With Serie A now back and fully underway, Inter’s matchup against Parma is a fixture that did not disappoint. After the forced break Antonio Conte’s Inter have been unconvincing on both ends of the pitch, only managing to score one goal against Napoli in the Coppa Italia while also conceding a sloppy set-piece goal against Sampdoria in the league. Contrastingly, Parma were able to convincingly beat Genoa 4-1, courtesy of an Andreas Cornelius hat-trick, putting them in good stead to challenge the three-time Champions League winners.
Despite this, it should be noted that results from last week may just be a blip in form, due to the longevity of the break, thus evaluating the previous fixtures of both sides would be inaccurate. Nonetheless, in this tactical analysis, we will look at the tactics both teams used in this game, as well as how they were able to exploit each other in defence and attack.
Inter stuck with their usual 3-5-2 formation, with Christian Eriksen playing just behind the strikers in a free-roaming position looking to exploit the space between the lines. Meanwhile in defence, Danilo D’Ambrosio was brought in to replace the suspended Milan Škriniar, and as a consequence of the 3-3 draw to Sassuolo, Diego Godin and Stefan De Vrij replaced Andrea Ranocchia and Alessandro Bastoni in the hope that Inter would be more successful in defence during this fixture.
Parma, on the other hand, shifted from their usual 4-3-3 formation and adopted a more cautious 4-4-2 formation, in preparation for the high flying Inter wing-backs. Gastón Brugman was replaced with the more experienced Matteo Scozzarella in midfield and Albanian Kastriot Dermaku was given his tenth start of the season in defence. Interestingly, winger Dejan Kulusevski continued to start, despite having to play a much more defensive role on the right-hand side of midfield. And as expected, Parma’s leading goal-scorer Andreas Cornelius started up front alongside Gervinho.
As Inter used a three-at-the-back formation, their build-up play was much more versatile and fluid when compared to Parma’s thanks to the greater range of passing angles offered from three centre-backs, as opposed to just the two. Specifically, the back three was very comfortable in overcoming Parma’s press due to the distance between each player, which helped to disjoint and stretch the opposition as they failed to cover the passing lanes.
In the example above we can see that Parma’s press was largely ineffective as the centre-back had two passing options to utilise. If Inter had played a back four, this press would be much more effective as the striker could then block the passing lane between the two centre-backs, which would then force the ball to be played wide towards a full-back who would be in a much less advantageous position, putting Inter’s build-up at risk. Nonetheless, because Inter had the coverage of a back three, Parma were unable to easily dispossess Conte’s Inter.
Furthermore, by having the back three, it was also able to force Parma to overcommit during the press on some occasions. Meaning that three players from Parma engaged in a press on Inter’s centre-backs, which consequently created room for the wing-backs to receive the ball, allowing for Inter to bypass the press, and start their own attack.
Due to the height and awkward positioning of the wing-back, it was often hard for Parma to cover, without their defence being stretched. For instance, Inter would often position their wing-backs some distance away from the centre-backs in this game, so that when they received the ball, they would be in plenty of space which would then force the opponents to shift towards that position.
The use of wing-backs in Inter’s build-up also allowed them to create space for their midfielders and strikers in the half-spaces. As highlighted above, the wing-back Cristiano Biraghi was able to create space and stretch the oppositions defensive line, which opened up a gap between Parma’s full-back and centre-back. From this, a late run from Roberto Gagliardini in midfield was used to overload the opposition which ultimately allowed him to get into a great position to cross the ball into Lautaro Martínez.
We can see another good example of this later on in the game, with Nicolò Barella making the late run through the half-space, and creating another crossing opportunity.
Parma’s defensive structure
For the majority of the season, Parma have used a high pressing intensity, aiming to pressurise the opponents into making mistakes. This approach has given them an average of 10.35 PPDA this season. However, against Inter, they opted for a more passive approach with less emphasis on winning the ball back quickly. Below we can see an example of their usual pressing structure with the most advanced player Cornelius pressing the ball carrier, while simultaneously the two wingers (Luca Siligardi and Gervinho) will press the nearby players from Sassuolo, to suffocate them of any space.
Extra coverage is then provided by the two widest midfielders who will hover around the opponent’s wingers, in a position to quickly press if the ball is played in that direction. In the end, the structure forced Sassuolo to play the ball long as the pressure was too much to handle.
Contrastingly, against Inter the pressing structure used only involved two pressing forwards who looked to disrupt Inter’s passing lanes, and slow down their tempo. While at the same time, Parma’s midfielders would cover the corresponding Inter players so that they were no longer a passing option. This forced Inter to play the ball wide towards their wing-backs who initially seem to be in plenty of space. Yet because Parma decided to press with only two forwards, they now have an extra body in midfield who can now cover the wing-back and prevent these overloads from happening, out wide.
This is a trend that continues throughout the game as Parma look to nullify the threat posed by Inter’s wing-backs. In the image below, we can perfectly see another pressing trigger in play as they look to stop Biraghi from progressing play, except this time both Kulusevski and Juraj Kucka are closing down the wing-back. Due to this added pressure, Biraghi is forced to play the ball back to his centre-back where play is recycled.
Overall, by shifting towards a more passive approach it allowed Parma to cover Inter’s wing-backs and midfielders in a man-orientated fashion. This means that the wing-back would be unable to create many overloads out wide, while at the same time the midfielders would be unable to show any creativity within the central channels.
The end result of this structure is that it disrupted Inter’s build-up play and their over-reliance on wing-backs to attack. This then forced Conte’s men to try and play through the compactness of Parma, which was very difficult considering the number of passing lanes that were covered within Parma’s defensive structure.
Parma’s use of the long ball
Throughout this encounter, Parma would play the ball long into striker Cornelius, in the hope that he could flick the ball on to a teammate running from deep.
As we can see once the pass is made into Cornelius, two willing runners are coming from deep looking to latch on to the ball from a knock-down. Also with the ball played long, the majority of players from Inter are out of position which means that the runners have more space to exploit Inter with and thus have a greater chance of scoring. That being said, in this phase of play Cornelius is unable to link-up with any of his teammates and the opportunity is squandered.
Nevertheless, Parma continued to play the ball long, as they knew that if the Inter players were out of position, they would be able to create more clear-cut chances. And in the example below, that is exactly what happened, when Kulusevski switched the ball towards Gervinho, he was able to get in behind the defensive line and work the ball on his stronger right foot. Where he then calmly slotted the ball into the net, giving Parma a surprise lead.
In addition to this, we should pay close attention to the pass that was made by Kulusevski as it goes between Inter’s centre-back and wing-back which is commonly known as the weak point of a back three formation and without this precision, the ball would be easily intercepted by either D’Ambrosio or Candreva.
Creating the space
For Inter to overcome Parma’s pressing triggers in this game, they had to create their own space through clever off-the-ball movements and positional superiority to exploit the imbalances within Parma’s defensive structure.
In the image below, Parma had their first defensive block in midfield looking to disrupt Gagliardini’s next move in possession, while the second line of pressure in defence is looking to nullify both Eriksen and Martínez. However, due to the compact poisoning of Inter’s midfield, they are able to create passing combinations at a fast pace, which split Parma’s defensive lines. As a result, when the ball is at Martínez’s feet, he can comfortably pick out Eriksen as the opponent’s midfield line is too high to engage and the defensive line is too occupied with Romelu Lukaku to intervene. Thus, during this split second, Inter have disassembled Parma’s defensive structure, which gave Eriksen a chance to slip the ball into Lukaku, where a shot was then taken on goal.
With an average of 23.8 dribbles in the opposition’s penalty area per match, it is clear that Inter have enough experience in generating quick passing moves and combinations. Below, we can see another example of Inter’s passing combinations. In this scenario, Barella is able to quickly knock the ball to teammate Moses who then, thanks to his wide positioning, draws in Bruno Alves. This is combined with the run of Alexis Sánchez who draws away an additional Parma defender into the box, which frees up room for Lukaku on the edge of the box.
Then as soon as Moses receives the ball, we can see that space has been created through off-the-ball movements so that the defenders are in a poor position to cover Lukaku. As a result, the Belgian can receive the ball in plenty of space where he can have a shot on goal.
In the end, this phase of play gave Inter a corner, which they were able to successfully score from, thanks to a header from De Vrij. It should be noted that Inter’s ability to create their own space was of paramount importance in this game, as not only did it help them get the equaliser, but it enabled them to get the winner three minutes later in this game and with it, helping them remain in the title race.
In this tactical analysis, I have provided an analysis of how the match-up between Parma and Inter played out and highlighted how both teams set up against each other. To conclude, Inter were able to dominate this game with the majority of possession (65%) however because Parma were able to use transitional moments to counter-attack and play the ball long into dangerous areas, they were able to take an early lead. Due to this, the game was more of a challenge than it should have been for Inter, yet thanks to clever movements and smart passing, Inter were able to battle for the win and close in on Lazio in second place.