Going into this match against Sampdoria, Inter coach Frank De Boer was under ever-increasing pressure as results and performances continued in a downward spiral. Sampdoria, under the impressive Marco Giampaolo, had started to pick up form over the past few weeks and would provide another stiff test for the Nerazzuri.
Indeed as it turned out this match was the final nail in the coffin for De Boer and shortly after what ended in a defeat the Dutch coach was given his marching orders by the club.
In many ways the pressure and eventual sacking of De Boer was as unnecessary as it was inevitable. The Inter board had spent the pre-season deliberating over whether to dispose of the previous coach Roberto Mancini. Instead of doing so they allowed the former Manchester City coach to recruit players for his style before turning to De Boer close to the start of the season.
This left De Boer in a difficult position very quickly as he was left trying to fit players bought for a different system and in line with a different philosophy in to his own vision. That said there were issues with the lack of cohesive strategy that we saw over the first few weeks of the season from Inter with no clear plan in terms of how they play in the attacking phase or the defensive phase of the game.
Sampdoria were another side who had changed coach in the summer with the appointment of the former Empoli boss Giampaolo. He had impressed last season after taking over from Maurizio Sarri at Empoli and continuing their impressive form.
Inter lined up for the most part in a fairly flat 4-3-3 shape with three central midfielders in Joao Mario, Ever Banega and Marcelo Brozovic. The problem here for Inter lies not necessarily with the quality of the squad, but the lack of balance in terms of player types. The three central midfielders are a case in point with all three preferring certain roles within the team structure and not quite fitting together well as a unit.
In the attacking strata the controversial club captain Mauro Icardi continued leading the line of the attack flanked by former Sampdoria player Eder and Italy international Antonio Candreva.
For Sampdoria, the former third-choice goalkeeper Christian Puggioni continued in goal due to an ongoing injury to Emiliano Viviano.
They started with a loose 4-3-1-2 shape with impressive 20-year-old Uruguayan Lucas Torreira continuing in the deep-lying role looking to break up opposition attacks and facilitate attacking movements for Sampdoria.
Samp’s front three contained pace, power and technique with Bruno Fernandes providing the ammunition for Fabio Quagliarella and Luis Muriel.
Throughout the match, Sampdoria utilised a medium-to-high block and looked to prevent Inter from comfortably playing out from the back. The front three especially had the freedom to push forward and challenge the Inter defenders deep inside their own half while the midfield block retained a deeper and more disciplined shape.
As Inter are in possession of the ball deep inside their own half all three players that would offer an easy escape from the press are quickly and efficiently closed down. This high press was designed to disrupt the build-up play as much as it was to force a turnover in possession.
Time and time again we saw Inter fail to play through the initial press and resort to forced passes out to the wide areas that presented little real danger to Sampdoria.
A similar story on this occasion but with the ball at the feet of the goalkeeper. Whilst he was the head coach at Ajax, De Boer preferred to instruct his goalkeeper to build from the back using his defenders and midfielders dropping in to collect the ball from deep areas.
This action was prevented by the willingness of Sampdoria to stretch their defensive shape and leave gaps behind the initial press that could have been exploited. As it turned out Inter did not have the quality to take advantage of these spaces and they continually struggled to build in comfortable possession.
Inter midfield narrow and static
As we alluded to above there are real issues within the midfield unit for Inter. Individually the three central players have real talent and the capacity to become extremely valuable players at the club. However, in terms of structure and individual roles the setup and performance in this match left a lot to be desired.
The individual player profiles of Brozovic, Joao Mario and Banega are all fairly similar. This points to a poorly conceived and executed recruitment strategy with little diversity to be found in the midfield group. That said a strong coach should still be able to adapt a system to contain three similar players without them trying to occupy the same zones.
As Sampdoria look to transition from defence to attack you can see that the Inter midfield line is in essence doing almost nothing. They are not close enough to challenge the man in possession whilst at the same time they are not positioned with enough depth to prevent a simple pass from bypassing all three players and freeing Bruno Fernandes in the ‘10’ role to attack forwards.
The lack of a single player with a more cautious or defensive mind-set means that they are unable to quickly identify the danger behind them and adjust position to nullify the threat.
This is a still from the same attacking movement as the one above. As Bruno Fernandes took possession from a simple pass that bypassed the Inter midfield unit he was left clear to drive at the heart of the Inter penalty area.
None of the three Inter midfielders were able to get back and apply pressure on the ball and Inter very quickly found themselves isolated in a three on three situation deep inside their own half.
The lack of adequate defensive cover in central areas led to Inter being exposed time and time again as Sampdoria concentrated their attacking play centrally and through Fernandes, Quagliarella and Muriel.
I was first made aware of the young Uruguayan at the start of the season by Blair Newman, who tipped Torreira as a player to watch over the course of the season.
In this match Torreira played as a very traditional ‘6’ sitting in front of the Sampdoria defence and preventing Inter from accessing the central areas with any ease. In fact Torreira was exactly the type of player that Inter were missing in this match.
Here you can see how narrow Sampdoria were when they entered the attacking phase. Torreira is in possession and he has four immediate vertical options that allowed him to progress the play to various depths of the pitch.
The full-backs would offer a degree of support to the attacking movement but for the most part Sampdoria would choose to play the ball through the thirds of the pitch in central areas looking to overload Inter and create opportunities to play into the Inter penalty area.
Torreira also appears to be a player with an innate sense of danger that is capable of positioning himself correctly to support his team mates in the defensive phase of the game. Here you can see that Inter are attacking down their left hand side.
They are trying to create a three versus two overload in the wide area but Torreira is capable of reading the danger and moving in to a strong position. Here he is positioned well enough to be able to support the defensive structure whichever way they decide to attack.
In this example Sampdoria are looking to build an attacking move from their defensive line. Whilst Inter struggled to build up in this fashion in part because of the pressing from Sampdoria but also due to the absence of a controlling midfielder, Sampdoria were constantly able to escape pressure with an easy pass to Torreira in the central position.
He rarely did anything especially impressive whilst in possession preferring instead to move the ball up the field to more advanced team mates but he also rarely made a tangible mistake.
It would be remiss to say that Sampdoria were extremely impressive in this match, although they are steadily improving. Instead, for all the positive aspects of play from the Genoese club, it was the failings of Inter that contributed more to the result.
It is time for a new era at the Nerazzurri, especially with their city rivals AC Milan steadily improving under Vincenzo Montella. It remains to be seen whether the next coaching appointment is rushed or made with thought and foresight.
Words by Lee Scott @FMAnalysis
Lee is a tactical analyst. As well as The Gentleman Ultra, you can find his work on These Football Times, Spielverlagerung and Anfield Index. He also runs his own blog: The Dugout.