How Luciano Spalletti reshaped Inter

Manager Analysis
Michele Tossani

Michele Tossani


Inter performed above the expectations this season under their new coach Luciano Spalletti. Coming from Roma, the coach who’s well known for having been the man who made up Francesco Totti as ‘falso nueve’ during his first stint with Giallorossi back in 2007 became Inter’s ninth manager since Josè Mourinho left the club in 2010.

After a turbulent 2017/18 campaign in which Nerazzurri have seen three bosses on their sideline (Roberto Mancini, Frank de Boer and Stefano Pioli), former Roma’s manager brought on more stability to a club in perennial turmoil.

From a tactical point of view, Spalletti started the season lining up Inter in a 4-2-3-1 formation, the same pattern he used since he took over the job last summer, except for a brief stint with 4-3-3 back this winter. He also showed a 4-3-1-2 featuring winger Ivan Perisic as interior midfielder in the game against Bologna.

After last January transfer window, Spalletti seems to have found a precise starting eleven from which he waives just in few occasions.

The midfielder duo featured Matías Vecino and Roberto Gagliardini playing just behind the attacking midfield trio of Perisic (on the left) Borja Valero (in the middle) and Antonio Candreva (on the right). That said, latest games have seen Spalletti deploying former attacking midfielder Marcelo Brozovic as interior midfielder.

A former offensive player, loved by the fans for his technical skills but even more frequently criticized for his fickleness and lazy attitude, the twenty-five years old midfielder looked an improved player since his coach lined up him in front of the backline. Over there, Brozovic can exploit his skills with the ball at his feet and his passing quickness to make Inter’s buildup more fluid. Brozovic’s positioning is becoming even more pivotal for Inter’s ability to connect their own half with players up front. The same Gagliardini has benefited from having Brozovic alongside him. In fact, former Atalanta’s player enjoyed more freedom to push forwards playing as a box-to-box midfielder.

Brozovic flourished playing as central midfielder.

During possession, Inter are shaped in a 3-1-4-2 formation: Brozovic is fielded in front of the defence, while right full-back Cancelo move high up the pitch, occupying the wing-back position whilst left-back Danilo D’Ambrosio narrows his position occupying the left half-space as third centre-back. At the same time, Candreva leaves his wide-open spot to assume the role of second no.10 flanking Rafinha.

The pass map provided us by Benoit Pimpaud highlithing Inter’s 3-4-2-1 in possession against Torino.

Former Barcelona’s footballer adds more verticality to Inter’attack than Borja Valero does and is also a more dangerous offensive threat than the Spaniard. These are the main reasons that led Spalletti to promote the Brazilian to a starting role. Rafinha is the linking man charged with the duty to link the midfield with the attack also relying on his through balls.

Inter are patient during with the ball during the possession base, and they are also suited to recycle possession until they find a gap between opposite’s defending lines to move the ball through.

Following the build-up phase (in which centre-back Milan Skriniar plays a pivotal role), an usual manner in which Inter move the ball higher up the pitch is through the wings. In fact, Nerazzurri are one of the Serie A teams to more frequently use crosses in the final third to put the ball into the box.

That said, since Spalletti moulded Inter in a more flexible 3-4-1-2 shape, Nerazzurri showed glimpses of positional play by occupying both the flanks and the middle of the field. This made them more dangerous offensively with opponents that have to defend either the middle and flanks against them.

The fact Spalletti made Inter a more possession-based side doesn’t’ mean Nerazzurri aren’t using flanks. Here is an image showing a typical Inter’s offensive pattern with Candreva cutting inside and Cancelo pushing up front to provide efficient crosses.

Perisic is acting on the left wing. The Croatian can stay out wide waiting for a pass to play one-to-one situation against opponent’s full-back and he can also cut inside attacking the far post on crossing situations. Surely, Perisic can also cross the ball towards Icardi.

A true centre-half, not inclined to linking play, the Argentinian striker is a scoring machine. His couple of missing against Milan can’t overcome the fact Icardi scored 24 goals so far out from an expected goals (xG) rate of 18.91, according to model.

From a defensive viewpoint, Inter are usual to press high up the field when playing at San Siro while they are more cautious when playing away. They are also suited enough to collapse behind into two compact banks of four when they are forced to defend at a lower level of the field. Spalletti’s side is currently third in Serie A when it comes to goals (22) and expected goals against (xGA) allowed (29.55). They conceded just a goal in their latest six league games. Difference between goals allowed and expected goals against (-7.55) is mainly due to the play of goalkeeper Samir Handanovic.

Spalletti built a strong side and has been able to recently make it a more fluid one than they were in the first part of this campaign, when Inter was essentially a crossing team. Is clear as Spalletti changed Inter’s usual tactical habits as they are now more suited to control the game through ball possession. Recent draw against Milan and loss to Torino must not mislead: Inter have been by far the best side on both games as testified by the total of twenty-four chances created within these matches.

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