Coppa Italia 2019/20: Inter vs Fiorentina – tactical analysis
The quarter-finals of the Coppa Italia took us to the San Siro where a formidable Inter side took on Fiorentina. Nothing could split the two teams when they met back in December in the league, where the game ended in a 1-1 draw. On the night it was Antonio Conte’s side who prevailed, with a 2-1 victory that takes them into the next round where Napoli await.
In this tactical analysis, we take a look at the tactics used by Inter to break down a tough Fiorentina shape. We also provide an analysis of the tactics used by Fiorentina in their attempts to reach the Semi-Finals of the Coppa Italia.
Conte lined his side up in their preferred 3-5-2 system, a shape they’ve used 71% of the time this season. Newbie Ashely Young continued as a wing-back with Antonio Candreva operating on the opposite flank. The midfield trio was made up of a double pivot, with Nicolò Barella and Matías Vecino dropping deeper to collect the ball in possessional cycles. Alexis Sánchez took up a more advanced position in the ‘number 10’ role. His duty was to occupy the Fiorentina defensive midfielder and use clever movement to open direct passing lanes into the front men, which we look at later. Romelu Lukaku and Lauturo Martínez started as the centre-forwards. The pair looked to rotate between running in behind and dropping deep to collect the ball in an attempt to stretch the opponents.
Fiorentina, knowing exactly how Inter would play, matched their opponent’s shape in a 3-5-2. The only difference between the two systems was Milan Badelj played deeper in the midfield trio to reduce space for Sánchez to operate. Martín Cáceres, Federico Ceccherini and Nikola Milenković made up the centre-back trio. They looked to play longs balls in behind Inter’s advancing defensive line to utilise the pace of Frederico Chiesa and Dušan Vlahović who started as the centre-forwards. This, however, didn’t go to plan as the away side struggled to create chances.
The tactical story
Despite similar shapes, the two teams gameplan varied greatly. In typical Conte fashion, Inter played a low tempo game, looking to build attacks using a methodical approach. The centre-backs held a high line and were heavily involved in shifting the ball in possession rotations. Barella and Vecino in equal measures dropped short to collect passes in central midfield. This movement pulled the Fiorentina midfield forward as they attempted to mark closely. As a result, space opened up for Sánchez to receive the ball in space.
When the opportunity to break the lines with direct ground passing didn’t present itself, the Inter defenders looked to go long, either attempting to get in behind or by using Lukaku as a target man. In doing so, they maintained a solid shape that reduced time spent in defensive transition.
Defensively Inter were aggressive in winning the ball back. Their PPDA averaged 6.56 over the course of the match. This wasn’t as the result of a high man-to-man press however, it came from a well-drilled counter-press. After prolonged periods of possession Inter’s defensive line would move up to the halfway line, with every player but the goalkeeper inside the opposition half. This high concentration of players in one half enabled Inter to press instantly after losing possession. In doing so they either forced recoveries in dangerous areas, or they forced Fiorentina to play rushed, misplaced passes. As a result, Inter dominated possession having 67.02% of the ball.
This dominance eventually paid dividends as the ball broke kindly to Candreva who made it 1-0 just before halftime.
On the other hand, Fiorentina struggled. We can see from their pass map that the away were unable to stamp any authority on the game by keeping the ball. Their system was entirely focused around preventing Inter from playing and as a result, they lost their attacking impetus.
There were very few prolonged spells of Fiorentina possession. The visitors averaged just 2.73 passes per possession as they looked to play direct passes into the final third in an attempt to create chances in offensive transition. This meant chances were limited for the away side who amassed a total xG of just 0.73. It was only from a corner kick that a header from Cáceres dragged Fiorentina back into contention, other than that it was a disappointing performance offensively.
Defensively, however, Fiorentina did a good job in restricting Inter from creating chances at will. Out of possession, Dalbert and Pol Lirola tucked inside to create a five-man defence, which dropped deeper to close off spaces in behind. The centre-midfielders also reduced the vertical spaces between the lines to prevent Sánchez operating. This left the strikers isolated up front with nothing to chase down but long hopefully balls forward, which were easily swept up by the experienced Inter centre-backs.
Inter break the lines
As mentioned earlier, Inter looked to penetrate the robust Fiorentina system by breaking the lines. They did this using a rotating midfield axis that opened passing lanes into the two strikers. Once the lanes opened up, Inter utilised their centre-back’s passing range by playing directly into the strikers, passing from the defensive third straight into the attacking third. How they achieved this is shown below.
This tactic centred around the intuitive movement off the ball from Alexis Sánchez. There are two different movements he repeated throughout the game that allowed Inter to break the lines with ease.
Firstly, we can see Inter in comfortable possession in their own third. Notice how the two strikers of Fiorentina are each focused on blocking the passing lane into the double pivot of Barella and Vecino. The strikers are supported by the midfield pair of Erick Pulgar and Marco Benassi, who have also moved forward to mark the double pivot, should the first line be broken.
As a result, Sánchez is left 1v1 with Badelj as we see above. To exploit this Sánchez drops into the space created by the double pivot dropping deep. Instead of receiving the ball to feet in what would be a Fiorentina cage, the Inter centre-back plays the ball through the two lines and into the feet of Martínez, shown below.
This movement from Sánchez has dragged Badelj out of position and opened direct passing lanes into the strikers of Inter. With the ball now in between the lines, Sánchez can spin and use his pace to support the now disorganised shape of Fiorentina. Take note of both areas of exploitable space that has opened up as a result of this simple movement followed by an accurate direct pass.
The second example comes again from Sánchez’s movement or lack thereof in this instance.
This time Sánchez used Inter’s low tempo to his advantage. In possession cycles from right to left Sánchez allows the Fiorentina structure to move around him, opening up a different passing lane to the one we saw above. This time he has given Badelj a decision to make; either move out of the centre of the pitch to mark and leave it unprotected, or cover central space and allow the free pass into Sánchez.
In this instance, Badelj chooses to stay tight to Sánchez and as a result, opened a passing lane directly into Lukaku. We can see above how this small detail from Sánchez has allowed Inter to bypass three lines of Fiorentina defence with just one pass.
We can see above how frequently Inter penetrated the Fiorentina shape by using movement from their Chilean attacking midfielder. The majority of their xG (65%) was achieved by using incisive passes through manufactured central passing lanes.
This constant breaking of defensive lines eventually took its toll on the visitors who conceded midway through the second half. From that point onwards Inter managed to control the game and see out a comfortable victory.
Fiorentina will be disappointed with the result as well as the performance. Going into this cup tie as underdogs gave them the license to unshackle from their defensive responsibilities in search of an upset. This opportunity wasn’t taken, however, and as a result, the game had an air of inevitability about it from the very beginning. If Giuseppe Iachini could have another attempt I imagine he would rethink his rigid, safe strategy and swap it for something more adventurous. Nevertheless, it’s back to normality for La Viola as they look to push on in the league.
A potential banana skin avoided for Conte and his men who will be pleased to advance into the semi-finals of the Coppa Italia without too much stress. I Nerazzurri will be striving for cup glory along with a successful league campaign as they continue their quest to dethrone the mighty Juventus.