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Examining Inter’s 5-0 Preseason Win Over Lugano

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Hakimi set up Dalbert’s opening goal and forced an Own Goal for our second, then Lautaro ended the first half 4-0 with a brace

FC Internazionale v Lugano - Pre-Season Friendly
“Henrique Dalbert of FC Internazionale celebrates with his new teammate Achraf Hakimi after scoring the opening goal during the Pre-Season Friendly match between FC Internazionale and Lugano at the club’s training ground Suning Training Center in memory of Angelo Moratti on September 15, 2020 in Como, Italy”
Photo by Emilio Andreoli - Inter/Inter via Getty Images

Full Match Replay:

A replay of this entire preseason match — which was hosted at Inter’s training ground against Swiss club FC Lugano on Tuesday, September 15th — is available to watch for free with commentary in English on Inter’s official YouTube channel.

First half — four goals (4’, 36’, 36’, and 43’)

1st goal — 7:35 — Dalbert tap-in, assisted by Hakimi

FC Internazionale v Lugano - Pre-Season Friendly
“Henrique Dalbert of FC Internazionale scores the opening goal during the Pre-Season Friendly match between FC Internazionale and Lugano at the club’s training ground Suning Training Center in memory of Angelo Moratti on September 15, 2020 in Como, Italy”
Photo by Emilio Andreoli - Inter/Inter via Getty Images

Barella injury — 23:45 is when play was stopped, although I didn’t actually see what exactly caused the injury or how bad it was... then he was subbed out for Agoume.

Fortunately, it was later confirmed to be nothing serious:

16 minutes into Inter’s first pre-season friendly ahead of the 2020/21 season this evening against Swiss side Lugano, Barella was forced to come off the pitch after he suffered a blow to his right arm and shoulder. The report from Sky Sport Italia states that it is nothing serious and simply just a bad bruise.

FC Internazionale v Lugano - Pre-Season Friendly
“Nicolo Barella of FC Internazionale is challenged by Jonathan Sabbatini of FC Lugano during the Pre-Season Friendly match between FC Internazionale and Lugano at the club’s training ground Suning Training Center in memory of Angelo Moratti on September 15, 2020 in Como, Italy”
Photo by Emilio Andreoli - Inter/Inter via Getty Images

2nd goal — 39:30 — after Sensi loses the ball from an unsuccessful dribble attempt between a double team, seemingly at the end of a long patient passing sequence... the ball fortunately falls to Hakimi out wide to the right, and our talented new Wing-Back quickly banged in a shot that bounced in as an Own Goal by one of Lugano’s Center-Backs.

FC Internazionale v Lugano - Pre-Season Friendly
“Achraf Hakimi of FC Internazionale in action during the Pre-Season Friendly match between FC Internazionale and Lugano at the club’s training ground Suning Training Center in memory of Angelo Moratti on September 15, 2020 in Como, Italy”
Photo by Emilio Andreoli - Inter/Inter via Getty Images

3rd goal — 40:25 — immediately after Lugano restart play, Alexis presses aggressively to win the ball, then carries it down the right wing and puts in a low pass for Lautaro to bury with a great near post finish!

FC Internazionale v Lugano - Pre-Season Friendly
“Lautaro Martinez of FC Internazionale celebrates his goal with his team-mates Alexis Sanchez and Achraf Hakimi during the Pre-Season Friendly match between FC Internazionale and Lugano at the club’s training ground Suning Training Center in memory of Angelo Moratti on September 15, 2020 in Como, Italy”
Photo by Emilio Andreoli - Inter/Inter via Getty Images

4th goal — 46:40 — Sensi’s aggressive pressing allows Skriniar to win the ball just past the halfway line, then make a perfect weak foot pass while following down to find Alexis down the right channel, who slides it over to Lautaro with only the goalkeeper to beat for an easy finish... well done to Sanchez and Martinez, but this goal was really all about Sensi and especially Skriniar’s efforts with the aggressive counter-pressing!

FC Internazionale v Lugano - Pre-Season Friendly
“Milan Skriniar of FC Internazionale competes for the ball during the Pre-Season Friendly match between FC Internazionale and Lugano at the club’s training ground Suning Training Center in memory of Angelo Moratti on September 15, 2020 in Como, Italy”
Photo by Emilio Andreoli - Inter/Inter via Getty Images

HALFTIME, with an interesting clip from training

During the halftime break, instead of having commercials and pundit commentary like a regular match would, the club’s official channel just inserted a clip that provides a fascinating inside look into one of the drills that Conte has the team run!

A screenshot from the clip on Inter’s official YouTube channel that shows Conte’s one-touch passing drill during the halftime of the Inter vs Lugano preseason match

In an extremely tiny field, surrounded by mini goals in the shape of a short and narrow rectangle, the players were divided into two teams — red and blue — and took turns trying to score by playing one-touch passes only. Conte stood off to the side and counted up every single consecutive pass that one of the teams completed, restarting every time that they lost possession.

Conte kicks the ball back into play from the right side to continue the rapid paced back-and-forth drill going the other way

I thought this drill was fascinating to see because it really emphasizes the importance of quick reactions with instinctive muscle memory for playing through tight spaces amidst an aggressive press. In terms of technical skill, it is an outstanding way for the players to practice perfecting their first touch, but even without the ball it also emphasizes the importance of quick thinking and movement in attack, as well as hustling to close down space quickly when counter-pressing!

Second half — one goal (47’ penalty)

Conte made a full lineup change of all 11 players at halftime, but kept the same 3-4-1-2 formation with a double pivot and trequartista.

FC Internazionale v Lugano - Pre-Season Friendly
Romelu Lukaku of FC Internazionale competes for the ball against two opponents during the Pre-Season Friendly match with FC Lugano at the club’s training ground Suning Training Center in memory of Angelo Moratti on September 15, 2020 in Como, Italy
Photo by Emilio Andreoli - Inter/Inter via Getty Images

5th goal — 1:03:50 — Lukaku scores the penalty after he was fouled by Lugano’s GK.

Personally, since it’s preseason and we were already up 4-0 anyway, I would’ve liked to see our Top Scorer from last season let somebody else take the penalty shot — especially Eriksen or the 18 year old (almost 19) Eddie Salcedo, who had been given a rare chance to play alongside Lukaku in the second half striker pairing... but whatever. It was a well-taken penalty, and he was the one who drew the foul in the first place, so it’s understandable why such a world class striker (especially one whose last time scoring was a fluky own goal to lose a European Final) would want to be the one to score it himself too.

FC Internazionale v Lugano - Pre-Season Friendly
18 year old forward Eddie Salcedo of FC Internazionale in action during the Pre-Season Friendly match against FC Lugano at the club’s training ground Suning Training Center in memory of Angelo Moratti on September 15, 2020 in Como, Italy
Photo by Emilio Andreoli - Inter/Inter via Getty Images

Tactical Takeaways

There are four main reasons why I decided to actually take the time to bother watching the replay (I missed the live stream) of this preseason match:

  1. I saw after the fact that we had won 5-0, so I knew that there would be plenty of attacking and wanted to see the build-up play that led to each goal
  2. I wanted to see Hakimi’s first performance in Nerazzurri at RWB
  3. I wanted to see how both Dalbert and Perisic performed at LWB
  4. Most of all, I wanted to see exactly which variant of the 3-5-2 formation Conte was using — specifically regarding his choices for the arrangement of his Midfield Three

First half lineup:

Second half lineup:

The main takeaway for me is that it looks like Conte will definitely be sticking with the 3-4-1-2 formation that he switched to halfway through last season... as opposed to the 3-1-4-2 that he used in the first half of his first season here.

Hopefully this preseason will help get the double pivot variation of the system fully ingrained into this squad in time for Conte’s second full season here — in theory, it could be the perfect formation to get the best out of a fully-settled Christian Eriksen as trequartista with talented attacking wingbacks free to risk going forward more aggressively, protected by the extra cover that a second defensive midfielder provides.

FC Internazionale v Lugano - Pre-Season Friendly
Christian Eriksen of FC Internazionale competes for the ball against three opponents during the Pre-Season Friendly match with FC Lugano at the club’s training ground Suning Training Center in memory of Angelo Moratti on September 15, 2020 in Como, Italy
Photo by Emilio Andreoli - Inter/Inter via Getty Images

In possession, I expect it to often look more like a wide 3-2-3-2 formation, with Eriksen (or Sensi, or maybe Radja) in a free-floating playmaker role surrounded by six passing options! Contrary to the stereotypes about Back Three systems supposedly being really defensive Back Five formations, the tactical vision that Conte appears to be implementing for Inter could often end up looking like an aggressive 4-2-3-1 at times, just with one less defender and instead an additional striker!

Pushing the wingbacks up so high also opens up lots of possibilities for intricate attacking movement, with interchanging positions and overloads on either wing. This could be especially threatening to opposing defenses with Eriksen in particular as a roaming trequartista, since he’s so remarkably two-footed and can be dangerous from anywhere — as he showed glimpses of throughout the second half against Lugano.

It didn’t all click in terms of end product in this first match of an unusually short preseason, but the second half lineup showed a lot of potential playmaking spark. They would have scored at least two or three more goals if their timing had been slightly more in sync, especially when it came to the multiple chances called back for offsides. The team was patient in possession, with methodical build-up play as usual under Conte, but there was a lot of direct attacking initiative with a constant will to drive the ball forward.

FC Internazionale v Lugano - Pre-Season Friendly
“Radja Nainggolan of FC Internazionale competes for the ball with Sandi Lovric of FC Lugano during their Pre-Season Friendly match at the club’s training ground Suning Training Center in memory of Angelo Moratti on September 15, 2020 in Como, Italy”
Photo by Emilio Andreoli - Inter/Inter via Getty Images

One of the advantages of this match being on YouTube is that you can set it to 0.75x speed, which really makes it very obvious just how world class Brozovic is for us when you have a little more time to process all of the details like that! Our entire system pretty much runs through him, especially in the methodical build-up play, but his positioning is also just so intelligent defensively and he covers an amazing amount of ground. Obviously it wasn’t the toughest opponent, but I actually felt surprisingly comfortable watching “Ninja” in a double pivot with Eriksen as an attacking trequartista, purely because of the knowledge that Brozovic was always there to help shield the Back Three.

The best case scenarios for this season are definitely exciting to think about... IF all of this talent in our squad can develop chemistry within that formation... AND IF every player can commit to working hard enough for such a dangerous attacking system to ALSO constantly be ready to quickly adjust to defending compactly when needed situationally... but for now, it’s still only preseason, the transfer window isn’t even over yet, and it remains to be seen if our wingback and double pivot options actually provide the right balance to make this system thrive consistently enough to seriously contend for trophies in all competitions.

FC Internazionale v Lugano - Pre-Season Friendly
“Achraf Hakimi of FC Internazionale in action during the Pre-Season Friendly match against Lugano at the club’s training ground Suning Training Center in memory of Angelo Moratti on September 15, 2020 in Como, Italy”
Photo by Emilio Andreoli - Inter/Inter via Getty Images

Tactics aside, the main takeaway from this specific match (to the extent that long term conclusions can be drawn from just one preseason match) is that Hakimi looked like a legitimate potential star in his Nerazzurri debut, directly causing both of the opening two goals in addition to having an all-around excellent performance at Right Wing-Back in our first glimpse of him within Conte’s system!