When discussing Inter Milan under Antonio Conte this season, one of the fundamental aspects that should be addressed is his favoured 3-5-2 formation which they have adopted this season. Something he initially became renown for during his time as Serie A champions Juventus’ and Chelsea‘s manager. A key element within this formation is the use of wingbacks both in and out of possession; enter Antonio Candreva.
The former Lazio winger joined Inter Milan in 2016 for 19.8 million pounds and was predominantly used as a right midfielder/winger. This season, Conte has deployed Candreva as a right wing-back which he has seemingly adapted well to edging out Italian counterpart Danilo D’Ambrosio. At times Candreva’s defensive qualities have come under question however he is a versatile player known for his fantastic work-rate and pace, with an extremely dangerous delivery and ability to shoot with both feet from long range.
This scout report will provide a tactical analysis of Antonio Candreva’s contributions to Inters’ title hopes this season using statistical data to quantify his value to Inter when compared to other full-backs and wing-backs in Serie A.
Positioning in possession
Inter commonly adopt a 3-5-2 with Candreva playing in the wing-back position on the right side of the five. In-possession, Candreva is predominantly tasked with maintaining Inters’ width by locating himself wide on the right flank pulling teams apart and creating more space for Inter centrally. This allows Inter to use defensive midfielder Marcelo Brozović to find pockets of space to receive and turn to play forwards.
In the picture above (red line – ball flight / yellow arrow – player movement), we can see an example of this with both Inter wing-backs providing significant width on either side. This allows Brozović to find a pocket of space to receive the ball and change the point of attack to an advancing Candreva who typically positions himself extremely high up the pitch when Inter has possession. Candreva’s high receiving position can also be seen in the pass distribution map below (blue, #87) against Genoa earlier in the season. It is evident Candreva receives the ball in extremely wide, and advanced areas of the pitch.
Interestingly, we can also see which players combined with Candreva the most during this game based on the thickness of the black line between Candreva and other Inter players. Here we can see centre-back Škriniar combined with Candreva most throughout the game which may not be too surprising. However, Vecino and Candreva also combined at a very high rate which is indicative of a common trait of Antonio Conte’s tactics in a 3-5-2 formation this season. Central midfielders Vecino and Barella often push outwards and spread themselves wider than the Inters’ front two allowing Inter centre-backs to play directly into the front strikers Lukaku and Martinez.
Off ball movement and penetrative combination play
Candreva intelligently positions himself high up the pitch using the direct pass from the centre-backs into the strikers as a trigger to make forward runs to support or run beyond the front two. Additionally, a pass may be played directly to a wing-back and with a central midfielder in close proximity. This can often lead to a 2 vs 1 overload in a wide area (see below).
Above we can see Škriniar playing directly into Candreva who is located high and wide along the touchline with Vecino nearby. As the Genoa full-back aggressively attempts to press Candreva as the ball is travelling across to him, Vecino recognises this and exploits the space the Genoa full-back leaves in behind. Candreva intelligently plays the ball into this space in one touch and instantly attempts an underlap inside.
The Genoa full-back cannot get to Candreva in time to block his first time pass into Vecino and is now taken out of the game. The Genoa central midfielder who has followed Vecino into the wide area has now vacated a more dangerous central area which Candreva can now attack.
Vecino combines with Candreva with a one-two and in two passes Candreva now finds himself running at the Genoa back four in what is a 3 vs 2 situation in favour of Inter. The Genoa centre-midfielder who has been pulled out to the opposite side is too far away to recover allowing Candreva to play a through ball into Lukaku who finishes emphatically. This situation often arises by the intelligent positioning of Candreva and Vecino in wide areas when Inter is in possession, creating overloads on the wings which they can exploit effectively.
This can also prove to be extremely effective when opposition drop into a back five with a compact midfield as Lazio did earlier this season. Evident in the image below, Inter exploits this with central midfielders such as Vecino spreading themselves either side of Lazio’s midfield three and Candreva pushes up higher creating a 2 vs 1 on the right flank. Candreva takes up an aggressive position pinning back the opposition wing-back, back and is on the same line as Lukaku and Martinez who occupy Lazio centre-backs centrally.
Inter often look to play into the front two Martinez and Lukaku and with Candreva so high, he can provide instant support in front or in behind Lukaku. Candreva is excellent at anticipating these situations and has the pace to make the run beyond the opposing full-back and get into a position for a cutback cross.
Above, Lukaku anticipates Candreva’s forward run and cleverly plays the ball in behind for Candreva to run on to as he enters the box.
A dangerous scoring opportunity is subsequently created as Candreva attempts a cutback cross inside the box. Candreva’s off-ball movement and combination play with his near side centre-midfielder and striker often results in penalty box entries and cutbacks which are the best quality cross statistically. Completed cutback crossing percentage is 38% and cutbacks resulting in goals is 6.7% which is significantly higher in comparison to other crosses from open play such as from outside the box.
Quality in the final third
Playing as a winger for much of his career, Candreva has developed some extremely dangerous offensive weapons and leads the Serie A’s full-backs/wing-backs with five assists so far this season averaging 0.32 per 90 in addition to chipping in with two goals. Candreva is third in shot assists averaging 2.04 per 90, (last action of a player prior to his teammate having a shot). This comes as no surprise when examining Candreva’s crosses. Although fourth in the league in regards to average crosses per 90 with 7.22, he is only 0.82 crosses behind leader Marko Pajač who averages 8.04. However, critically, Candreva is 12.74% more accurate than him at 44.25% and has the most accurate crossing percentage out of the top eight players in Serie A.
Above we can see another example of the extreme threat Candreva provides offensively for Inter as they switch the ball from left to right. Candreva times his run to perfection and arrives into the Genoa box on the defenders’ blindside. Brozović finds him with ease in behind the Genoa backline.
Above, Candreva accurately picks out Lukaku in the box who scores for Inter giving Candreva yet another assist. The timing of Candreva’s runs into the box give often give him more time and space to pick out his target when crossing as he often penetrates the box on the opponents’ blindside. This occurs most frequently when Inter have the ball on the left side and the opposition has shifted across to get ball-side. Candreva waits patiently on the weak-side providing Inter with width and a subsequent opportunity to change the point of attack. By the time the opposition can get across and organise defensively Candreva often finds himself in space in behind the backline in a dangerous position to cross.
It could be argued that although Candreva is more accurate, the position of his crosses is from a much shorter distance making it easier for him to pick out his man. This, however, is not necessarily the case as Candreva is second in deep completed crosses per 90 with 2.94, just 0.06 crosses per 90 behind teammate Victor Moses in first with three deep completed crosses per game. Additionally, Candreva lies a respectable fifth in deep completed passes per 90 highlighting his accuracy from both in and outside the box.
Above we can see an example of a deep completed cross which resulted in an assist for Candreva as he picks out Lukaku between the penalty spot and six-yard box. Offensively Candreva is a duel threat as he can make well-timed penetrative runs in behind and into the box to deliver cutbacks to Inter forwards who arrive in the box. Moreover, he can also accurately pick out his man when playing in front of the opposition and crossing from deep.
This analysis will now examine Candreva’s contributions defensively as Inter often drop into a 5-3-2 formation when the opposition has had a period of sustained possession, see below. This formation provides Candreva with adequate support as the right-sided central midfielder can come across if needed. In addition, Inter has 3 centre-backs inside of Candreva, the nearest of whom can come across to support also. This seems to suit Candreva whose defensive attributes have been questioned at times.
Above we can see Candreva in a 1 vs 1 situation, however, Inter has adequate numbers to support him in their 5-3-2 formation with midfielder Vecino and centre-back Godin able to come across if necessary.
Another example of Inter providing support for Candreva in 5-3-2 formation can be seen below as midfielder Borja Valero coming across to create a 2 vs 1 situation in Inters’ favour. This stops the opposition winger from attacking into the box and forces him to eventually pass back.
This support for Candreva does seem necessary when examining his defensive duel success percentage where he lies 81st in Serie A with 4.22 duels per 90 and just a 46.97% success rate. This is significantly different to defensive duel leader Marvin Zeegelaar for Udinese who averages 17.68 duels per 90 and 63.64% success rate. In regards to Candreva, the difference in average duels per 90 may not be such a significant factor as this commonly does not take context such as a teams’ style of play into account. As highlighted previously, his role for Inter is primarily as an offensive wing-back so the number of duels per 90 could be expected to be less. However, his success percentage in defensive duels is significantly lower and this is where the defensive concerns stem from.
It must be noted however that Inter has conceded the joint least goals in Serie A this season tied with Juventus on 24 indicating they do seem to compensate for Candreva’s defensive ability well by providing adequate support around him in their 5-3-2 defensive formation and reap the rewards from his ability offensively.
Exposed in defensive transition
It must be noted that Inter can be exposed during moments of defensive transition due to the advanced and aggressive position their wing-backs take up when in possession. When the ball is lost, this can become an issue if teams can counter-attack effectively. Candreva is often one of the highest players on the pitch apart from the two strikers and counter-attacks in behind him have been something that has hurt Inter this season at times. Candreva lies in 82nd position with regards to recoveries with 4.02 per 90 and teammate Moses only slightly ahead with 4.2 per 90. When considering the advanced positioning of Inter wing-backs this does become more understandable as they have a huge amount of ground to cover during this phase.
The image above indicates this in a 2-2 draw against Parma. Parma counter-attack reaching the edge the box where the ball is then played across the box for the onrushing Parma striker to finish. As this occurs, Candreva is still on the halfway line (circled red) highlighting just how far away he is from the Parma attack with a huge amount of ground to make up to impact the play.
Above, once again, Candreva’s high position is exposed during defensive transition as Inter are dispossessed in the middle of the pitch and an accurate pass instantly releases the Genoa striker in behind Candreva leaving teammate Škriniar in a dangerous defensive 1 vs 1 situation. Candreva’s advanced positioning can come at a cost with high reward and high risk at times.
After being utilised as a right wing-back under Antonio Conte’s system this season, Antonio Candreva’s value to this Inter team can not be understated. As with all tactics, there are trade-offs to consider and in Candreva’s case, his offensive threat and Inter’s 5-3-2 formation out of possession which provides him with support heavily outweighs his defensive flaws which have been questioned at times. The successful shift from winger to wing-back may add a significant amount of playing time to Candreva’s impressive Serie A career. If Inter is to challenge Juventus for the title over the next couple of seasons under Conte, Candreva’s role in Inter’s system could be pivotal.