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HGAS #3: INT vs. SAS

John Zuidema
John Zuidema
Newsletter Objective: Explain how score lines are determined by tactics by hyper focusing on the moments that result in the scoreboard changing: goals.
Match Selection: Each week, I’ll basically just select at random a match that I’m interested in. Sometimes this will be European powerhouses, sometimes I’ll pick a South American matchup. Variety will give us a flavor of the world!
Format: I’ll begin with a brief tactical introduction of each team, rather than looking at granular details, we’ll just look at overall tactics on the day. Questions like ‘Do they press hard?’ or ‘Do they play narrow while in/out of possession?’ will be the basis. After that, each goal will be analyzed on it’s own.
What this is NOT: A wholistic analysis of each match, it will look at a variety of variables but the focus is on goals themselves. As you’ll see in this issue or future issues, some goals are dumb luck. Such is football!

For today’s issue, I’ll be focusing on two teams I had actually not watched once this season prior to Sunday, Sassuolo and Inter. Sassuolo has had a tougher time this season the years past, while Inter has continued to look like a title contender despite their managerial turnover. The match ended in a 2-0 win for Alessio Dionisi and Sassuolo, while Inzaghi and Inter will probably spend the night wondering how over 3 expected goals resulted in zero hitting the back of the net. (okay, one kinda did.)
Inter Tactics:
To start it off, let’s look at Inter’s tactics. Admittedly, I’m far from a Serie A fan, and have found it really difficult to enjoy in years past. That said, there’s one team I’ve consistently enjoyed, and that was Conte’s Inter Milan squad. Despite manager turnover, there doesn’t seem to be many massive changes between the two managers. Either way, I’d like to focus on something slightly different with today’s issue. To start though, is the normal tactical decisions. Inter started the match in a 3-5-2, where Barella played as the deepest midfielder to aid in build-up (as a 3-1, sometimes Handanovic contributing enough to move a CB higher and wide.)
The activity of the front line was interesting, as Lautaro Martinez and Alexis Sanchez played striker side by side. Although Sanchez was probably instructed to drop deeper and help link play as a second striker, he was relatively anonymous and the two of them were relatively uninvolved.
To keep moving here, the second half was important because it signaled a complete shift in shape/tactics. While the first half was largely dominated by Sassuolo, the second half was almost entirely dominated by Inter. This begins with two subs: Dumfries and Dzeko.
This changed the look of the side entirely, and their focus:
While both halves Inter found success in the wide areas, it was largely ineffective due to player personnel on the field. This altered lineup though leaned into the wide zones that Sassuolo had left open and put an excellent target in the box, in the box. Add in what felt like a few hundred crosses and suddenly the danger has risen. (See tweet thread about Bruno…)
Related to that thread + the player personnel discussion is the midfield that Inzaghi decided to rock up to this game with. Suspensions for Bastoni and Brozovic meant that Inter’s defense was massively strained, particularly in transition. Barella spent a majority of the first half as the defensive midfielder, the regista if you will, who helped the defensive line build out of the back.
Barella is an excellent player, but his ability to defend a transition isn’t great. And it certainly wasn’t helped by Calhanoglu or Gagliardini who took up the other two midfield spots and spent way too much time being pulled wide, particularly higher up the pitch.
Even in the second half, these problems were still apparent at times. The absence of Brozovic could not have been more apparent.
Sassuolo Tactics:
I’ve spent the past two years being told to watch Sassuolo because De Zerbi seems to be everyone’s favorite manager ever. If you’re curious, I never did watch them, maybe 2-3 matches, but this was a new experience. And let me just say: Wow.
With a PPDA of 10.13, Sassuolo is one of the most intense sides I’ve ever watched in the Serie A. (For comparative value, both Leipzig and Koln have roughly a score of 9 for each. Sassuolo opponents? 15.) This starts from the front, where their attack presses in what I would say resembled a 4-2-4.
One of the first things you can notice about a team is the way that their forwards angle their press. Sassuolo, angle their press central. In the first goal, you can see the rewards reaped by this. The reasoning behind this though is equally important as it’s execution.
As a side who set up in a 4-2-4, the central areas are areas that they’re particularly dominant. That ‘box’ shape of the two strikers and the two midfielders is where you’d love for the opposition to receive for two reasons. a) the danger posed by losing the ball there and b) the ease at which four players can close down 1-2 players.
Notice Scamacca's body shape as Barella receives...
Notice Scamacca's body shape as Barella receives...
The final point I’d like to mention is related to rest defense, before transitioning towards their attack. The wingers/wide areas are a particularly weak area for Sassuolo for two reasons. The first is very simply put, they don’t have enough players in wide zones. Almost any team in possession is able to combine around a winger and a fullback. To make this somewhat worse though, Traore and Berardi weren’t exactly expected to defend with maximum intensity, but almost act as outlets.
Let’s look more in possession though…
They’re a very interesting team and I’d highly recommend watching, but a few of the things that I found interesting and may or may not influence the goals directly:
  • Deep fullbacks in build-up
  • Scamacca’s hold-up play makes him a perfect outlet to stretch vertically
  • Traore’s speed makes him equally perfect as an outlet, albeit for a slightly difference reason.
  • Automatisms particularly deep in-possession made progression easy and almost unopposed in the first half.
  • First pass often horizontal, second and third passes very vertically focused. While the first vertical ball was often dropped backwards.
  • Intentionality in defending to retain possession rather than crisis defend. I was impressed at the composure of their center-backs.
There’s a decent chance I found my new favorite team, but that’s not the point… let’s talk about how they scored and how Inter didn’t score.
1-0 Sassuolo, Giacomo Raspadori, 8':
The sequence begins with Inter building from the back, where Sassuolo continually attempt to usher them to play the ball central. They are actually successful on multiple occasions. The yellow box image from before…
A few seconds later the ball enters the box again but within enough proximity to the Sassuolo midfielders…
The ball is won and immediately forward is the direction. Sassuolo attack with 6 players, against Inter’s… 3.5? players in defense. From there, Berardi takes the ball through the midfield and plays to Raspadori on the run between the defenders.
He makes the best of a pretty poor pass from Berardi, scooping it up and taking a shot from just inside the 18 that skips right underneath Handanovic.
The perfect storm for Sassuolo strikes early. Barella’s lack of experience in the position is exploited, the midfield loses the ball due to an excellent pressing shape from the forward line, and the Sassuolo forwards carrying forward immediately to finish.
2-0 Sassuolo, Gianluca Scamacca, 26':
This is one of my favorite goals I’ve seen scored in 2022 so far, so I’m going to break it down bit by bit. To start, Sassuolo turns the ball over about five times in thirty seconds, winning it back each time to attempt transitioning out. They’re finally successful because of Scamacca.
Receiving here from a pass sent around the 18 yard box, Scamacca’s exceptional allows Sassuolo to stretch the Inter lines vertically, and forces them to retreat backwards. After playing a pass backwards, Sassuolo is able to switch fully wide.
Instead, electing to play an incisive pass central, Maxime Lopez receives with space to drive forward alongsie Raspadori.
After a long carry from Raspadori, he finds Traore wide with space to receive and open up. Honestly, I’m unsure why we’re letting players just cross unopposed from here, but Scamacca is circled. He drifts quietly wide, where the left-back, Dimarco, is completely unaware.
And with a beautiful cross from Traore, Scamacca finds himself 100% unopposed and in the perfect place to finish this. We should really frame this finish in the header museum because the technique used was brilliant.
So a few things influenced the goal here. First is Scamacca’s hold up play, and how that stretches the opposition vertically. It was a part of Sassuolo’s game-plan throughout, to use him as an outlet so they’re able to build with more space. Next is the pass backwards, allowing a forward-facing player to exploit the space just created by that long ball forward. Then, a run straight up the center of the field exposed Inter’s lack of a defensive midfield presence. Finally, the basic principles of using width and some excellent striker-ing from Scamacca results in a beautiful psuedo-transition goal.
Inter's 3.35 xG:
To avoid making this too long, because Inter missed about three years worth of goals in one match, I’m going to focus on one instance that illustrates the main point. Returning back to our first section about Inter’s exploitation of wide zones, the second half was much more dangerous.
To start, Inter combines through the center of the pitch, before Dzeko eventually finds Dumfries in the wide space.
Dimarco (to the left of the Sass LCB) makes a run into the gap between the Sassuolo LB and LCB, where he receives on his right food and plays a one touch cross into the box.
(I think the fact that four Inter players are running in here is important...)
(I think the fact that four Inter players are running in here is important...)
Dzeko eventually wins this header, but it goes over the bar in this instance. From here, you’re able to get a rough idea of how most chances are created for Inter in this match.
1.) Some sort of combination play to switch the point of attack.
2.) Exploit the wide underload, and find space to play a ball in from.
3.) Cause chaos in the box with a high number of runners, and increase the likelihood of you winning the second ball, even if the first one isn’t a goal.
Through these methods, Inter was pretty much able to dissect Sassuolo with possession of the ball, despite the tumultuous beginning to the match. A fun experiment into why xG often works out in the long run, Inter Milan played well despite the score-line, and will be frustrated not to have put themselves top of the table this week.
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John Zuidema
John Zuidema @jwzfootball

Looking to explain the tactics that create goals across the globe each week.

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