‘The derby on the wings’ – How Inzaghi and Pioli will use their flanks in Inter-Milan

By Oliver Fisher -

With just three days until the first derby of the season between Inter and AC Milan at San Siro, the build-up continues to accelerate and intensify.

This morning’s edition of La Gazzetta dello Sport (seen below) suggests that both teams will look to attack during the game and that Inter-Milan promises sparks in the middle of the pitch, because sitting back on guard would invite potentially overwhelming pressure.

On one side it will be Denzel Dumfries against Theo Hernandez, on the other Federico Dimarco against Christian Pulisic. An old and already incandescent rivalry, versus a first challenge in what will probably be a long series.

Inter’s wide threats

The Nerazzurri wingers have started very strong this season: a goal and an assist in the league for Dumfries, who added another four assists in the Netherlands’ recent two Euro 2024 qualifiers, while Dimarco has two assists in three league games.

Simone Inzaghi also enjoyed two very high quality replacements in Juan Cuadrado and Carlos Augusto on each flank, so the Inter boss expects his wingers to always be able to give one hundred percent, to help the Nerazzurri’s game take off.

The instruction is clear: give everything you have until exhaustion and when your strength runs out, you raise your arm and leave room for those sitting on the bench, to still guarantee push, strength and quality until the end of the match.

This is why Dumfries and Dimarco can push without brakes, without thinking about managing their energy, both in a single match and from a full-season perspective.

Inter really seems to have made the real leap in quality compared to last season on the flanks, because in Inzaghi’s 3-5-2 the real difference comes from having wing-backs who can come in and offer close to the same level.

It was clearly seen in the first three matches and which – in all likelihood – could be one of the decisive keys for the derby. Inzaghi’s requests remain the same: Inter try to break through on one flank and Inzaghi wants the other wing-back to arrive into the box on the far side.

Dimarco is the player most inclined to try for an assist, while the Dutchman is the one who knows how to make his presence felt in the opponent’s area the most, taking advantage of his size and height.

On the contrary, with Cuadrado and Carlos Augusto the game flows better on the right, with the Brazilian more prone to scoring and the Colombian setting up. On Saturday the interpretation will be more about forcing Theo and Pulisic to think about defending not attacking.

Milan’s counter

Until the summer window, Milan were a team that attacked mostly down the left side with Theo and Rafael Leao. Work was done on the right side of course, but the talent and the threat was focused on the other flank.

The man who changes things was Christian Pulisic, who in today’s Milan is not just the starting right winger, he is the player who reads attacking situations and helps Milan play their style.

Anyone who asks his team-mates what Pulisic is like almost always receives the same answer: ‘Intelligent’, ‘Strong’, ‘He doesn’t miss a ball’.

Pulisic started off great, and while he will not always be able to match the levels seen against Bologna and Torino, he can be a consistent key performer. In the derby, Pioli wants to overcome the inferiority that the right side showed at the beginning of the year.

Milan suffered in 2023 against Inter, mostly in the middle but also out wide, especially on Dimarco’s flank. Pulisic can help in this regard too, as he and Loftus-Cheek can track back and cover to give Milan a new dimension in both phases.

Milan now have Davide Calabria playing inside on the right, while Loftus-Cheek pushes forward and tries to get involved in build-up play, perhaps to create space on the left side for Leao to operate in.

Calabria seems comfortable with these instructions given his past in the youth sector as a midfielder, and the derby will be a great test. The captain will often play in Mkhitaryan or Frattesi’s area, so he will have to be efficient and tidy in possession to avoid dangerous turnovers of possession.

Even on the left, Milan’s strong flank, things have changed. Leao is Leao and Milan just need him to be involved to be able to compete with Inter, something that influenced the two legs of the Champions League semi-final.

Pioli asks the Portuguese winger for a little more sacrifice now but continues to allow him to be free in an attacking sense. Theo Hernandez however has changed his approach.

In 2022-23, Pioli moved him from game to game: sometimes he used him as a traditional full-back, other times as an added midfielder.

Since July he has been asking him to alternate the two versions play by play and against Inter – considering that he will probably renew hostilities with Dumfries – it is likely that we will see a lot of things in between.

The bench

The alternatives available to Pioli also deserve a discussion. A year ago Pioli struggled to change the game, as he was only able to call upon players like Messias/Saelemaekers, Tommaso Pobega and Pierre Kalulu.

Today he has solutions especially on the flanks. When he turns around from watching the game, he will see Samuel Chukwueze and Noah Okafor on the bench and feels better, as well as Luka Jovic who is slowly adapting.

If at 7:20pm on Saturday he needs a little creativity, he will only have to lift a finger and point to the man he thinks can become a derby hero.

Tags AC Milan


    1. Yeah, because you don’t understand football. How did Pioli do against Inzaghi in his career? Pioli is his favourite opponent, he beat him more than any other coach. Obviously because Pioli is a better tactician. 🥲

      1. Inzaghi had a much better team. Both in 2021-2022 and in 2022-2023.

        Inzaghi had the best midfield in Italy and lack to win Scudetto.

        Pioli won the Scudetto by beating Inzaghi with a much weaker team.

        So what football knowledge are you talking about?

        1. The difference between Pioli and Inzaghi is that, Pioli can easily win the Scudetto with the Inter side of 2021/22 and 2022/23. But Inzaghi will struggle, to even get top four, with our 2021/22 and 2022/23 squad.

        1. You’re kissing pioli’s ass right and left. The only reason milan won the scudetto in 2021-2022 was because inter slipped in the derby. Take a look at that season statistic, inter was much a superior team. It was a give away

          How many scudetto inzaghi has won in his career? Lol. The same can be questioned how many cups pioli has won so far?

          In the last 2 years:
          Pioli 1 scudetto (only 2 points more than inter)
          Inzaghi 4 cups, 1 ucl final

          Pioli 2, inzaghi 5

          1. Can i say the same thing, that you are kissing Inzaghi’s ass? What do you mean, by Inter slipped the derby? They slipped the derby, not that we beat them on our merit? If you like Inzaghi and Inter so much, then go support them. Whether 2 points, or 20 points, doesn’t change the fact that Pioli and Milan won the Scudetto. Are you sad?

            I am not kissing anyone’s ass, Pioli is our coach, and i am inclined to support him. If you like Inzaghi so much, then why don’t support him at Inter? Instead of attacking others, because of their opinion?

          2. BTW Inter, appointed him to win the Scudetto and continue Conte’s work. Not to win Coppa’s! Okay based on that, Conte won 1 Scudetto with Inter, Inzaghi won 2 Coppa Italia and 2 Supercoppa with Inter. Are you going to say that? Inzaghi have had a better tenure than Conte? Haha! Actually many Inter fans, thinks that Inzaghi is a downgrade to Conte, so no need to try hard to show as if he is Pep or Klopp.

          3. Inter slipped in the derby? 🤣🤣🤣
            We piped them proper and won the scudetto with points not goal difference. I can count how many times refs worked against Milan that season.
            If you live Inzaghi and Inter so much to downgrade Milan’s achievements go join them.

          4. Slipped in the derby? Pioli won 4 out of 6 points against Inter in the 21-22 season. What are you talking about?

            And what about the points that Pioli was robbed of by the refs in the matches against Spezia and Udinese? 5 point robbed in those matches.

            Please leave this page.

  1. Milan is a different team this season. Players like RLC and Pulisic will be crucial for us. If they have a good game, Theo and Leao can do the damage.

  2. Theo will take care of Dumbfries on the left, but Di Marco will be a problem for Pulisic and Calabria on the right.
    Inter creativity usually comes from their left side. Bastoni isn’t that good as a defender but he is very good with his passing. He has a very good left foot.
    Same with Di Marco. Poor defender but he can pass, cross attack. Pulisic or Chukwueze, whoever will play, will have to play closer to Calabria and help out.
    On the other side Inzaghi will have Dumbfries following Leao, so Theo should be able to take advantage of that and make his runs in the background vs his friend Pavard.

  3. While I hope to be wrong, I think we suffer our first loss this season 3-1.

    Inter make the CL finals for a reason. That XI is still together and had a summer to fine tune. It showed against Fiorentina.

    Milan now has equal squad depth. Pioli can change the game as the article says. Thing is that we have seen Chuk and Okafur come in looking lost. Even with the time to prep they will not have the reps with the entire first team to truly be ready in the system.

    I think the system changes when Okafur comes in for Giroud (or Jovic). And we don’t yet have the reps for such a change against this Inter (yet).

    I do think we walk away with game film Pioli can use to tinker and tune the system for the players he has so that come Spring, we are the derby favorites.

    Inter 3
    – Dumfries 1 goal one assist
    – LM 1 goal
    – Thuram 1 goal
    – Di Marco with an assist

    Milan 1
    – RLC on a late run from Puli early in the game

    Theo plays scared the majority of the game after allowing Dumfries to get under his skin.

      1. He’s being realistic here. Take a look at inter’s bench players man, they got pavard, augusto, frattesi, klaassen. And I’m laughing at the comment from Nman that pioli is tactically better than inzaghi lol. Even guardiola’s tiki taka is dead in last ucl final. Inter statistically better in creating chances

        1. Yes, but even Spezia beat them so it isn’t like their bench plays. They do have more depth but I think the biggest advantage is Inzaghi. He is far better than Pioli and keeps proving it.

          1. Yes. He destroyed him in the direct matches against each other. Inzaghi hasn’t beaten any coach more than Pioli. What, Pioli is good because he won a title, and before he was crap? Nonsense.

          2. Without even mentioning he has better points per match at any club. They coached Lazio and Inter, Inzaghi was superior in both positions in any measurable stat.

        2. Guardiola won the last UCL, so i don’t know what do you mean. Does being realistic means, you have to predict opponent to win? This is new season, as if we haven’t upgraded right?

        3. YET…. CITY WON..

          INTER 1-2 MILAN

        4. YET… CITY WON.


          INTER 1-2 MILAN

  4. The Derby is always unique with many small scenarios having large consequences. For me, I think that we will see an first half red card somewhere. The atmosphere can be overwhelming to inexperienced or timid players and can cause others to go on “tilt”.

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