Central overload and being caught in transition: Tactical analysis of Milan’s win over Inter

By Rohit Rajeev -

After four long years, Milan defeated Inter in a derby in Serie A thanks to a brace from Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Like the encounter back in February, Milan went 2-0 up but unlike the full-time result on that occasion, the Rossoneri ran out victors after a courageous and battling performance.

A tactical battle was expected between Conte and Pioli, and here are a few notes from the game…

Basic setup

Milan as usual lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Bennacer and Kessie playing as a double pivot in front of the four-man defence with Ibrahimovic as the tip of the attack.

Inter lined up in their usual Conte-style three at the back. The midfield alternated between a four in the middle to a make-shift trequartista in Barella, to Brozovic sitting back as a regista to spread play forcing Barella to take up Brozovic’s post.

The right wing had the dangerous Hakimi and Inter went full fire with Lautaro and Lukaku in attack.

Central overload forcing Milan to go wide

Inter are usually a compact side which allows no space. They overload the central areas which forces the opposition to go wide, and then isolate the full-backs and then press horizontally and make the full-back concede possession. Inter showed their intentions of repeating this tactic to Milan in the early minutes.

Man-marking assignments

Conte prefers a man-marking style to zonal marking system. Brozovic had Calhanoglu, Barella had Bennacer and Vidal had Kessie.

On the flanks, Perisic took on Calabria while D’Ambrosio had to deal with Leao which made Hakimi a free man to go at Theo Hernandez, given how Leao lacks defensive work rate and Theo is defensively still suspect.

For Milan, Kjaer took on Lautaro and Lukaku was marked by Alessio Romagnoli.

Caught in transition: How Milan engineered their goals

Inter have been a team that have struggled during transitions. From being prised open by Ribery in their dramatic minute win against Fiorentina to goals conceded against Benevento, Milan and Pioli knew the weakness was swift counter-attacks.

As mentioned earlier, Inter look to isolate opposing full-backs and win the ball back with their high press, but in these cases it backfired. After a quick lay-off to Hakimi from Lukaku his pass to Barella was expertly intercepted by Bennacer who made a quick horizontal pass to Calabria.

As soon as he received the ball, Calabria started an offensive transition which prompted Calhanoglu and Saelemaekers to run in behind Perisic and Vidal and occupy the half spaces caused by the momentary disorganisation.

While Perisic and Brozovic took on Calabria, his quick vertical pass released Calhanoglu and it created a 3v2 situation for Milan taking out Vidal, Perisic and Brozovic from Inter’s defensive transition.

Calabria going past Perisic and Brozovic. Vidal loses his man which is Calhanoglu. This creates space behind Vidal and the last line.

Calhanoglu once again played a vertical through ball for Ibrahimovic, releasing him while taking De Vrij out and creating a 2v2 situation of Ibra and Leao versus Kolarov and D’Ambrosio, which prompted Kolarov to foul Ibrahimovic. Milan made it 1-0 from the penalty spot.

Hakan’s vertical pass forward takes De Vrij out of the game and makes it a 2v2. Ibra and Leao vs. Kolarov and D’Ambrosio.

The second goal for Milan also came in an offensive transition. Calabria dispossessed Perisic made a quick vertical short pass to Saelemaekers who turned Brozovic.

Saelemaekers turns Brozovic and he spots a parallel run from Calhanoglu.

This created a temporary overload on Milan’s left side, and Vidal ran up to Saelemaekers to make up the numbers as well as stop the Belgian’s run. He spotted Calhanoglu who was unmarked in the half space left by Vidal in their moment of disorganisation and found him.

Hakan – a transformed player whose distribution has been top notch – spread play to the left wing to Leao who had a 1v1 against D’Ambrosio. D’Ambrosio was already struggling against Leao’s pace, and was sent the wrong way with a feint which prompted De Vrij to come and try take Leao down.

This meant Kolarov was full of indecision as to whether to move laterally to cover De Vrij. Ibrahimovic was lurking in behind the LCB and with no full-back or wing back tracking back he was free to tap in Leao’s cross and make it 2-0.

Calhanoglu spreads play to Leao and this puts D’Ambrosio on a 1v1 with Leao.
Leao draws De Vrij out of position forcing Kolarov to partially adjust to close to gap, which allows Ibra to run in behind him.

Inter’s attack and their goal

At 2-0 down Inter knew they had to strike quickly. The Nerazzurri attack very dynamically and do not have a clear pattern of play.

Teams which press high like Milan are punished on the counter by quick passing combinations between Lukaku and Lautaro or through balls from Barella.

Barella drops off from his advanced position and acts as a passing option for Brozovic or Vidal who bring the ball out from the back. The Italy international than lays it off or passes to Lukaku who uses his superior physical attributes to hold off the defender (in this case Romagnoli) and tries to link up with either Lautaro or Hakimi, who often pushes up.

If Barella was the instigator of attacks, Lukaku was the center of all of Inter’s attacking movement. No matter how tightly he was marked he would receive the ball draw the defenders and lay it off.

Lukaku (yellow star) is the centre of the pass map and Inters most creative force.

Another tactic that Inter used was to switch play quickly after sucking the opposition to a horizontal press. Once again a pass was played to Lukaku who sprayed it to Hakimi, and the wing-back switched play to the overlapping centre-back Kolarov who created a 2v1 situation with Calabria. He passed it to Perisic and Perisic crossed it to Lukaku for a tap in via Donnarumma’s glove.

Inter sucked Milan into a horizontal press leaving only Calabria as the widest defender and creating a 2v1 with a quick switch pass.

The role of Kessie

Pioli uses a mix of man-marking as well as zonal marking. Up until the first half Kessie was tasked with keeping Vidal quiet and not let him have a free run.

However, with Lukaku troubling Romagnoli and creating a numerical advantage with Hakimi bombing forward, Pioli had to re-think his tactics. He had Bennacer continue his man-marking on Barella while Kessie was tasked with cutting off passing lanes to Lukaku.

Kessie tackling Lukaku to win the ball back for Milan.


With Kessie occupying a more defensive position and Theo being overrun on the flanks, Pioli needed to protect the lead as Inter were having more momentum towards the end. So, Pioli took Leao off keeping one eye on the game against Celtic and introduced Rade Krunic.

Krunic was tasked with occupying Vidal and Brozovic (later Barella as the latter was subbed for Eriksen) and reducing Inter’s numerical advantage in the centre, leaving Kessie as the spare man to mark zonally the right half space which Lukaku was occupying to receive passes.

Kessie’s zonal marking helps him to cut of Barella’s pass to Lukaku.

Hakimi chance

A constant threat from wide areas, Inter always look to utilise their wing-backs. Against Fiorentina, Lukaku laid off a pass to Alexis Sanchez who farmed the ball wide to the right wing where Hakimi made a run behind Biraghi and crossed it for Lukaku to tap in.

It nearly paid off again when Perisic laid off a ball to Vidal and with Milan’s defence occupying the central area in the box they didn’t spot the run of Hakimi who headed it wide.

Vidal finds Hakimi with a diagonal ball just like how Sanchez found him vs. Fiorentina, but Hakimi missed.

Tribute to Calabria and Bennacer

There we talks of Milan needing a new right-back in the summer but management decided to stick with the academy product Calabria, and he has repaid the faith in abundance. He made Perisic invisible for large parts of the game, Milan tactfully used Calabria and his quick passing/long ball ability to instigate attack and break the lines.

Now while Kessie gets the plaudits, somebody who went about dropping a top performance quietly was Bennacer. Up against an in-form Barella, Bennacer was tasked with marking him and it was quite a feisty duel. Bennacer occupied the right areas, stayed tight and made some important clearances.


For initial parts of the game it seemed as it Lautaro got the better of Kjaer, but the Danish captain kept Lautaro quiet. Eriksen did cause a nuisance occupying space between the lines but did not trouble much.

The only constant threat for Milan was Lukaku, who summoned all his ability to try and rescue his team from defeat. However, Milan stuck firm and secured a crucial win.

Tags AC Milan Inter Milan

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