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Inter Milan


Antonio Conte has had a significant impact since his appointment by Inter Milan in the summer of 2019, immediately overhauling his new team with several new signings and a switch in formation that has brought early rewards. The former Chelsea manager has recruited five players from the Premier League including, most recently, Christian Eriksen and Ashley Young in January; the most successful of his signings has perhaps been former Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku.

Entering the season’s final months, Inter are continuing to compete in three competitions. There therefore remains the possibility that, as at Chelsea, Conte will inspire some silverware in his first season at San Siro.

Tactical analysis
Unlike at Chelsea – where it took six games for Conte to adopt a back three – his new team were immediately reorganised from his predecessor Luciano Spalletti’s back four. Conte has demanded Inter play with a similar 3-5-2 formation to that used during his three years at rivals Juventus.

While in the Premier League, Conte used a 3-4-3, with two central midfielders, one central striker and two inside forwards, but at Inter he has chosen to play with two central forwards and three versatile central midfielders (below). At Juve his two number eights offered direct, penetrative forward runs, supporting attacks through the inside channels and providing a consistent and crucial source of goals. Claudio Marchisio and Arturo Vidal were often among the top goalscorers for Conte’s Juven, and Marcelo Brozovic and Stefano Sensi can perform similarly for Inter.

Inter’s patterns of play within midfield have been reminiscent of those Conte oversaw at Juve, through Brozovic attempting first-time passes into the channels (below) in the way Andrea Pirlo once did in Turin, a forward withdrawing to offer a shorter pass to Brozovic, and the other making a run in behind. One of their number eights also offers a third-man run, alongside the advanced attacker.

Their central midfielders have experimented with withdrawing deeper, in an attempt to draw opponents remaining in a deeper block. Spaces are then created for more direct passes to their wing-backs, before the forwards and the far-side wing-back attack the penalty area. Inter have regularly attacked with a 3-3-4 structure, via their two number eights supporting their forwards after possession has progressed beyond midfield. This has often been their strategy when opponents advance in an attempt to apply pressure to their defence, and has therefore involved using Lukaku’s ability to hold the ball up, following direct passes towards him.

Without possession, Conte’s Inter have not effectively pressed high up the pitch; they have instead appeared most effective in a mid-block. With a 5-3-2 mid-block (below) – and with the playing spaces more compact than if they advanced forwards – Inter’s players have been able to apply pressure on the ball to the degree that Conte demands. This mid-block, combined with Lukaku’s all-round game, gives Inter the ideal foundations on which to build counter-attacks; he convincingly retains possession, inviting their advancing wing-backs and numbers eights to attack.

When Inter face a defensive transition, their three-strong central defence has impressed in nullifying dangerous attacks. With both wing-backs advancing the wider areas of the pitch remain unprotected, but the Nerazzuri’s back three features wider central defenders quick enough to cover those spaces, and to delay opposition attacks until teammates recover their defensive positions. Only Lazio, with 23, have conceded fewer goals this season than Inter’s 24; a strong defence is a consistent trait of Conte’s teams.

The new-look Inter
Conte has recruited players capable of the adjusting to the demands of a variety of approaches. Many are capable of playing in several positions; Inter have few who are the very best in the world in a single position, but they have plenty of well-rounded, reliable players who can do multiple different jobs.

Sensi, who has recently featured for Italy, arrived on loan from Sassuolo and strengthens Inter’s attacking options in central positions  – not least because of his quick feet and efficient link play in the final third. Fellow loanee Nicolo Barella offers an attacking threat from central midfield, from where his ability to beat an opponent and break lines represents a different option to that posed by his teammates. Barella’s driving runs draw defenders out of position, and he is also ambitious with his passing, often playing vertically to those in more advanced positions.

Alexis Sánchez’s disappointing time with United was ended but he has had little impact at San Siro. He has been more involved since the winter break but his strike partner Lukaku has been far more effective since also arriving from Old Trafford, suggesting Sánchez’s loan move will not be made permanent.

With Conte encouraging his midfielders to join attacks, Lukaku and strike partner Lautaro Martínez are given consistent support. They have formed a formidable partnership, which has contributed to them scoring 28 goals between them in the first 25 league fixtures of the season, dovetailing effectively, and making runs in opposite directions that stretch defences and create spaces. It is Lukaku who more regularly withdraws to receive possession to feet, and Martínez who favours running in behind.

Eriksen arrived during the January tranfer window from Tottenham to add a further option and potentially a further element to their attack; Young joined at the same time, again from United, and has quickly settled on the left of their five-strong midfield. He has been given the freedom to regularly advance, in the knowledge that three central defenders and at least one central midfielder will cover when he does so; his presence on the opposite wing to Antonio Candreva means that Inter offer quality deliveries into the penalty area from both wings. Diego Godín offered a further option at central defence from the point of his arrival, on a free transfer, during the summer. He offers experience and an impressive ability to read the game, which can prove particularly influential behind wing-backs so willing to advance.

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