As the delayed Serie A season really begins to set in, Lazio and Inter Milan have started their seasons in an interesting fashion, with Lazio recording a 2-0 win against Cagliari in their first game, but followed this up with a crushing 4-1 loss to Atalanta, one of their main rivals last season and this season. Inter have started the season in dramatic fashion too, recording a thrilling 4-3 win against Fiorentina before crushing Benevento 5-2.
Whilst Antonio Conte will evidently be happy with the number of goals his side have scored in their first two games, the amount conceded will be a cause for concern. Both teams played some excellent football last season, with Lazio surprisingly challenging for the Scudetto for much of the season alongside Conte’s Inter. This tactical analysis piece will look at how these teams may line up to play against each other in order to win the game convincingly.
Lazio, led by Simone Inzaghi since 2016, finished last season in a solid 4th place, which would have been better had they not seen significant injuries and a crowded fixture list affect their form. However, Lazio impressed hugely last year with expansive, exciting attacking football figure headed by star striker Ciro Immobile, who netted a joint record 36 goals in the league last season. Their defence was also notably solid and a big improvement on the years before. It has taken Inzaghi his whole tenure at the club to slowly build his side into a tactical system, with players coming in to complement this or adapting and improving players in order to fit into this system. In this analysis, we will look to understand Inzaghi’s tactics in greater detail and analyse what they must do to achieve anything from this game.
Inter Milan, managed by ex-Chelsea manager Antonio Conte, finished last season in a solid 2nd place, behind Juventus by a single point. Conte has used his first season back in Italian football to integrate his renowned tactical system, which has won many honours in Italy and in England – his 3-5-2 formation. What will be interesting to observe in this piece is how both Inzaghi and Conte’s systems differ, seeing as they play often in the same formation. This analysis will look deeper into Conte’s system, understanding what he is building at the club and why they could be serious contenders once again this year to dethrone the mighty Juventus.
Lazio (3-5-2): Thomas Strakosha; Patric, Francesco Acerbi, Ștefan Radu; Manuel Lazzari, Sergej Milinković-Savić, Lucas Leiva, Luis Alberto, Adam Marušić: Joaquín Correa, Ciro Immobile
With Luiz Felipe and Senad Lulić continuing to be out injured, expect to see Marušić and Patric keep their places in the team this weekend. Owing he returns from a minor injury before the previous game, expect Joaquín Correa to start this match ahead of Felipe Caicedo. Otherwise, expect Inzaghi to not make too many changes to his typical XI this season, as he looks to find the team’s match sharpness and form.
Inter (3-4-1-2): Samir Handanović: Milan Škriniar, Stefan De Vrij, Aleksandar Kolarov; Achraf Hakimi, Roberto Gagliardini, Stefano Sensi, Ashley Young; Arturo Vidal; Romelu Lukaku, Lautaro Martínez
With Matías Vecino currently still the only player out injured, Inter have almost a clean bill of health. Expect Martínez to rotate back into the side in place of Alexis Sánchez, with Marcelo Brozović and Christian Eriksen to name a few, eagerly awaiting their opportunities in the side, and it would not be a surprise to find them in the team for this game. Alessandro Bastoni will also hope to continue to put pressure on Škriniar for a place at the back, with rumours abound that he will be leaving before the transfer deadline.
Inter’s meticulous tactical system
Inter typically lined up in a 3-1-4-2 or 3-4-1-2 last season, with the wing-backs often rotating throughout the season, with players such as Ashley Young and Danilo D’Ambrosio now facing the prospect of new signing, Achraf Hakimi, displacing them on a more regular basis, who is now widely regarded as one of the best right wing-backs in world football.
Conte’s Inter are fairly flexible when going through build-up play. They typically begin their plays from the back when possible, changing their approach depending on the opposition they play. Typically, if Inter are playing against a high press system, Handanović looks to play the ball long to the wing-backs, who will find themselves in more space than the pressured centre-backs in this scenario. When going long, Inter also often look to play the ball to Lukaku, whose aerial threat allows Inter the space and time to press the opposition, with Martínez making darting runs forward if and when Lukaku can win the ball aerially.
This is also the ideal playing style in a 3-4-1-2 formation, as it allows Inter to include playmakers such as Eriksen in their build-up towards the opposition goal. In this below figure, we can see the effective line up play Lukaku can provide for Martínez, and vice versa, with Lukaku powering past the opposition defence and finding a smart pass through the defensive lines to Martínez.
Inter, however, more often than not, look to play the ball short and play a possession, progressive footballing style, with the centre-backs playing wide from each other, looking to begin a passing play with the attacking full-backs. When in a 3-1-4-2 system, Inter look to use the defensive midfield option of players such as Brozović to help begin attacking plays. This is a similar technique to the one used by Lazio in build-up play, with Lucas Leiva or more often in more recent seasons, Luis Alberto, dropping deep to begin the build-up towards the opposition goal.
Lazio will look to offset the tactic of playing the ball through to the wing-backs by pressing Inter’s full-backs with their own, but this could potentially leave gaps in the wing areas for Lukaku and Martínez to exploit. In this figure, we can see the opposition effectively attacking this potential weakness in Lazio’s defence, with the wide player finding acres of space to collect the ball and attack on the left and in Lazio’s box, eventually leading to a strong goalscoring opportunity.
A key difference in these two sides’ attacking play is where the focus of their attacks are on the pitch, with Lazio focusing their efforts in central areas, whilst Inter play their attacking in a very flexible fashion, with players alternating their positions depending on the opposition’s positioning and gaps in their defensive lines. Inter could use this to their advantage, with Atalanta showcasing a varied and open attacking system can lead to results, particularly in their 4-1 win against Lazio in their most recent fixture. Inter’s flexible attacking approach, that mirrors in many ways Atalanta’s, will be a specific area that Inzaghi will be looking at in the build-up to this game.
Lukaku and Martínez are a potent threat for Serie A sides, with both players scoring, with three goals from Lukaku and two from Martínez already this season in two games. What is unique about this attacking duo is their versatility when their teammates begin an attacking play. As previously mentioned, Lukaku looks to find space deeper on the pitch to win long balls and bring his teammates into an attacking phase of play, whilst Martínez will make a swift attacking run. However, both players will also look to find gaps in the opposition’s passing lanes and will happily drop deep to bring each other into play as soon as possible. A key distinction between this duo and many others in Italian football is their versatility in positioning as well, with both players cutting wide if needs be to link up with the advancing wing-backs.
Inter’s shape when moving into an attack is often a 3-3-4, with the central midfielders staying relatively deep, meaning that in the scenario that the opposition effectively win the ball back and counter-attack, the central midfielders can cut wide to cover these areas and prevent the opposition getting through to the central defenders who may be playing a high line.
Another interesting versatility in Inter’s attacking system is that when they are pressed zonally and, on the wings, they play the ball long across to the other wing, where the opposite wing-back and attacking players will be in much more space to provide a cross or ball into the opposition area. This is showcased by Inter’s statistics in the league last season, with their players providing the third most crosses per game in the league. In the below figure, we can see Sánchez switching play to Hakimi on the wing, who then progresses the ball into the box and finds Lukaku in a goalscoring position.
Inter’s solid defence
Inter have become a staple of effective defending in a non-pressing system, conceding the least goals in Serie A last season. Inter focus their defence in the central areas, looking to prevent the midfield, in this case Alberto and Milinković-Savić, from controlling play in the centre of the park. The key way in which Inter do look to press however, is through their wing-backs. They wait for the opposition to switch play to the wings when unable to find a way through the centre, and move their positioning across the pitch, with wing-backs exerting pressure quickly in the hope of a quick counter-attack and goalscoring opportunity.
Inter drop into a variant of the 5-3-2 when deep on the pitch, looking to overload in defensive numbers in their own area, preventing crosses or winning in their air more often than not when the crosses do come in. In below figure, we can see Inter doing just this, overloading the box and the pitch behind the opposition attack with numbers in order to cut off passing options for the opposition, with two of Inter’s centre-backs ready to press if and when the cross comes in.
This is also a useful system in switching back into build-up and attack, as they look to focus their play against on their wing-backs’ attacking and fast, in the hope they find Lukaku and Martínez, who will more often than not stay high up the pitch.
Lazio’s rigid and robust tactical system
Lazio will know, particularly after their last match against Atalanta, how important it is to get results in games like this. They have identified a tactical system which complements their players to an extremely high level, playing a 3-5-1-1, which complements impressive attacking players such as Correa and Immobile greatly, or a 3-5-2 which compliments two clinical dangerous options, often Immobile alongside Caicedo. As mentioned earlier in the piece, Lucas Leiva and Alberto are key figures in Lazio’s build-up play. They are free to roam around in the central areas in order to begin and progress Lazio’s attacking system. Lazio will know going into this game however, the importance of finding alternatives to this typical system in order to break through the regimented Inter defensive system.
As Inter focus their efforts on cutting off passing lanes in central areas, look for Lazio to play the ball wide, with Marušić and Lazzari being decent form at the start of this season. In the below figure, we can see Lazio exploiting a three at the back system to attack the opposition’s wings, with the back three being too close together and high up the field, leaving Lazio with acres of space to attack into.
The objective will most likely be for the wing-backs in Lazio’s system to be more effective in the attacking build-up play than they already are, with the ball being switched to whichever one of these two, finds themselves in space. Lazio will also hope that Lucas, in his role as a ball winner in front of the Lazio defence, potentially weakened still by the absence of Felipe, is effective in cutting off the passing options to Lukaku and Martínez.
Lazio largely look to build up centrally and could still find this an effective option for their side, even when Inter rely so heavily on defending in central areas. Milinković-Savić is a key player in this being effective. As a box-to-box midfielder for Lazio, the hope is his defensive and attacking contribution will overwhelm the Inter midfielders centrally, with his strength in the air being a clear and key danger. They hope to utilise this strength against Lukaku when defending and when on the attack, will hope Milinković-Savić is high up the pitch and can win the long ball through his aerial and physical strength.
Lazio’s defensive versatility
Lazio could find themselves in a strong position as well for this game due to their defensive versatility. Their back three is varied in their talents and they complement each other well, with Acerbi being a strong physical and tactical presence and Radu being a highly experienced Serie A defender, with great positional awareness. Lazio like to play a high press when trying to win the ball back and Inter could find themselves vulnerable to this if Lazio do this at the pace that they have done so in the past year. In the below figure, we can observe the previously mentioned positional awareness of the Lazio defence, with the opposition having options but finding these covered in numbers by the back five of Lazio.
However, Lazio also look to operate in a mid-block when required, forcing the opposition in this case, to play long passes further up the field, in the hope their strong and tall players, namely Lukaku, can win the ball and hold it up. However, the presence of Milinković-Savić in the central areas will give Lazio confidence they can force Inter into this passing play and win the ball back further up the pitch, pressing and countering quicker to find the net.
Both Lazio and Inter will be hoping this game provides them with the opportunity to make a name for themselves this season, with this game being an early indicator of the challenge they could put up to Juventus this season. I expect this to be a tactically diverse game, with multiple systems being utilised in order to find a breakthrough. Lazio will hope for an off day from both of Inter’s forwards, but with Lukaku and Martínez appearing to be in great form, this would appear to be unlikely.
Inter will be hoping that Lazio are still recovering from a comprehensive loss in their last game and will hope that this loss will provide them with an opportunity to create plenty of chances against a potentially shaky defence, which is potentially rueing the absence of Felipe. I expect this to be a tough game for both sides but can only see Inter coming out of this victorious all going to plan at the moment, and see them winning 3-1.