Tactical analysis of Milan’s win against Inter

AC Milan engineered yet another Derby della Madonnina win on Saturday night as they came out as 3-2 victors in what was a thrilling game at San Siro.

Marcelo Brozovic opened the scoring for Inter by capitalising on a defensive error, but Rafael Leao levelled to make it 1-1 going into the break. Olivier Giroud scored another derby goal to make it 2-1 and then Leao added a third, but Edin Dzeko made it a nervy finish.

Below, the excellent Ryan Gunness has done a tactical analysis of the game including a forensic look at the critical role of Sandro Tonali…

The shapes

Versus Milan, Inter’s 5-3-2 shape created (A).

➤ A 3v2 advantage against Milan’s defensive midfield and;

➤ A 2v2 numerical matchup against their centre-backs. Making it difficult for Milan to progress play centrally, and thus forcing them to build wide (through their full-backs).


Once played wide, Inter applied a 5-2-3 press, which allowed them to achieve a man-marking approach as follows (B).

We often saw Barella on Theo, Dumfries on Leao & Skriniar free to apply pressure in the pockets (to De Ketelaere) etc.


Within this 5-2-3 shape, all of Milan’s attacking outlets were now severely man-marked. This presented the obstacle of how to progress play from the back.

Pioli’s response

Milan’s solution to this was very clever: they used Tonali (LDM) to split their full-back and centre-back (C), which achieved 2 things:


1) It allowed Milan to form a make-shift back 3, which created numerical advantage over Inter’s front two press (D). This makes ball retention and progression much easier.


2) It allowed Milan to create numerical advantage over their full-back’s marker (2v1) (E) Allowing Milan to pass the first ‘hurdle’ of, progressing play from the first to the second third of the field with ease.


For Tonali to be able to roam, Bennacer took up the central responsibility of acting as that “lone 6” in progression. (F)


A second obstacle

At this point, Milan were now presented with their second hurdle: How are you going to progress play from the middle to the final third, when your winger (Leao) is man-marked? (G).


De Ketelaere (AM) couldn’t support Leao out wide as that would attract Brozovic with him and make such zones more crowded/harder to play (H).

As a result, De Ketelaere stayed out of the way (centrally/to the left), with the intention of keeping Brozovic out of the picture.


Despite De Ketelaere (AM) starting more on the left hand side, Milan found most success when he roamed centrally & engaged Skriniar.

Leaving Dumfries (RWB) vulnerable out wide without the support of BOTH Brozovic (DM) and Skriniar (RCB) (I).


With Giroud being a more central figure, it was up to Theo (LB) & Tonali (DM) to alternate roaming forward to create that numerical advantage with Leao against his marker (Dumfries). (J)


Here, we saw heavy positional rotation between Tonali and Theo. Both alternating between defensive and attacking zones, in both inverted and wide positions. (K-M)




The desired result

Here, numerical superiority over Leao’s marker was achieved in unpredictable and difficult-to-track ways, allowing Milan to now progress play from the middle to the final third.

From then, it was up to the individual ability of players like Leao, together with other Milan players attacking the box, to tear apart Inter’s three centre-backs positionally (N).


With that, that’s how Milan successfully beat Inter’s 5-3-2/5-2-3 press.


If there are any remaining doubters regarding Stefano Pioli’s ability to come up with new tactical solutions to win the biggest games, then there should be none left after the intricacies explained above.

Pioli continues to prove that he is a modern and innovative coach by keeping his side unpredictable despite the relative predictability of his formation, starting line-up and the protagonists involved.

The countless hours of research by the data team and coaching staff paid dividends as a famous derby win was achieved. Now, we wait to see such solutions on the European stage.

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