Simone Inzaghi has been criticised for not winning big games. He shut those critics up on Sunday night when masterminding a hugely impressive 1-0 win at Inter. This tactical analysis will look at why Lazio’s defensive setup frustrated Inter and allowed Lazio to earn a vital win in Serie A’s Champions League race.
Inter were forced to make a few changes with Stefan De Vrij and Lautaro Martínez missing. Mauro Icardi was still sidelined by Luciano Spalletti for disciplinary reasons. That meant Keita Baldé got a rare start at up front.
Lazio also made changes with Adam Marusić and Ștefan Radu on the bench. Inzaghi continued to use Luis Alberto and Sergej Milinković-Savić alongside Lucas Leiva which made for a more attacking team with Joaquín Correa in front of the midfield three.
Tactical analysis: Lazio’s superb defensive set up
Lazio impressed defensively against Milan a few weeks ago and continued to impress on Sunday night. Their 5-3-2 was extremely solid both vertically and horizontally with the compactness something they have clearly worked on lately. The below image comes after a switch of play, but Lazio still retained a very compact shape which proved extremely difficult to break down.
The main target of Lazio’s initial pressing was to prevent Brozović from getting on the ball in midfield. They did this by having the front two of Immobile and Correa play tight together and block passes into the Croatian.
The compactness of the midfield three further prevented Inter from having any possession inside Lazio’s defensive structure. In the image below we can clearly see how Lazio approached this game defensively. The front two and the midfield three were really compact and looked to deny Inter access to the central areas. They were happy to cede the wide space to Inter, especially on their own left. On this side, Lulić would play deep while Alberto stayed centrally until the ball entered the wide space.
However, there was a slight tweak to Lazio’s defending on the right with the role played by Rômulo. Rather than defending as an out-and-out wing-back, like Lulić on the left, Inzaghi had Rômulo play slightly higher with Felipe shifting across to act as a right-back. This meant Lazio created a situational 4-4-2 whenever Inter started moving the ball towards the left. We can see this shape below with Rômulo (yellow) and Felipe (white) highlighted.
The reason was probably to ensure Lazio were never outnumbered against Asamoah and Perisić. By pushing Rômulo higher towards Asamoah, Felipe could still have access to Perisić while Milinković-Savić provided central cover rather than pressing wide as Lazio have done previously with their outer central midfielders.
Lazio remained compact throughout the game and Inter were forced to turn to crosses. They bombarded Lazio’s penalty area in the second half but the back three and the excellent goalkeeper Thomas Strakosha were faultless as Lazio kept an impressive clean sheet.
Lazio’s counter-attacking threat
Lazio are an excellent team on the counter-attack under Inzaghi and Sunday night proved no different. Their winning goal was scored on the counter-attack and they impressed throughout with their attacking transitions.
There are two things that stand out when Lazio counter-attack. Firstly, their combination play is sublime. One move they often use is a pass into the furthest attacker who then lays it off to a teammate facing the opposition goal. This makes Lazio threatening as they quickly get an attacker facing the opposition defence, usually between the lines of the opponent’s midfield and defence.
The below image highlights one of these situations at the Giuseppe Meazza. Lulić plays the ball into Immobile who instantly bounces it off to Luis Alberto. Lazio can then attack 4v3 against Inter’s three defenders.
Secondly, Lazio’s attacking players make forward runs as soon as the opportunity to counter-attack presents itself. The image below highlights a counter-attack which has just seen Lucas Leiva receive the ball in midfield.
Immobile and Alberto instantly make forward runs. The same goes for Caicedo who receives the pass centrally and then feeds Immobile down the channel. It’s quick and it’s really difficult to defend when you have that many players making forward runs.
Lazio’s winning goal was a perfect demonstration of their rapid attacking transitions. The image below sees Correa starting the move by finding Milinković-Savić in space. As you can see, Immobile, Alberto and Rômulo instantly make forward runs.
The image below sees the counter-attack eight seconds later with Milinković-Savić having played Rômulo in down the line. Immobile (yellow) makes a run towards the front post which forces the Inter defence deep. Rômulo opts to cross to the far side and Alberto instead. Notice the position of Milinković-Savić (white) in this image, which is important for why he isn’t picked up by either centre-back.
A further six seconds later sees Alberto preparing to cross from the left. Three Lazio players make runs into the space behind the already deep Inter defence. Milinković-Savić (highlighted at the back post) has now moved into the penalty area in space far away from the two centre-backs and has instead isolated Brozović. Alberto puts the ball into that space and the Serbian easily holds off Brozović and scores the only goal of the game.
Lazio’s counter-attacking was swift and threatening throughout thanks to their clever combination play and their willingness to make deep runs. They were rewarded for it with Milinković-Savić’s winner.
Inter’s positional changes
Inter struggled to get inside Lazio’s shape in the first half and made some changes at the break. These meant moving to a back three with Škriniar at right centre-back and Asamoah at left centre-back. D’Ambrosio and Perišić played as wing-backs with Borja Valero dropping in alongside Brozović in defensive midfield. Vecino acted as a number 10 behind a front two of Politano and Keita.
These changes were key to improving Inter’s possession play. The back three meant Inter now had numerical superiority at the back which led to Milinković-Savić often stepping up to press Asamoah to even this advantage out. The knock-on effect was that Keita could find space between the lines. The image below shows Asamoah in possession with Milinković-Savić moving up to press. This opens up a huge space in the half-space.
Keita was really good at dropping into this space to finally provide Inter with an option between the lines. Here, Asamoah finds him in the half-space. You can clearly see Inter’s changed structure in this image. The re-positioning of Valero alongside Brozović was also important as it made it more difficult for Lazio to block Brozović as Inter now had to players looking to get on the ball in central midfield.
In the image below, Asamoah again attracts Milinković-Savić (white) which opens space for Keita to drop into. Rômulo’s (black) role, which had been vital in the first half, was all of a sudden a problem; Asamoah’s central position meant Rômulo couldn’t press him while Felipe still went wide to Perišić.
An easy solution could have seen Rômulo drop into the wide role while Felipe could have played as a right-sided centre-back with the license to follow Keita into midfield.
Lazio eventually solved the problem with Rômulo moving deeper, but they were helped by Inter’s inability to create anything centrally. They decided to send an endless amount of crosses into the box. Lazio defended these brilliantly and held firm to win the game.
Despite Inter’s late pressure, they rarely created any good chances and the win must be seen as a true tactical victory for Simone Inzaghi. It also puts Lazio right into the mix in terms of the Champions League places. With Inter on 53 points in third, Milan on 51 in fourth, Lazio on 48 in fifth with a game in hand, Atalanta on 48 in sixth and Roma on 47 in seventh, it promises to be a race right into the last weekend of the season.
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