Serie A 2021/22: How Torino’s defensive system stifled Inter’s attack – tactical analysis
With neither team in particularly good form as of late in the league, Torino and Inter came into this match looking to secure a positive result. With Inter locked in a three-way title race, this match held a lot more jeopardy for the Nerazzurri than it did for Torino, who have firmly cemented a mid-table position, with neither relegation nor a European push looking likely for Torino this season.
In this tactical analysis, I will examine the tactics used by Ivan Juric and Simone Inzaghi in this tight match, which ultimately ended as a 1-1 draw, ensuring that AC Milan will top the Serie A table regardless of whether Inter win their game in hand or not.
Torino started the game with a 3-4-3 formation. Etrit Berisha started in goal, behind a back three of Koffi Djidji, Bremer, and Alessandro Boungiorno. Wilfried Singo and Mergim Vojvoda started as the wing-backs. Rolando Mandragora and Sasa Lukic played as a double pivot, with Josip Brekalo and Tommaso Pobega in more advanced roles, with Andrea Belotti up front.
Inter played with the 3-5-2 they have used since Conte’s tenure. Veteran Samir Handanovic started in goal, behind a back three of Alessandro Bastoni, Andrea Ranocchia, and Milan Skriniar, while Matteo Darmian and Ivan Perisic played as the wing-backs. Inter were without arguably their most important player – Marcelo Brozovic – so Matias Vecino started in midfield alongside Hakan Calhangolu and Nicolo Barella. Edin Dzeko and Lautaro Martinez rounded out the XI as a traditional strike partnership.
Torino’s man-to-man defensive approach
As they have done under Juric this season, Torino went with a strict man-oriented defensive system. Their front three matched up with Inter’s back three, while the wingbacks were responsible for their opposite men. We can see an example of Inter building up under a man-oriented press in the example below, illustrating the man-to-man roles.
Inter’s solution to this was to drop Vecino into the back line to create a back four, pushing the wide centre backs into wider positions. If Vecino was followed, it would create space for one of Inter’s centre forwards to drop into the space created. If not, this would allow a 4v3 in Inter’s favour in the first phase. This can be seen in the example shown below, Vecino drops to create a back four, allowing an overload in the build-up.
How did Inzaghi approach the midfield battle?
When attacking against a man-oriented approach, one usually has the onus to dictate how the game is played, as the man-orientation is an inherently reactive approach, because the attackers can position themselves wherever they want, while the defenders are forced into following their man due to the tactical system. This was especially true in the midfield area during this match, as, due to the shapes of the teams (3-4-3 vs 3-5-2), Inter naturally had a man advantage in the midfield, with their midfield three overloading Torino’s double pivot 3v2. Usually, Inter operate with a fairly expansive midfield three, with the central midfielders pushing high into the half-spaces, however, in this match they created a double pivot with Vecino and the near side central midfielder, with only one of the midfielders pushing up at a time. This created a front five, with the wingbacks holding the width and one of the centre forwards shifting over. In a way, this played into Torino’s man-oriented approach, as by creating a 3-2-5 it directly matched up with Torino’s 5-2-3 when defending. We can see an example of this in the image shown below, Barella and Vecino have created a double pivot while Calhanoglu pushes up higher.
Inzaghi was comfortable allowing Inter’s midfielders to be matched up with beyond Torino’s first line, as this was the sacrifice he was willing to make in order to have an extra player in between Torino’s midfield and defensive line. This may have been an error from the Italian manager when considering that both Stefan De Vrij and Marcelo Brozovic were unavailable for this match these two (Brozovic in particular) are vital in Inter’s build-up play due to their security on the ball and ability to make incisive line-breaking passes.
One of the key ways Inter looked to get in behind Torino’s defensive line was by exploiting their man-marking system by having one of the central midfielders who has pushed up or a centre forward drop deeper, dragging a Torino defender with him. As there was a 5v5 across the back line, this meant that Torino did not have a spare man defensively, and thus the player making the run in behind just had to win his individual duel or footrace to be in on goal. We can see how this worked in the diagram shown below.
Set piece analysis of Torino’s goal
Arguably the decisive moment of the match until Sanchez’s last-gasp equaliser was Torino’s opener scored in the 12th minute by Bremer. This goal was created from a simple yet effective corner routine. The ball played in was an inswinger towards Pobega at the far post. Torino used decoy runners to drag Inter’s defenders away from the far post area, allowing Pobega to play the ball across goal, which was poked in by Bremer amidst the chaos.
We can see how this played out in the diagram of the move below, showing only the key players. Belotti makes a run towards the far post, drawing Bastoni away from Pobega, while Bremer does the same to Skriniar, driving towards the centre. This leaves a 2v2 at the far post, with Boungiorno being marked by Rannochia. Leaving just Perisic, who, in a poor starting position, loses out to Pobega in the duel.
Torino’s offensive approach
Though their only goal was scored from a corner, this does not mean Torino did not pose any questions to Inter in open play. When in possession, Torino’s back three and double pivot formed a 3-2 shape in build-up. They pushed their wingbacks high to hold the width, with Pobega and Brekalo operated in the half-spaces, while Belotti was tasked to lead the line on his own. The 3-4-3 with a midfield box posed problems for Inter, as natural overloads were created. Torino had a 3v2 in the first phase, a 4v3 in midfield, and they isolated the wingbacks 1v1 on the flanks.
Inter’s players struggled to deal with this at times, especially in midfield, as the central midfielders had to decide whether to mark the double pivot player on their side or the wide attacker, while also balancing their pressing responsibilities. While Vecino was often caught between cutting out the passing lane to Belotti or covering for one of the central midfielders depending on how they reacted to Torino’s play in possession.
As mentioned before, when Torino were building up in their back three, they had a natural 3v2 overload in the first phase. When the ball was circulated to the wide centre backs, the near sided central midfielder (Barella or Calhanoglu) would step out to press. Inter’s wing-backs were responsible for those of Torino’s. Torino took advantage of this by manipulating the Inter’s wingbacks by dropping their own deeper to collect the ball. When this happened, the wide centre back on the near side would make a run beyond the wingback, threatening Inter’s wide centre back, who was already pinned by one of Torino’s wide attacker, creating the possibility of a 2v1. Below, we can see an example of this. The wing-back (Singo) receives the ball, baiting Inter’s wing-back (Perisic) to press him. This is the trigger for the wide centre back (Djidji) to make the run towards Inter’s wide centre back (Bastoni) who is being pinned by Torino’s wide attacker on that side (Pobega).
This draw meant that Inter dropped yet more invaluable points in their hunt to retain the Serie A title. In their last five league games, Inter have dropped nine points, allowing Milan to take pole position in the title race for the first time since much earlier in the season. Despite being winless in their last seven games, Torino put on an impressive display against Inter. Juric deserves a lot of credit for how much he is getting out of the Torino squad that almost got relegated last season.
Both teams will look to get back to winning ways in their next match, as Torino travel to Genoa, who are firmly locked in a relegation fight in 19th position. Inter host Italiano’s Fiorentina, who despite the loss of Dusan Vlahovic in January to Juventus, will certainly pose a formidable threat to Inter in their next game.