Antonio Conte has always been a fan of Romelu Lukaku and he has finally managed to bring him to his team Inter. Even though it didn’t happen when he first approached him during his stay at Chelsea, the Italian’s consistency brought the player to his new club Inter.

After a summer of negotiating with Manchester United and questions around Mauro Icardi’s future, the clubs managed to reach a deal right before the transfer window deadline day.

Lukaku himself is looking for a new challenge and rise of form, after a not very satisfying season at Old Trafford, scoring only 15 goals in 45 appearances in all competitions.

The Belgium international couldn’t impress United’s new manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer which led to him falling out of the starting XI more frequently.

Now, he has even more expectations to meet, as he was given the number nine shirt, which most likely means Icardi is looking at a departure from San Siro. If that’s the case, Lukaku needs to get his guts together and play on his potential in order to replace the Argentinian successfully.

Lukaku’s last season at Manchester United might not be his best one, but that doesn’t mean he can’t carry a club’s attacking force on his back.

In this scout report we will provide an analysis of Antonio Conte’s tactics and how could Lukaku fit the Nerazzurri’s style of play.

Conte’s favoured formations

Antonio Conte’s clear approach could be the reason for his appointment as Inter’s manager. The Nerazzurri’s lack of clear vision stopped them from reaching their goals in the last few seasons, although there was a noticeable improvement in their approach.

The Italian has shown that sticking to one certain strategy might be successful in all situations, by only slightly changing formations and player’s roles.

As per usual, Conte started implicating his favoured formations immediately after his arrival. The manager didn’t hesitate to completely change Inter’s style of play and structure. It is known that he favours all varieties of back-three schemes, and this could be seen in all of Inter’s pre-season games.

Although they didn’t have the best record when using a three-man defence last season, Conte experimented and stuck to his favourite 3-5-2 in the pre-season games against Manchester United, Juventus, PSG and Tottenham.

Romelu Lukaku 2019/20 - scout report - tactical analysis - tactics
Inter’s lineup in the International Champions Cup game against Tottenham.

Three of the games ended 1-1 and the winner was decided by a penalty shootout. The only team that managed to take on Inter on penalties was Juventus.

It could be noticed that the Nerazzurri played possession football with high passing accuracy. But this wasn’t enough for them to take control of the games and turn all of these passes into scoring chances. They have scored only three goals in four games, with one of them being an own goal by Juventus’ De Ligt.

That’s when all the questions about Inter’s attacking force popped out. Obviously, there was a reason for Icardi’s absence, as he didn’t take part in any of the games. This was the reason for Conte to rely on a two-man attacking line in the form of Sebastiano Esposito and Ivan Perišić. They didn’t manage to score a single goal, which led to the realisation that Inter desperately need a natural striker upfront.

If Icardi is leaving, the only options for a centre-striker Conte has are Lautaro Martinez and Samuele Longo, who actually scored a goal in his only pre-season game. The 17-year-old Esposito is not likely to get a starting XI spot, at least until Conte’s strategy settles in.

Bringing Lukaku on board could completely change the picture. This would give the manager the opportunity to use his 3-5-2 line-up in a successful way. Positioning Lukaku and Martinez in the two-man frontline would double the team’s chances in front of the goal. This means though, that Ivan Perišić would have a completely new role in the team. Moving out to the left in the role of a half-back, using his pace and ability to cover ground, might fit perfectly to the strategy.

But in this tactical analysis, we will look into what Lukaku’s strengths are and how Inter’s performance could flourish with him.

Versatility is the key

Romelu Lukaku 2019/20 - scout report - tactical analysis - tactics
Lukaku’s 2018/19 heatmap.

Lukaku’s versatility has been immensely underestimated. The Belgium international is far from only being a central striker, who can only score goals.

The 26-year-old has a great impact on the game both on and off the ball, and although scoring goals is his specialty, he has quite a few skills that are extremely useful.

First and foremost, his physical strength could not be doubted. He is a great weapon in one v one situations as not only can he hold on to the ball using his strength, but combining it with dribbling and good vision, makes him a perfect addition to Inter’s final third.

Romelu Lukaku 2019/20 - scout report - tactical analysis - tactics
In this case, Newcastle were in possession when Lukaku dropped that deep to win back the ball and deliver it to the more advanced areas using his dribbling skills.
Romelu Lukaku 2019/20 - scout report - tactical analysis - tactics
The Newcastle players formed a triangle in order to put pressure on him, but he was confident enough to escape and send a long ball to the other flank and into the final third.

It is clear the team has the needed quality in the midfield but what they really need is someone who can pick up the ball from the midfield players and take it into the more advanced areas. Despite his natural central position, Lukaku could be perfect for that job. He would often drop back to pick up the ball and use his skills on it to distribute it further.

Key to his performance is his ability to switch positions. He is covering wider areas than central strikers usually do. That’s partly because he is not selfish and will always look for a good through ball to his teammates, opening space with his movement out of his positioning.

Romelu Lukaku 2019/20 - scout report - tactical analysis - tactics
Firstly, Lukaku moved off the ball so he would be available to receive the ball if needed.
Romelu Lukaku 2019/20 - scout report - tactical analysis - tactics
His movement turned out perfectly measured as Pogba sent the ball to him. In this split second, Lukaku noticed the presence of Luke Shaw and immediately saw an opportunity in sending the ball in the box with a through ball behind the defence.

Distributing the ball to the final third should not be a problem with the 3-5-2 formation, as the team has quite a few quality players to help for the smoother build-up. If they meet struggles against an opponent with a low block or a very compact four-man defence, Lukaku might be a good option for the team breaking it.

His off the ball movement helps, both when it comes to complementing his teammates’ actions or when it comes to him being in the best position to create opportunities.

He tends to stay on the defenders’ backs and make the perfectly timed run off the ball in order to break the block and position in a way to receive the ball and shoot. That’s proof of his strong football vision.

Whenever he feels like there is no option for him to break behind the defence, he always moves in a way to drag the defenders out of position and opens spaces for his teammates to operate in.

Romelu Lukaku 2019/20 - scout report - tactical analysis - tactics
While his teammates were proceeding the ball further, Lukaku patiently waited on the defenders’ backs. Once he saw the space between the centre-backs he made a quick off the ball run towards the box to receive the ball in a perfect position to score.

Having in mind the initial back-three vulnerability when it comes to quick defensive transitions and defending counter-attacks, he could contribute well enough in these situations too. By applying a high press, Lukaku could support Inter’s defensive actions and allow his teammates to get back on position after losing possession. By doing this, he would allow the midfield to structure in the right way and close the passing lanes in order to stop the opposition from building up.

Romelu Lukaku 2019/20 - scout report - tactical analysis - tactics
Here Lukaku is applying a high press. Once he saw that the ball carrier was moving forward he made a run towards the central line to stop him. His defensive contribution is extremely underestimated, but in cases like this it’s clear how important his movement is.

He doesn’t perform defensive duels too often, but he wins more than half of them on average, allowing him to recover the ball in the opposition’s half.

This could force the opponents to send long balls to the front lines though, that’s why the Nerazzurri’s back-three should increase their awareness and try covering as much ground as possible.

The 26-year-old is also a good passer. His passing accuracy could be higher, but the more important thing is his vision and decision-making. He would often drop to the central line, pick up the ball, carry it to the edge of the box and then in a split second find the best option for a pass.

Romelu Lukaku 2019/20 - scout report - tactical analysis - tactics
He was once again down in the midfield trying to help with the build-up. He, Mata and Martial started their movement towards the goal together.
Romelu Lukaku 2019/20 - scout report - tactical analysis - tactics
Once they reached the edge of the box he had a few options, but his strong decision-making made him pass back to Mata, as he saw him uncovered.

In case Mauro Icardi miraculously stays at the club, the 3-4-3/3-4-1-2 formation is most likely to take place with him as a central striker or behind a two-man frontline. That wouldn’t be an issue when it comes to Lukaku’s performance, as his ability to complement his teammates’ movements and switch positions would fit perfectly.

Conclusion

There is a lot of uncertainty around how Inter Milan are going to look in the new season. What is for sure though is that Romelu Lukaku is a much-needed addition to the squad. There are definitely going to be quite a few changes in the players’ roles, but what is more important is that the team will have more options when it comes to build-up and finishing their attacks.

Lukaku’s contribution to the whole team’s performance should not be underestimated and if he manages to build a strong connection with his teammates, we could expect him to flourish again.


Total Football Analysis Magazine #11: July 2019 - tactical analysis tactics
Artwork by @chapulana

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