Juventus 2-2 Atalanta : Penalties and Tactics

Atalanta came into the game off the back of a run of twelve straight wins in all competitions, including 3 clean sheets previous to this meeting with Juve. The hosts suffered a surprise defeat to Milan and Sarri would be keen to put his side back on the right track towards the Serie A title. Both teams fielded a fairly predictable lineup, the biggest surprise perhaps being Pjanic dropping out and Matuidi coming back in, thus giving Bentancur a deeper role. De Ligt came back in at the heart of defence and Dybala slotted into the attack at the expense of Higuain. For Gasperini’s side, Palomino came back in after suspension, De Roon partnered Freuler in midfield, and Castange came in on the left for Gosens who was injured in the warm-up.

A tale of two halves;

First Half

Juventus made the better start of the teams, seizing the initiative first when Dybala received a straight pass through to his feet, and skipped away from Palomino, earning an early free-kick. This was to be an interesting question for the match – could Dybala (and later, as we saw, Ronaldo) make runs in and behind the Atalanta defence to make a direct route work for them? The ensuing free-kick came to nothing, but served as a potential indication as to what Juve’s intentions could be, with Bernardeschi combining with Dybala on the right hand side, and looking for chances in behind. Dybala’s movement dropping deep between the lines, and drifting out to the right, was something Atalanta had to identify as a threat from early on.

Juventus vs Atalanta - Football tactics and formations

We then saw a shift in momentum. A brief warning sign for Juve occurred when Castagne ran down the left, after some nice interplay, and fired a cross in to Zapata, which he headed over. The Colombian striker was able to wander into the penalty area in space after his lay-off to Castange. The focus of the away side’s attentions continued down the left, aided by Zapata’s ability to receive the ball to his feet with his back to goal whilst holding off the defender, and play a simple pass to keep the move going. This encouraged Gomez over to the left as well, and at one point just after 7 minutes in, when the ball was fired into Zapata’s feet, he controlled it and played it out wide to Castagne again. But just after this move, Gomez gestured at Zapata that he wanted the return ball back inside, as he’d run into the space in the box and had a clear path to goal. De Ligt’s attention remained attracted to Zapata, in what seemed a good battle between the two, despite a painful foot into the downstairs regions of De Ligt midway through the half.

With Juve dropping off, Atalanta continued their probing and spells of possession, which was rewarded on 16 minutes with the first goal of the game. It didn’t directly come from a period of concentrated possession, but rather Freuler winning the ball back fantastically in midfield from Dybala. This then presented Gomez with the ball in a position where he could run past Bentancur, lay the ball off to Zapata and continue a run towards the edge of the box. When he received the ball back from Zapata, he swivelled to turn back inside De Ligt and poke a pass back into Zapata’s path. The Colombian striker had used his strength to get right-side of Bentancur who could then do nothing to stop Zapata from racing to goal and calmly slotting home. Rather than the measured build-up that Gasperini’s side had been practicing, the goal was more a case of catching Juve in a state that Gomez could expose the space and engineer a chance for Zapata, without the covering bodies of Bernardeschi or Cuadrado, both of whom were appealing for a free-kick and didn’t chase back in time. Incidentally, midway through the first half, Atalanta produced a similar opportunity to the goal – this time Castagne with a good tackle to dispossess Cuadrado, leaving him out of position and the Belgian to run down the wing with the ball, although ultimately running it out of play at the byline.

The two number 10s – Dybala & Gomez

Dybala appeared as Juve’s best performer, and best chance of a breakthrough, receiving the ball between the lines and looking to turn sharply to get behind Atalanta’s defence. Kind of a cross between Gomez and Zapata at the other end, Dybala would be the one to receive the ball back-to-goal, and look to drop deep and dart into the spaces as well. Palomino, in particular, had a problem to think about when asserting pressure on Dybala; a fine line between giving him too much space to operate and getting too tight and exposing the potential to get turned or put into a foot race. De Roon was better equipped to do this further up the pitch, when Dybala dropped deep, which is a more tiring job to do, but a less risky one. This was the case just over the half-hour mark, when De Roon stepped in to intercept a pass to Dybala from deep, regain possession, and ultimately lead to a dangerous cross from the left by Castange, which whistled just over Zapata’s head. There is sometimes a psychological edge to this pressure on Dybala around the centre-circle. If he does lose the ball under pressure after coming deep, and Atalanta mount an attack as a result, he then tends to avoid coming deep again if Juve retain possession. This makes it even harder for Juve to find an out-ball, and allows Atalanta more chances of forcing their opposition into playing a speculative pass once more.

Napoli 0-0 Juventus : Gattuso captures Coppa Italia in shootout

Napoli, going for their first cup victory since 2014, entered the final off the back of a 1-1 draw with Inter which saw them through 2-1 on aggregate. Juve, with a similarly close affair, closed out a 0-0 against Milan to progress on away goals. The first week of the re-emergence of top-level Italian football culminated nicely in a showdown between Sarri’s Juve, and his former side Napoli, lead by a trophy-hungry Gattuso.

Juve made a change from the previous game, dropping Danilo in favour of Cuadrado, presumably trying to add to the threat down that channel with pace and attacking strength against Insigne and Mario Rui. Napoli fielded a more heavily changed team from 4 days prior, starting at the back with Meret in for the suspended Ospina and Rui in for Hysaj. Callejon and Fabian Ruiz occupied the right-hand side instead of Elmas and Politano.

Napoli vs Juventus - Football tactics and formations

Napoli contain

From the start, we could see that Juve were relatively dominant in possession, and Gattuso had predictably formulated a solid shape and mentality to Napoli’s defence of this. From the first time Ronaldo got the ball in the threatening area down the left, Napoli were doubled up on him with Di Lorenzo and Callejon, and although Callejon was diligent in closing Ronaldo, his passing left a lot to be desired and he made a couple of errors early on which lead to Juve shots. Demme was clearly deployed still as the deep midfielder, in front of the back-four, who would receive passes and try to engage attackers so as to not dislodge the centre-backs from the deep positions too much. When Juve probed inside Napoli’s half, Demme was often sprinting to cover the space behind the man who engaged the player on the ball, whether it be on the left or right flank. He also followed runners when they tried to float into the space between the lines. Notably, Demme was still doing the deeper role when Allan came on late in the game, probably because Allan’s fresh legs were better served in providing the box-to-box role.

Fabian Ruiz was also helping out trying to Contain Juve alongside Demme at times, but the set-up from Gattuso was one that hindered Napoli in an attacking sense. It was clearly designed to stop their opponents from breaking through, not with a mind to facilitate quick transitions or counter-attacks that could easily surprise Sarri. The shape was aimed towards narrowing the play, and neither Callejon nor Insigne were really focusing on fast breaks or receiving the ball high up the pitch to start attacks. Similarly, the full-backs were not looking to overlap or rush forward. Mertens’ reward for signing a new contract was an evening following Pjanic around the Stadio Olimpico. For the first-half, at least, it was discipline and defence at the forefront, which has suited them well in previous games under Gattuso against the top teams. Napoli did have a few opportunities to work the ball forward in the first half; Demme is willing to play forward passes through the middle when there are gaps to do so, but it often requires a link in the chain between him and the front men. For example, if Zielinski or Ruiz are far enough ahead of Demme, there is often an in-between pass available if they can transition quickly. On occasions where the tempo wasn’t quick enough, or they didn’t have enough men forward, a pass was fired into Insigne which didn’t give much of a chance to continue a quick attack by linking up with runners.

It’s a catch-22 for Gattuso at times – you can’t defend and contain deep for long periods, and then initiate a period of attack without expecting the opposition to do the same to you. The transitions between defence and attack aren’t really available against a top team who are reluctant to give up the ball, so you have to be willing to either commit to breaking away from you structure for a while, or stay content with the defensive set-up and hope for chances later. Having said that, Napoli’s approach against the top teams in Serie A seems to have worked for them so far, grinding out results and familiarising themselves with Gattuso’s style.

Italy U21s 1-0 Germany U21s : Italy progress

Italy went into their final group game in need of a result against Germany after their slightly surprising loss to Czech Republic. Despite this, they looked confident and determined to progress, with a talented squad and a fiery attitude. Di Biagio wasn’t afraid to make changes – leaving Petagna out of the starting lineup and going with a front three of Bernardeschi, Berardi and Chiesa who had earned his place in the eleven. Germany went with a predictable eleven, no changes, including new Dortmund signing Mahmoud Dahoud, Bayern acquisition Serge Gnabry and captain Max Arnold.

Italy vs Germany - Football tactics and formations

Italy’s key players

Gianluigi Donnarumma

Breakthrough season last year, just 18 years old, Milan’s goalkeeping sensation embroiled in contract stand-offs and constant speculation. Undoubtedly one of the biggest talents in Italian football and potentially most sought-after goalkeepers in the tournament. Fantastic shot-stopping and dominating physique amongst the attributes making him a key part of the defence. Played every minute of Milan’s Serie A campaign, with 4 man of the match awards.

Andrea Conti

The 23-year old enjoyed a very good season with Atalanta on the right-hand side, as they went on to secure European football by finishing 4th in Serie A. Fast, physical and a threat going forward, Conti has proven his worth in style this season, making 33 league appearances and scoring an impressive 8 goals and registering 5 assists.

Lorenzo Pellegrini

The 21 year old central midfielder, enjoying a good season for Sassuolo, earned his first full international cap. Eyed closely by Roma, with rumours of a buy-back deal on the horizon. Will look to try and control the game in the middle alongside Benassi – both having a fair amount of experience in Serie A. Pellegrini scored 6 goals in the league, contributed 6 assists, and was prominent in his team’s display in the Europa League. Has a fierce shot when alowed space in and around the edge of the area.

Marco Benassi

22 years old, with a decent season for Torino under his belt, has already played over 80 senior games for his club side as well as taking the captain’s armband for them and this under-21 national side. Scored 5 goals with 2 assists last season, will look to retain possession for his side in midfield, whilst driving forward and looking for opportunities to appear on the edge of the area. Should be a key element in organising and keeping team discipline in the middle of the pitch.

Federico Chiesa

Not always a starter at Serie A club Fiorentina this season, but an impressive entrance onto the big stage for the 19 year old. An exciting winger with flair and skill, still slightly inexperienced but with big things expected and a family name to represent. 3 goals and 2 assists from the right in Serie A, and a Europa League goal to his name, Federico is fast putting himself on the radar.

Federico Bernardeschi

Another young Fiorentina attacker, albeit with more first team expose and recognition than Chiesa, playing more predominantly as a number 10 for his club, but often roaming out and in-field. His attacking creativity was a big part in Viola’s season, as he contributed 11 goals and 4 assists in 32 appearances last season. His skill on the ball, ability to open up defences and movement off the ball will undoubtedly cause problems to the opposition defence.

Juventus 2-1 Fiorentina : Sousa’s team on the back foot

The opening day of Serie A brought together two rivals who had very different starts to last year’s campaign. This time around, Allegri would be looking to get out of the blocks quickly, and without certain big names or new recruits in the starting line-up. Higuain and Pjanic were left out, although Dani Alves made it in at right wing-back. The back-three plus Buffon remained unchanged from the usual defensive set-up, but ahead of them we saw Lemina, Asamoah and Khedira in the centre. Alex Sandro occupied the left, and Mandzukic started up-top with Dybala. Sousa couldn’t have expected a tougher game to begin the season with, and would go into the match with a familiar starting eleven. Tomovic, Rodriguez and Astori formed the defence, with Alonso and Bernardeshi wing-backs. Vecino and Badelj paired up in the holding roles in the centre, with a front three of Ilicic, Kalinic and young debutant Federico Chiesa on the left.

Juventus vs Fiorentina - Football tactics and formations

Juve dominate and control

With no new signings in the starting line-up, Sousa’s only surprise (and it was a big one) was the introduction of Chiesa in the eleven. Juve, on the other hand, had to try and replace Pogba in midfield, and as the match progressed it was clear that they had gone some way to doing that with Asamoah. Lemina could act at times as the ball player in midfield, not replacing Marchisio, but dropping into space around the middle in his own half, and Khedira occupied spaces on the right as well as surging through the middle as we will discuss later. Vecino and Badelj operated what appeared to be a similar mechanism to last season, with Vecino the more passing-orientated and Badelj maybe the more combative. However, Juve’s dominance in the first half meant that the transitional phases for Viola were basically non-existent – they couldn’t find a way out of their half. The energy of the Juve midfield in particular was an overriding feature when the ball came into the middle third. The defence was able to hold a high-line and Fiorentina spent periods of time pinned back. It wasn’t the worst thing in the world for Sousa’s side because they organised reasonably well to contain opposition attacks and not gets opened up, but they had absolutely no attack. Tatarusanu really didn’t help either, with his kicking being extremely poor, handing Juve back the opportunity to apply pressure on multiple occasions.

Last season, when Fiorentina played exceptionally well, they were fantastic at dictating the ball in their own half, with almost the double-pivot of Badelj and Vecino, they manipulated the play with quick passing and good movement – creating routes up the pitch. Right from the very kick-off this evening, they gave the ball away from the right, and Badelj had to bring down Asamoah on the edge of the area. It wasn’t a great start, and Viola never picked up any momentum or tempo from that point on. Tatarusanu chipped a horrible clearance straight to Khedira who should have scored, and Juve applied pressure in the away team’s half to compound Viola’s vulnerabilities early on. It was a common theme that a Juventus player would win the ball in the middle of the pitch with greater numbers and energy, and then Fiorentina would retreat to try and contain the attack. Then when/if they won the ball back, Juve were high-up and the purple shirt on the ball had no route to initiate an counter or to slow the tempo and retain possession. How could Sousa’s side had countered this? Options would perhaps have been to have a distinct out-ball on the wing – Bernardeschi for example, to try and run and also stretch the play. Another would be to hold a higher line as well, and force more of a battle around the centre-circle using Vecino and Badelj, allowing their front three to maintain a high position ready to receive a forward pass. Amongst all this, I think Fiorentina really missed Borja Valero, who would have been the equivalent of Asamoah with additional ball-playing qualities.

Italy 2-0 Spain : A perfect system

Despite playing well in parts in the group stages, Conte’s side went into the knockout stages off the back of a loss against Ireland – one in which although inconsequential to their position, gave away weaknesses to their competitors. The job was to then rally a performance like we saw against Belgium, and for this Conte reverted to a familiar selection. Florenzi deputised for the injured Candreva on the right, and the only surprise was De Sciglio’s inclusion on the opposite flank over Darmian. Before the game, we spoke about the key role in which the pivot and central midfielders could play, considering they have been an indicator of Italy’s effectiveness in transition and cohesion on the ball. De Rossi was brought back in to this role in front of the back three, as expected, and Parolo continued with Giaccherini in the middle.

Italy vs Spain - Football tactics and formations

Ball distribution

It was evident that Italy weren’t going to shy away from playing a variety of passes from their own half. From the start, we saw De Rossi play a long searching ball out wide to Florenzi (which was inch perfect), as well as passes through midfield on the ground and the use of the wing-backs when necessary if the defenders were slow in build up or pressured. But the most effective route was often the long ball over the top to Pelle. It has to be said first of all that many of these balls were not aimless or hopeful. Like we’ve seen already on this tournament, Italy are prepared to get a lot of men forward to receive long passes from their own half – often sacrificing a big gap in midfield – and if they don’t win possession from it, they have men there to pressure high-up. Pelle was absolutely superb at winning these long balls, through knocking it on with his head to chesting it down and linking up with Eder. It was probably one of his most influential performances for the Azzurri because of this link-up he provided. Parolo is also actually quite tall as well, over 6ft, and is useful in winning headers. A large amount of Italy’s chances and good attacking moves came from this direct style and good interplay between the attackers. To put this into context, Spain actually made more long passes in the game than Italy. However, Conte’s side were set up so much better to use them and did so with a lot more purpose – making it an effective method of transition.


longballground   italyattack

Euro 2016 : Italy’s route to Saint-Denis


With a suspected tough start against Belgium, Conte drew on an expected and trusted system, fielding the 5-3-2 – which remained the case throughout the group stage. The only slight surprise was the inclusion of Parolo and omission of Florenzi in the Belgium game, who was then reintroduced and left back against Sweden at the expense of Darmian. Giaccherini managed to cement a place in the starting lineup and De Rossi, as expected got the nod ahead of Motta. Eder and Pelle proved themselves to be the preferred partnership up front. The third game, against Ireland, was somewhat experimental with the team having already topped the group – although interesting nonetheless. Despite a great start to the tournament, there was common themes (good and bad) for Conte to consider and work upon going into the knock-out stages.


Defensively sound

The back three + Buffon was pretty much set in stone from before the first match, and this was billed as being the nation’s big strength. Nothing has really changed here. In the first game against Belgium, we were treated to some of Bonucci’s talents coming to the fore – the pinnacle of which probably being his long-ball assist for Giaccherini’s goal. We knew that he is the ball-playing defender, and that his range of passing is excellent, but we didn’t expect this to be demonstrated (and neglected by Belgium) so quickly in the tournament. Bonucci was given plenty of time to stand on the halfway-line and pick out Giaccherini, who made a good run in behind and Ciman switched off, for the first goal after half an hour. It was a bit symptomatic of Belgium’s start – they didn’t harass Conte’s side on the ball, they left too much time and space in midfield, and they looked flat-footed & passive without the ball. As we’ll mention later, Italy can struggle if routes to pass through the middle or out from the back are cut off, but they never really had this problem in the opening game, especially as their wing-backs weren’t really pressured either when receiving the ball directly. Chiellini was often able to chose who he wanted to pass to, sometimes ignoring de Rossi and attempting more aggressive balls through midfield or linking with Giaccherini on the left. Italy were able to keep a high line, and Belgium (Lukaku in particular) never really took advantage of running in behind.

Euro 2016 : Italy’s final preparations

Italy vs Away team - Football tactics and formations

The tactical balance and shape of the Italian team has been an interesting one in recent times, and one which Conte appeared to have settled on based on the last couple of preparation games. The 3-5-2, that has served Juventus well, is built upon that same back-line of Buffon, Barzagli, Chiellini and Bonucci; this seems set in stone and will to some degree dictate the structure of the team. The spread and high-push of the back three allows for greater flexibility and range of the wing-backs, who are crucial to Conte’s plans. Candreva and Darmian look set to feature in these positions. Candreva has been the one to offer attacking threat down the right, and trying to produce deliveries into the box that can bring Pelle into play and any late arrivals. The left-hand side could well become an area of more caution and build-up as opposed to overlaps and sprinting. However, Conte has recently been talking up his willingness of pressing (to the point of speculation over a 3-3-4 formation), which would involve Darmian having to get forward. The only way this would be forgone is if the opposition pin them back and have extensive possession on or ahead of the half-way line.

Conte said over the weekend, “As I said before, I like to adopt a proactive style of play and for this, balance will be important, both in attacking and defending.” Albeit, this style of pressing puts huge strain on the wing-backs physically. Florenzi, who will probably be playing right-side centre-mid, should be able to come across and help out in the right-back position if (when) Candreva gets caught out of position. Chiellini will probably have a job to do doing the same thing on the left, although Darmian may stay back more. Chiellini, although not a designated ball-playing defender (which is Bonucci), likes to pick up the ball and try to play it through midfield along the floor at times – through any corridors that appear to the strikers.

Coppa Italia final : Milan 0-1 Juventus (aet)

Both teams entered the final encounter of the season with enforced changed to their side, whilst retaining a familiar shape. Milan manager Christian Brocchi, once a combative central midfielder himself, included a midfield three of Kucka and Poli, with Montolivo orchestrating just behind. Bonaventura and Honda occupied the wide areas either side of Bacca, with De Sciglio switching over to left-back to support and Calabria coming into right-back (in the absence of Antonelli and Ababte). Zapata and Romagnoli took up the centre-back partnership ahead of young Donnarumma. With no Khedira or Marchisio, Hernanes occupied the playmaker-type role, and played alongside Pogba and Lemina in midfield. Lichtsteiner and Evra offered the width, with Manzukic and Dybala paired up front once again. Rugani came in for the suspended Bonucci, alongside Chiellini and Barzagli, with Chiellini taking up the armband as Neto continued his cup run in goal.

AC Milan vs Juventus - Football tactics and formations

Early Milan pressure

The notable theme from kick-off was the pressing from Milan, and their urgency to hassle Juve in their own half. If was a determined and impressive start for Brocchi’s side, who were obviously set up with that midfield three, particularly Kucka and Poli, to try and dominate the midfield spaces. Kucka has been especially impressive at closing opponents down and covering large areas on the pitch this season, but on this occasion we also saw Honda push right up on Pogba, as well as Montolivo doing the same on Hernanes. This often forced Juve into long balls and results in a loss of possession, as Milan appeared to catch Allegri’s team by surprise and prevent them from gaining any momentum. The lack of Marchisio or Khedira in central midfield was noticeable, and Juve struggled for any sort or outlet when in transitional phases inside their own half. Usually their options on the ball mean that the back three can push up and open up the game in front of them, but Milan were able to keep them pressed in and gain no real workable routes through midfield. Without Marchisio, and also Bonucci, there was no-one doing the job at the base of the midfield pivot – it had turned into a completely different approach that Juve had to manage. It took away a lot of their options on the ball.

pic1hondapress   pic2montolivopress

Much of Juve’s play was forced out wide, where neither Lichtsteiner or Evra did especially well. The two strikers were starved of service for periods of the game, and even Dybala was wandering out wide on the right with the ball on occasions, linking with the right-back. It was clear that from the first 20 minutes, Milan were winning the midfield battle and controlling the middle of the pitch, with Pogba sometimes being reduced to a role on the left of his own half. His strength and ability is useful in trying to get possession for his team and start an attack, but Pogba’s main influence is when he can drive forward into the opposition half with his team-mates and create openings to goal. When pinned back, he can get frustrated. As a result of all this, there was no direct route to goal, and little chance for Juve to find a way to start putting their opponents under pressure without a change. Milan’s energy and effective pressing of Juve’s back three was the main determining factor on the game here, which could have left them exposed if they didn’t stick to it, but it worked incredibly well (for about 70 minutes at least) in stifling Juve – but also in being able to break up potential counter-attacks.

Fiorentina 1-1 Napoli : High-intensity stalemate

With Juve on top, four points clear, and Roma one point ahead of Fiorentina, both sides were desperate for a win coming into this match. Neither team had a successful time in Europe in the week, but Napoli had experienced the more turbulent time in Serie A recently – conceding a late winner to Juve and managing only a draw at home to Milan after their previous 8 game winning streak. Sousa’s team were unbeaten in 6 league games, with wins over Inter and in Bergamo in their last two. Despite the form book, Viola’s main struggles this season have come against teams in the top 8 – something that Napoli looked to capitalise on with a win at the Artemio Franchi to re-affirm their title chase.

Fiorentina vs Napoli - Football tactics and formations
Fiorentina went with a 4-2-3-1 formation, although this wasn’t necessarily a ‘traditional’ one, with Alonso in particular pushing very high on the right and Valero dropping back deeper when necessary. Badelj once again partnered Vecino in the holding midfield role, with Matias Fernandez ahead of them. Tello started wide on the right, Valero left, with Kalinic up front. This, surprisingly, left no space for Bernardeschi or Ilicic to be included in the starting line-up. Napoli fielded a familiar eleven, in a 433, with Callejon and Insigne supporting Higuain. Ghoulam and Hysaj also provided width, and Jorginho partnered Allan and Hamsik centrally. Both teams play a similar style, that being a high defensive line and control of possession – but this was likely to be broken up somewhat by the counteractive high-pressing, and high-intensity, of both midfield and attacks. It made for an interesting game, and an exciting battle of Serie A’s most aesthetic teams this season.


Early action and Alonso the centre of attention

The match got off to a pretty frantic start, and it was Tello on the wide right who looked like he could be the threat to Napoli, getting an early cross in from the byline. However this was broken up by a short spell of possession for Napoli, and a willingness to exploit the same flank through Ghoulam getting forward and delivering crosses, albeit none of which threatening to provide a goalscoring opportunity. Fiorentina provided the first meaningful effort – a goal coming in the 6th minute. It came from a corner, after Callejon had headed a long pass behind. Valero delivered a great whipped cross into the near-post area, just on the edge of the six-yard box, where it was Marcos Alonso who jumped high and headed into the far corner. It was a nice header from the tall left-back, but the marking wasn’t fantastic. Hysaj jumped in-front of Alonso, but missed the ball, and the Spaniard rose high just behind after making a run in from the penalty spot. He ran towards two of his team-mates who also jumped for the header, which meant that Albiol was partially shielded off from attacking the ball to make an aerial challenge. No-one tracks Alonso specifically, so once Hysaj misses the cross, it means that the Fiorentina goalscorer can make the header with the protection of his two team-mates.

The response from Napoli was instant, although it came through a mistake by the man who had just scored seconds before. The away side did their classic kick-off routine of playing it long down the right-hand side for Callejon and Hysaj to push up and chase, however it fell just inside the edge of the penalty area where Alonso tried to clear it. He inexplicably goes to do so with the outside of his left foot, and slices it straight to Higuain. Tatarusanu moves over to the left-hand side of his area, behind the line of the ball in-case Alonso leaves/misses it, which means that Higuain has an open goal to shoot at when he receives the sliced clearance by Alonso just outside the area. It was a bizarre goal, one that goes down to an individual mistake by the left-back, and a somewhat unfortunate series of events for the goalkeeper who could do nothing to prevent it. Other than somehow managing to kick it in his own net, it was probably the worst thing Alonso could have done in the situation. His apparent panic may have been caused by the sense of Hysaj closing him down quickly, although there was still a reasonable distance between the two. The goal gave Higuain his first in 5 matches, left the game back at square one, and went some way to setting the tone for a hectic remaining 85 minutes.

Fiorentina 2-1 Inter : Purple reign in Florence

Both teams came into the match with form that had tailed of from the first half of the season, but with Inter having the worst of it recently. A third place finish is still up for grabs, and this game would seemingly give us a big indication as to who was favourite in the chase for Champions League football next season. Sousa’s side won the reverse fixture in September at the San Siro by the considerable 4-1 scoreline. They also boast a good home record of 9 wins in 12 games in Serie A this season. Inter’s away record is also good, but they’ve failed to score more than once on all but 3 occasions and failed to win in the last 3. Viola fielded what was effectively a 4-2-3-1, with Valero once again in the holding position alongside Vecino, deputising in that role as a result of the injury to Badelj. Bernardeschi and Tello occupied the wings, with Ilicic and Kalinic restored up front. Fernandez suspended after last week. Inter’s line-up was familiar to last week’s, but with Medel replacing Melo in the middle, and Miranda dropping back in alongside Murillo. Ljajic, Perisic and Jovetic all left on the bench once again.

Fiorentina vs Inter Milan - Football tactics and formations

High pressing, high energy

Both sides were intent on closing down their opponents high up the pitch. This wasn’t a particularly surprising strategy for Inter to implement, given Fiorentina’s reliance on possession and build up from deep, but it was a question of whether they could disrupt the home side’s rhythm enough. A period of poor passing, overlapped with intense pressure from Inter, could have resulted in momentum and chances for Mancini’s side early on – but it was actually Fiorentina who grew into the game more in the first half. They also pressed Inter when given the chance in the final third, and both teams were guilty of the occasional sloppy pass. The first real example of the pressing tactics was when Tatarusanu had a goal kick, and Inter dared him to pass it out – which he did – through the two attackers. The ball ended up being worked out wide and may have created an attack, but there were two points of danger that could have left Viola exposed: the initial pass from the keeper to the centre-back under pressure, and the next pass on to the midfielder (Bernardeschi in this case) who was also closely followed. If either of these passes are intercepted, Inter then have the ball in the centre of the pitch with seven men in Fiorentina’s half waiting to attack. This is where the high-pressure can be beneficial not just for the attackers, but it means that the midfielders become the second wave of pressing. It forces the opposition receiver of the ball to play with his back to goal, as he comes deep to give the defender on the ball an option to pass to, and have a very good first touch to retain possession. However, the danger then is that the pressing team get sucked too high up the pitch, exposing themselves to a long pass or flick round the corner that starts a counter-attack.

Ilicic and Kalinic both showed willing to close down Inter men as well in the opening 15 minutes, and the game was scrappy at times as neither team could get much space. A key area for Fiorentina was out wide, where they looked to stretch the play and use Tello in particular to do this down the right. Around ten minutes in, there was a point where Alonso moves up the pitch and presses Brozovic on the ball, ultimately gaining possession back for his team. From this, the home side switch the ball across their defence and quickly out to Tello on the touchline, who gets the first real chance to use his pace – knocking the ball past Telles and drawing a yellow card for the Inter defender as he blocks him off. This all came about from Alonso’s tenacity to get the ball on one wing, and then retain possession so that they could move it across the pitch. Unfortunately, this use of Tello was relatively few and far between – an area that they could have exploited more, particularly after Telles’ yellow card.