Serie A 2019/20: Inter vs Sassuolo – tactical analysis
Matchweek 27 of Serie A saw Inter host Sassuolo at the San Siro on 24th June 2020. Inter resumed their campaign after the league restart with a 2-1 win over Sampdoria, while Sassuolo’s first game after the restart ended in a thumping 4-1 loss to Atalanta. The reverse fixture, played back in October 2019, was a seven-goal thriller that saw Inter score four to Sassuolo’s three. This tactical analysis brings to light the tactics and plays that both the teams applied in the game.
The fixture was another goal-scoring fest, ending 3-3, arguably in favour of Sassuolo who came back from behind twice in the game. Sassuolo have been Inter’s bogey team since 2013, having beaten them seven times in their last thirteen meetings. The game was billed as absolutely critical for Inter if they wanted to stay alive in the title race. Unfortunately for them, they faltered owing to some questionable tactics and application. This analysis attempts to highlight a few of those.
Despite making wholesale changes from the previous game, Inter (5) and Sassuolo (7), both Inter and Sassuolo lined up in their respective favoured formations.
Antonio Conte set his team tactics in a formation he’s used for 67.7% of the playtime, 3 – 5 – 2. S. Samir Handanovič started in goal with a back three of Milan Škriniar, Andrea Ranocchia and Alessandro Bastoni. Victor Moses and Cristiano Biraghi started as wing-backs alongside a midfield duo of Roberto Gagliardini and Borja Valero. Christian Eriksen played in front of the midfield in support to the forward pairing of Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sánchez.
Roberto De Zerbi set his team up in a 4 – 2 – 3 – 1 formation, a formation that Sassuolo have taken in 45% of the games. Andrea Consigli started in goal with a back four consisting of Mert Müldür, Vlad Chiricheș, Gian Marco Ferrari and Rogério. Francesco Magnanelli and Pedro Obiang played in the centre of midfield in defensive midfielder/ ball-winning midfielder roles. Domenico Berardi, Filip Đuričić and Jeremie Boga played behind sole striker Francesco Caputo.
Inter’s defensive five
Each time Inter lost the ball and Sassuolo would be bringing the ball in, they dropped deep into their half and defended with a back five. While this is an understandable switch in shape given that their on-ball shape is a 3 – 5 – 2, the most plausible off-the-ball shape would be with a back four or a back five. Theoretically, spot-on planning. However, the problem began when the players were slow in tactics transition or just in general over-committed to attacks (read: Moses). While this was more of an issue in the first half and they did get better in the second, the damage was already done. The slow transition and poor decision making had already cost them a goal and gifted the opposition a handful of chances which buoyed their confidence. Below is an image of how Inter’s tactics move into a back five when they are off-the-ball.
As mentioned, while this was planned well it wasn’t exactly executed very well. The analysis highlights an early instance in the game when slow transitioning into the defensive tactics and poor decision making by Ranocchia cost Inter a goal. Not taking anything away from Đuričić’s beautiful pass to set up the goal for Caputo, but the pass wouldn’t have been made if it were not for Ranocchia’s poor decision making. In an incisive breakaway, Đuričić runs towards Inter defence with only one player to play a forward ball to – Caputo. Inter quickly recede into a backline of 5 as per the tactics. However, Ranocchia moves away from the line ever so slightly and decides to move towards Đuričić to win the ball. Unfortunately for him, his movement opens the passing channel between Caputo and Đuričić. It also opens a wide gap right in the heart of defence between Škriniar and Bastoni. A gap that Đuričić exploits fully, and plays a lovely pass to Caputo who is in free on goal. And yes, he converts. Just like that, Inter are a goal down within the opening four minutes. Below are the images that depict the incident.
Sassuolo: Forget divide and rule; Isolate & Dictate
Sassuolo applied varied tactics in the game to kill the attacking threat that Inter pose. Inter have got one of the most feared attacking duos up-front in Lukaku and Martínez. A lot was also expected from Eriksen who was brought in from Tottenham to fuel the supply to Lukaku and Martínez. Sassuolo, with their varied tactics, managed to isolate players and sections of the pitch with their marking and positioning.
Often, they applied these tactics to isolate the attacking threat, which consequentially led to the midfield shifting forward to support the attack. This meant more space behind the midfield for their speedy wide-men to run into. Sassuolo defended narrow, crowded the midfield in the hope to snatch the ball away and start a quick counter-attack. This has been a proven tactic of theirs, an observation which is further corroborated by the fact that they have scored the second-most goals from counter-attacks this season (nine). Below are some instances which depict Sassuolo’s defensive tactics to isolate and dictate.
One of the tactics was when we saw Sassuolo’s backline push forward towards their midfield. This led to three things:
a. The Inter forwards are in check and are forced to break the offside trap. For this, Eriksen’s role becomes critical.
b. Since the defence has moved forward, the space between midfield and defence is crunched leaving absolutely no space for Eriksen to manoeuvre. The Sassuolo midfield duo of Obiang and Magnanelli, along with Chiricheș and Ferrari from defence, prison him in a box thereby choking him of space.
c. Forced out of options, Gagliardini is left with only one option for a forward pass – out wide to Moses. This play nullified Eriksen’s impact on the game, and his service to the forwards as well. This can also be seen in the table below.
Below are screenshots from the game that depict the tactics used.
Another of the tactics which emulates the isolate and dictate mantra, was when Sassuolo used man-to-man marking to nullify the attacking threat posed by Lukaku, Sánchez and Eriksen. Biraghi moved forward with the ball on the left flank and looked for options to put in an early cross, or a forward pass. Sassuolo had already man marked all of the attacking options available to Biraghi – Eriksen, Lukaku and Sánchez. Therefore, midfielder Valero had to move out of his position to support Biraghi who was running out of options and ground. This movement didn’t bring any fruit as Valero also found himself being marked. On the contrary, this opened up space behind the Inter midfield for Sassuolo to exploit, if they won the ball. However, Biraghi played safe and played the ball back to Bastoni. This play would either have led to a counter-attack by Sassuolo if they won the ball, or would have halted an Inter attack. Both wins for them. Note: it killed Inter’s attack.
Below are screenshots from the game to understand the play better.
Sassuolo used more such tactics to frustrate Inter by isolating sections of the pitch.
Inter: think out of the box?
In the previous section of this tactical analysis, we mentioned how Sassuolo managed to nullify Eriksen and his attacking threat. Sassuolo managed to keep an already low on confidence Eriksen, quiet for nearly the whole duration of his match time. Barring a few glimpses of his true quality which we’ve all seen previously, there was very little he had to offer in terms of an attacking impetus. However, on one particular occasion Inter managed to break the prison and think Eriksen out of the box. Here’s how they did it:
a. They brought in an additional player in the forward line in the form of Moses. With an additional player to deal with, the Sassuolo backline only had three players available for the box,
b. Add to this, they moved their strikers inside the backline, and not on the line, thereby giving the backline more players to worry about.
c. This, coupled with Obiang’s lapse in tactics which broadened the gap between their midfield and defence gave Eriksen just enough space to break the box. A couple of minutes later, Inter scored a goal with Eriksen key in build-up.
Below is a screenshot from the game that highlight the tactics used.
If only Inter could force this situation more often, Eriksen would have had more of the ball. While this wouldn’t have guaranteed a win, it could definitely guarantee a different 60 minutes that he spent on the pitch.
Sassuolo continue to be Inter’s bogey team. Inter haven’t beaten Sassuolo at the San Siro since 2014, and while this game could have been different, they only have their mistakes to blame. The first half belonged to Sassuolo for the most part, apart from a strange five minutes before half-time, that saw Inter score two goals and go into the break with a 2-1 lead. Inter came back stronger in the second half but have only their mistakes to blame as Sassuolo came back from behind twice to share the spoils 3-3.
The tactical analysis does throw some light on the tactics used in the game by both the teams and the events leading up to this result. However, no tactical analysis will be able to fully explain the mistakes and individual errors that cost both teams crucial points. Inter had little to no margin to falter if they wanted to remain in the title race. But this loss leaves them eight points behind Serie A leaders Juventus, and four behind chasers Lazio. As for Sassuolo, they can go back home knowing they still have Inter’s number.