For the past three seasons, Marcelo Brozović has been a regular feature in Inter’s starting line-up. This season, newly appointed manager Antonio Conte’s tactics have once again made Brozović a valuable piece in the Nerazzurri’s title aspirations. After an initial loan spell, the Croatian was bought from Dinamo Zagreb for £5 million in 2016, a bargain when considering his performances.
Brozović has made 22 appearances in Serie A this season. The majority have been within Conte’s 3-5-2 formation contributing with 3 goals and 5 assists from a defensive midfield position. His role in Inter’s line-up seems to suit his attributes perfectly. Composed in possession, the Croatian is able to link play through the thirds changing the point of attack with his precise passing and spatial awareness. Brozović is also a threat from long distance and an aggressive tackler out of possession.
This scout report will provide a tactical analysis of Marcelo Brozović under Antonio Conte’s tactics, and unpick his contributions both in and out of possession in his role as a defensive midfielder for Inter.
Linking defence to attack
Despite playing in a midfield three, during build-up play Inter predominantly uses Brozović as the single pivot who’s role is to receive the ball off one of the three centre-backs and play forward. This allows Brozović more space to receive the ball as fellow midfielders Matiàs Vecino, Stefano Sensi, or Nicolò Barella stay high taking defenders with them.
If given time and space on the ball, Brozović can break down an opponent’s defensive block with his penetrative passing. Upon receiving the ball Brozović consistently looks to turn and play forward first passing through the opposition’s midfield unit. Often he will find a teammate in a central position such as Sensi, or make full use of Inters’ wing-backs Asamoah and Candreva, as seen in the diagram below illustrating Brosović’s most frequent passing distributions vs Lecce this season, (red).
This diagram also highlights another aspect of his game which he uses effectively to nullify pressing opposition. Inters’ centre backs will often find Brozovic in tight areas where opposition defenders may feel they can win the ball back. Brozovic’s is comfortable receiving with his back to play and due to his spatial awareness, he can receive in tight areas and draw pressure towards him without losing possession.
Brozovic remains composed under pressure and once he has drawn the defender in, he then sets the ball back to a centre-back who can then play forwards into passing lanes which have been vacated by pressing defenders who attempted to dispossess Brozovic of the ball. This is highlighted by his high usage of centre-back Skriniar marked in orange on the diagram above.
Threading the needle – precision passing
One of Brosović’s strongest attributes is the decision making and execution of his passing which is vital in Inters’ build-up play. Effective decision making allows him to dictate the tempo of the game. Where possible, Brozović aims to play forward early. This means he can and maximise the use of his wing-backs, and with strikers Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez, he has the option of playing into their feet, or in behind the defence via a through ball. The graph below shows how Brozović averages one of the longest passing distances in Serie A, 19.8m, yet has one of the highest passing accuracy ratings, 90%.
When in possession, Conte’s tactics allow for wing-backs to remain high and wide. When Brozović has time on the ball this is one of his most frequent passing targets and is often where he can dictate play. Commonly, Brozović will spread the ball wide to the wing-back and drift across ball-side to support play. As Inter keep possession in this wide area the opposition gradually shift across to close the spaces in an attempt to win the ball back. Brozović’s ability to draw the opposition over to one side, before accurately changing Inter’s point of attack to the opposition’s weak side where Inter has numerical superiority allows them to use of the full width of the pitch and attack effectively in wide areas.
Above Brozović receives the ball from the right-sided centre-back, recognises he is in space and can turn, and switches play effortlessly to wing-back Asamoah who is in space and able to penetrate down the opposite wing.
Brozović is extremely skilled at distinguishing when to play short and draw defenders across to one side of the pitch, and when to turn-out and initiate an attack on the opposite wing. Above, he receives from the left-sided centre-back on the half-turn and immediately spots Candreva making a forward run into the vacated space opponents have left on the far side of the pitch.
This decision is coupled with sniper-like execution of a long-range pass, (above).
In one swift move by Brozović, Candreva reaches the ball near the edge of the box which was accurately placed in front of him, without him having to break stride.
A threat from distance
Brozović’s ball-striking makes him a threat from both set-pieces and open play. The Croatian often positions himself just behind Inters’ on-going attack providing support in case the ball must be recycled or switched, as well as cover if the ball is lost. This means that Brozović frequently fins himself around the edge of the box in shooting range where the ball may be set back to him, or he sweeps up a ball that has not been cleared by the opposition. The diagram below is an analysis of the location where Brozović attempts his shots from (pitch distribution), and where the shots are distributed when on target (on target distribution).
When examining pitch distribution, it is evident that a large majority of Brozović’s shots predominantly come from outside the box; 78.3% to be exact, with 47.4% from the left side of the pitch. This highlights the significant threat he poses in these areas commonly arriving onto the ball unmarked from his defensive midfield position. Additionally, when examining the distribution of his shots on target, it is clear he largely favours the right side on the goal, accounting for 76.6% of his shots. As a result, it is evident he often attempts shots from left to right aiming for the goalkeepers far post as seen in the example below vs Lecce.
When the ball enters the box, Inter consistently has two or three players on the edge of the box waiting to pick up any miss-hit clearances acting as a defensive safety net which can transition into an attacking threat instantly.
Above, Brozović positions himself accordingly as Candreva crosses the ball into the box.
The ball reaches Asamoah who spots an unmarked Brozović on the edge of the box and sets the ball back to him. (See above)
Once Brozovic receives the ball, there is only one thing on his mind. As illustrated on the shot position / on target distribution diagrams previously, Brozović finds himself on the left side the pitch, and curls the ball beautifully into the far-right corner to score.
Brozović’s defensive role
As mentioned previously, during Inters’ attacking phase, the safety net of players who lurk on the edge of the box to pick up any missed-hit clearances or pull-backs can be extremely effective. However, it must be noted that in these situations, Brozović can be caught high up the pitch leaving Inter exposed to potential counter-attacks if the opposition can clear the ball effectively into one of their attacking outlets.
The picture above illustrates Brozović (red) caught between the midfielder initiating a Lazio counter-attack, and the Lazio striker who attempts to break away leaving up to eight Inter players behind.
The Lazio striker manages to get to the clearance first and break away for a counter-attack leaving Brozović with a lot of work to do in what was a quick transition from attack to defence. Brozović’s willingness to support Inters’ attacking play is a huge asset due to his passing and shooting ability in the final third. However, he must proceed with caution as at times this can expose Inter in defensive transition.
Despite this, Brozović’s contributions defensively must be noted and his ability to read the game and make timely interceptions for his team is an extremely valuable asset. Earlier this season vs Lecce Brosović made an impressive nine interceptions for Inter and averages a 48% success rate of duels won. Additionally, the Croatian is an aggressive tackler and provides a strong presence in midfield for Inter.
Above, Inter is out of possession but are in fairly good defensive shape having dropped into a 5-3-2 formation with Brozović in the middle of the midfield three (red). However, an opposition player has drifted into the space between the midfield and defence and could be a threat.
Brozović recognised the danger in behind his midfield line and reads the opposition ball carriers’ pass. He attempts to block the forward pass through and shield his back five.
Not only does Brosović block the pass, but he also manages to regain possession of the ball as he often does through interceptions, and initiate a potential counter-attacking opportunity for Inter.
In the four years Marcelo Brozović has been at Inter Milan there have been significant changes regarding playing personnel and coaching staff. Despite this, Brozović has been a consistent presence in an improving Inter squad lead by Antonio Conte’s tactics. In defensive midfield, the Croatian provides Inter with a composed, intelligent midfielder with an excellent range of passing in possession, and an aggressive presence who reads the game well out of possession. It will be no surprise if Brozović’s name is mentioned among some of the elite clubs in Europe this summer such as Liverpool who have been rumoured to be interested.