalanta, Roma, and themselves further this catch up game took on much significance for both sides.
Samp has scored just 6 goals in the first half of games so far this season against an xG of 12.6. They start slowly and have had to play catch up in the second half of their games having conceded twenty-four goals in the first half of those games.
On the other side, Inter have squandered thirteen leading positions so far this season, a stat they wouldn’t be proud of – Inter have been leading games for over 1000 minutes throughout the season, and Sampdoria have been in front for only 156 minutes. All of those stats made this game a potential slow-burning thriller and this analysis will look at the key aspects of the match.
Inter, as expected continued with their 3-5-2 shape that is a Conte trademark. There were some expecting to see Alexis Sanchez start the game after his good performance off the bench in the Coppa Italia Semi-Final loss at Napoli, but Conte stuck with his first-choice front two of Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez. Christian Eriksen kept his spot in the #10 position while Ashley Young and Antonio Candreva continued in the wingback spots.
Sampdoria, this their first game back after the resumption went with a 5-2-2-1 shape with Ranieri looking to exploit wide areas while hoping to use two roaming #10’s to at times play like a 3-4-3 and at others, a 5-4-1. Antonio La Gumina led the line for Sampdoria with Gaston Ramirez and Jakob Jankto completing the top line with Fabio Quagliarella missing through injury. Maya Yoshida and Omar Colley were reunited in their solid partnership at the heart of the defence for Ranieri with Lorenzo Tonelli suspended.
Ranieri’s last Serie A encounter saw them use a 4-4-2 shape in their win over Verona. Here, in an obvious attempt to counter aspects of Inter’s tactical philosophy he changed to a 3-man backline. This freed his wingbacks up to match the Inter wingbacks, deal with the midfield three of Inter man to man and allow the weakside wingback to create a back four with the ball on the opposite side. This should have enabled Sampdoria to press high up the pitch aggressively and this tactical analysis will look at why this wasn’t the case as well as the way that Inter were able to create such dominance in the first hour of the game with the ball that allowed them to have 78% of the ball across the ninety minutes.
Inter started brightly as expected and together with Sampdoria’s notorious slow start could have taken the lead in the first two minutes. In a clear sign of things to come for the first hour, Eriksen’s goal was chalked off the board after Candreva strayed offside in the lead up to his cross into the box.
Inter deservedly took the lead after 10 minutes through a quality combination play goal from Lukaku. They doubled the lead on the half an hour mark with Martinez finishing off a simple opportunity after more Inter dominance through the Sampdoria pressure.
The early exchanges and Inter’s dominance
We will look at how difficult it was for Sampdoria to get high up the pitch to affect Inter’s build-up play and be more aggressive in recovering the ball. The key for Inter is always Lukaku and being able to use him as a focal point for the attack to free up runners from deeper positions using Conte’s third man run concept. A runner supporting the ball either beneath, beside, or beyond the ball to receive a second pass between the lines facing the opponent goal.
This image gives you an overview of the problem for Sampdoria. Notice Lukaku and Martinez are playing on the outside shoulder of the widest centrebacks and therefore also affect the position of the Sampdoria wingbacks. This position allows the Inter outside centrebacks to play directly into their feet with supporting runners beneath the ball from midfield and beyond, in this case from Martinez and beside the ball from the wingback Candreva. If Sampdoria had been more aggressive in the early stages they could have released the ball side #10 to the progressing centreback while keeping the two #6’s in place, at the very least the #10 could get across to block the passing lane into the top line and therefore stop Inter’s incisive play in these moments.
Here you notice that very same problem for Sampdoria. No one to block the passing lane into Lukaku again clearly an issue but now the consequence of that lack of protection. Remember again the third man run concept so fundamental to Conte’s system and philosophy. Candreva supports under Lukaku while Eriksen shows up beside the ball, meanwhile, Barella runs beyond the ball into the space vacated by Colley, the Sampdoria center-back as he tracks Lukaku off the front.
Although this image comes to nothing of note for Inter all of this movement and dominance for Inter in just the first ten minutes of the game had a massive knock-on effect for the next period of time as Sampdoria tried to find answers to the Inter problem.
Inter’s first goal
Even in a short period of time, the danger signs were there for the Sampdoria backline. A lack of protection and a desire to get onto the front foot will always create gaps for good players to exploit. The offside goal in the first two minutes was a warning shot but next, you will see the previous areas of concern raise themselves again.
In this image, you can see the issue clearly once again in the buildup to the goal. Relative to the ball, the Sampdoria line on the ball side is incredibly high. The beauty of the third man concept is that it invites defenders to make a decision on what they think will happen without waiting for the ball to travel. As an example, notice how much attention the backline pays to Lukaku and Eriksen, the usual first pass receivers and how little is paid to Martinez, the recipient of the actual pass. The positioning of the three players for Inter on the ball side here is crucial to find Martinez with the longer ball in behind the line.
Here, the consequence of the above image. Notice that Eriksen and Lukaku are actually the third men now, supporting Martinez underneath the ball and combining to score a brilliant goal in the context of the previous images. A clear indication of how well Conte has Inter firing and on board with his philosophy so far. This type of action is incredibly difficult to stop, especially if you cannot compete physically with Inter.
Sampdoria tried their best to deal with a rampant Inter. They had moments of positivity in the first half when the plan they had prepared came to life, however, when you are being beaten into submission it is hard to make consistent progress because either you get pinned back into your half and cannot get control against a high pressing team like Inter or when you do have moments to potentially get onto the front foot you miss your chance.
Here you will see the process of the Sampdoria recovery beginning to take shape. A much more compact Sampdoria in the image but the real key is the positioning of Candreva the Inter wingback. Notice how much deeper he is here and how much higher up the pitch the Sampdoria wingback Nicola Murro is here. He doesn’t even need to press Candreva though as the ball side #10, whose job is to block passing lanes can do this instead at the same time as protecting those lanes. The midfield is now secure, and the extra man can be released to Candreva with Murro also helping to block those passing lanes. Once Candreva plays backward, Sampdoria can begin pressing together.
However, as you will see here the plan is only as successful as the players executing it make it. Everyone appears to be on the same page here and it could be a moment to recover the ball and counter, thus forcing Inter back towards their own goal. The problem is that Ramirez hasn’t acted quickly enough to help the pressing players. Here he should be arriving at Bastoni, the Inter centreback at the same time the ball does. He is late leaving and so Bastoni can play quickly past him to Ashley Young and Inter can now attack on the weak side removing all the pressing Sampdoria players in this picture. They do recover the ball, it’s just now with the goalkeeper and not with the pressing players like it could have been.
Inter’s second goal actually comes from the resulting loss of possession by Sampdoria. Inter countered quickly into the space vacated by Murro with Lukaku securing a longer Candreva pass after Candreva supports under Barella to receive and play forwards. Lukaku’s clever pass inside to the supporting Candreva is brilliant and Candreva’s square pass to Martinez creates a simple finish for 2-0.
Here is the leadup to Martinez’s finish. Notice that Lukaku has attracted two of the three center-backs away from defending the goal and creating big gaps for Candreva to run into. That in turn brings the covering defender too far over leaving Martinez an unopposed finish. Three passes after recovering the ball and Inter have doubled their lead.
How Sampdoria stopped the rot
When you are being forced back it is difficult to find a way to get up the pitch and set your marker down where you would like it to be based on your preparation. The fact that this game remained close and could even have been squared up is a testament to Ranieri and his game management and also his players who worked tirelessly to stay in the game. To get back into the game you have to pick your battles and win little moments across a period of time. Once you have done that you have to seize the initiative. Against Inter this is difficult to do and the stats back up that difficulty from the game. Nullifying the threat takes the same process and that’s exactly what Sampdoria was able to do for much of the second half.
Here, straight away you notice the change. A compact second line of Sampdoria allows them to release the #10 to the centreback as shown earlier but now with some added changes. Look at the position of La Gumina the striker who is now locking off the weakside switch through the centrebacks of Inter. The positivity of the wingback to press Ashley Young and force the ball longer into Martinez whose strength is not securing long passes from deep. A ball recovered and an immediate success for Sampdoria.
A similar image on the other side. Again, notice the change in body shape from Sampdoria. More front foot aggression and again the front players trapping the ball to one side to limit the switch from Inter. Immediate pressure from Colley on Lukaku as the ball travels into his feet and now a lack of numbers around the ball for Inter to support him. Another recovery and more success.
Now we start to see a real change! Look how high Sampdoria are now trying to recover the ball and how deep Inter has to go in order to play out from the back. Ball side Candreva is level with his own penalty area and being screened by the first line of pressure. Inter cannot switch across the backline so now need to play into pressure to get out or play longer and risk losing the ball cheaply. Either way, the change in the plan from Ranieri is clear to see.
Inter switch play through the backline and the goalkeeper to Young but now see how deep he receives and under the amount of pressure facing his own goal. Sampdoria have done a great job here to recover the ball as its played into midfield.
This is the largest narrative of the second half and the reason for the tightness of the game from this moment. Ranieri is a wise old master who understands that sometimes the opponent is better so the plan must change. Getting his team more proactive and higher up the pitch limited the involvement of Eriksen and Martinez, so much so that both were withdrawn by Conte in the second half despite their huge impact on the first half of the game. Without the roaming wingbacks and support under the ball Lukaku, while still having his moments found life tough to dominate Colley as he did in the first half. Colley was able to defend off the front with much more clarity and confidence and therefore this particular battle became much more of a contest in the second half.
While they still didn’t create as much as they would have liked from these types of moments during the second half, Sampdoria did enough to stay in the game until the end and could well have forced a draw with a little more quality in the final third.
The numbers tell one story, the tactics tell something a little different. The game was a fascinating chess battle between two high-quality coaches who know their teams and their capabilities. Another slow start and a missing Quagliarella stunted Ranieri here as much as the quality that Inter showed in the first forty minutes of the game. His tactical changes brought the teams closer in the second half and showed that Inter can be got at if you know what to look for and how to stop it from happening. Ranieri should take great credit for keeping his side in this game as much as the players for executing the plan in the second half. They lack quality in the final third and need to raise their standards in this area in the games that follow but they should have too many street-smarts to end up in the bottom three despite the failure to steal even a point in this catch-up game.
Inter are improving with every game under Conte. The quality of their work with the ball in the first half especially was fantastic and despite being caused problems by Sampdoria in the second half still had over three-quarters of the ball across the game. What they were able to produce in the second half was below where they wanted it to be, but the fast start gave their opponent too much to do in the second half. There were signs of frustration and nerves at 2-1 after Thorsby’s reaction finish halved the lead but Inter were value for their win and deservedly took away all three points.
Inter host Sassualo next up while Sampdoria travel to Roma. For Inter it will be more of the same with maybe some changes given the short turnaround while Sampdoria will hope to have their goal scorer back available for them. With games involving the teams around them before they take the pitch again, the relegation battle will change by the day, especially if Lecce can take points from AC Milan this week. Faster starts and Quagliarella goals will keep them up but they will need points in the games to come to jump quickly away from the fire below them