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Serie A 2020/21: Inter vs Milan - tactical preview tactics

Serie A 2020/21: Inter vs Milan – tactical preview

The fourth round of the Serie A will see the famous Derby della Madonnina. Inter are going to host Milan in a game where both teams pursue the full package of points following their strong start of the 2020/21 campaign.

Inter are now motivated to get back on track after a not-so-pleasant draw against Lazio that ended with two red cards, while Milan are aiming to continue their impressive performance and lock in their defensive record from three to four games without conceding a goal.

Milan are currently sitting in the second place with three wins out of three games while Inter are looking to improve and find their way up the table.

In this tactical analysis preview, we will examine both teams’ tactics and see how they could expose each other in one of the most exciting and emotional derbies in Italian football.

Formations and strategies

Inter are expected to stick to their 3-4-1-2 formation in order to commit their efforts into the opposition half and use a lot of movement and bodies in and around the final third. Having in mind Milan’s defensive record so far, Inter might need to increase their creativity, especially in the half-spaces in aim to be more productive in front of the goal. While Milan haven’t faced such an offensively strong side yet, the Nerazzurri might struggle to penetrate with their usual high crossing intensity and movement behind the defence. Inter have become even more active on the counter and they often focus their efforts on exposing the opposition by catching them off-guard and using their pace.

Serie A 2020/21: Inter vs Milan - tactical preview tactics
Inter’s 3-4-1-2.

Stefano Pioli on the other side is most likely to set Milan up in a 4-2-3-1 formation in aim for better coverage and in order to succeed in blocking the passing lanes and Inter’s build-up. They are not limited when it comes to attacking presence but Zlatan Ibrahimović’s contribution upfront shouldn’t be underestimated. With his smart positioning and explosiveness, it might not be hard for them to exploit the spaces between the lines and expose Inter’s three-man defensive line, especially if they are highly positioned as per usual.

One of the most interesting battles will be between the team’s wide players. Theo Hernández and Achraf Hakimi are among the best performers in the league in the full-back/wing-back position and are both key figures for their teams.

It’ll be exciting to see which one of them will be able to split his responsibilities better and keep up with his defensive duties while also supporting his teammates up front. We will dive deeper into how they could be beneficial for their teams in the next sections of our analysis.

Inter should rely on solid offensive organisation and good timing

Since playing under Antonio Conte Inter have become one of the best offensive performers in Serie A. The combination of smart attacking approach and strong individualities gives them a big advantage in front of the opposition’s goal. While they are undoubtedly able to expose every defence, they will need to put some extra efforts in the game against Milan.

As mentioned, the Rossoneri are the only team in the league that haven’t conceded a goal so far, and they seem to have improved their defensive behaviour, although they haven’t met a real challenge in their defensive third yet.

What Inter need to do is to get all of their aces out and feel free to use different channels in attack.  While they could achieve success with their usual approach of using pace, off the ball movement and crossing, they might need to make some in-game changes and switch to a different strategy in case Milan are well-prepared and able to stop their efforts.

While Milan haven’t conceded yet, their defensive flaws from last season are likely to show off against the experienced and skilful Inter attackers. The Rossoneri were prone to committing individual errors and failing to defend against players with good technique and confidence on the ball.

While Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martínez are clearly going to be the main threats, Inter need to include more positional changes and movement in the half-spaces since Milan are most likely going to cover the above-mentioned tightly and limit their space for movement.

Serie A 2020/21: Inter vs Milan - tactical preview tactics
Inter trying to commit more bodies in the box. This way the wide players have more options for crossing.

Milan have been performing well when defending set-pieces which means that Inter’s 20.33 crosses per 90 minutes might not be as beneficial as per usual due to Milan’s smart positioning in and around the box.

While using Hakimi in his active attacking role could be very challenging for Milan’s defence, Inter’s strength lies in their counter-attacking efforts. With the Rossoneri’s full-backs being constantly committed to supporting the attacking actions, Inter might easily catch them out of position and use their pace to perform counters. Their strong positioning and good timing will be key for succeeding in their efforts. Over 40% of their counter-attacks end up with shots which looks like their best opportunities in the game might come from them.

Serie A 2020/21: Inter vs Milan - tactical preview tactics
Lukaku’s physical presence is key for Inter’s counter-attacking actions. As in this example, he was able to retain possession and progress the ball to Barella, while Martínez was in a more advanced position to finish the attack.

How Milan could sustain pressure?

As mentioned, despite not conceding a single goal in three games so far, Milan do have their defensive flaws. Their last game against Spezia was an example of how their backline could be exposed on a few occasions. With an opponent like Inter this week, Milan should put a lot more efforts into their defensive performance in order to keep the Nerazzurri away from the goal.

For this purpose, Milan should be very smart with their marking strategy and execute it with increased awareness. While of course, covering Lukaku and Martínez (or Alexis Sanchez in case he plays) should be their main task, they should not overcommit there and neglect the other areas, especially out wide.

Focusing on counter-pressing Inter’s wing-backs and blocking their efforts early on should be on the agenda in order to trouble their build-up and decrease the pressure in the dangerous areas. Milan are prone to leave gaps behind their full-backs who commit to the attacking actions and this could be a deal-breaker for them in the derby.

Serie A 2020/21: Inter vs Milan - tactical preview tactics
Milan being exposed due to the full-backs being caught out of position.

While Hernández is a key player for them in attack too, he should be able to split his responsibilities and have well-measured actions in defence too. He is going to have the difficult task to defend against Hakimi who is known for his strong ball control, dribbling skills and attacking flair. This means that Hernandez should play with increased awareness and try to avoid individual errors.

Serie A 2020/21: Inter vs Milan - tactical preview tactics
Hernández would position highler in order to help with the build-up and the attacking actions. In this case, he received a long ball and immediately cut inside in order to create an opportunity. If not careful though, his positioning could be exposed which could cause a lot of defensive struggles to the team.

Milan shouldn’t only rely on his actions and movement though, since if they want him to actively contribute in the build-up, they should be able to provide better coverage in the wide areas and cover depth in case he is caught out of position.

Going back to Milan’s responsibilities in the centre, they really do need to limit the space out there and their 4-2-3-1 formation might be perfect for that. Inter are the team that have the most touches in the box on average in the league (26.16) which is thanks to their smart positioning and the defenders’ inability to cover them properly. If Milan manage to control that, it will drastically decrease their opponent’s efficiency in the final third.

How Milan could outwit the Nerazzurri?

Both teams are highly focused on their attacking actions and will look to have more time on the ball. Trying to control the game in the opposition half might not be a winning strategy for Milan though. While they should try exposing Inter by building-up from the back if they are smart enough and willing to take a risk, they should allow Inter more time on the ball and drop slightly in their own half focusing on their defensive actions.

That’s very risky, of course, having in mind Inter’s attacking capacity, but Milan could win more out of these situations, exposing the opposition on a counter. The Nerazzurri have been inconsistent defensively and it seems like most of their problems come from their inability to defend counter-attacks.

Serie A 2020/21: Inter vs Milan - tactical preview tactics
Many Milan players join in the advanced areas during counter-attacks.
Serie A 2020/21: Inter vs Milan - tactical preview tactics
Another example of their movement on a counter.
Serie A 2020/21: Inter vs Milan - tactical preview tactics
Inter’s highly positioned defensive line during the build-up makes them vulnerable on a counter. In the image above, Lazio took advantage of the opportunity and counter-attacked after stealing the ball.

These could be the best opportunities for Milan to expose their opponents, although if their wide players win the battle on the flanks, they might be able to supply Ibrahimović with quality balls and penetrate. Forcing Inter into individual mistakes in the central areas could well be enough for the 39-year-old to take advantage and use his experience in order to outplay them and score.

How Inter could stop Milan’s efforts?

As Ibrahimović is Milan’s target man, Inter need to provide more coverage around him. Not only they shouldn’t allow him any space and going behind the defence, but they should put a lot of efforts in their aerial performance. His aerial presence is key for Milan’s successful actions in attack and winning the ball in the air only means more trouble for Inter. The forward has a 100% success rate winning 3/3 aerial duels in his only game this season against Bologna.

As already discussed in the analysis the wing-backs’ movement will also be crucial for both their attacking ventures and their defensive performance, but they need to make sure to not leave spaces centrally since Milan are experienced in penetrating through the central areas and could exploit them quite successfully.

Choosing a midfield pair that is solid in their ball recovery efforts and interceptions could be key for Conte’s side and help them keep the ball away from their defensive third.


Both teams have been exciting to watch under their current coaches Conte and Pioli and it is most likely that their meeting will be full of interesting tactical decisions. It will be a game of outwitting and taking advantage of the opposition’s mistakes. Both teams have their chances to win the game and it will be interesting to see what they have to offer.