Mancini’s tactical blunder against Fiorentina a concern for Inter
Ahead of the seventh round of Serie A fixtures, Ryan Wrenn reflects on Fiorentina’s battle with Inter from the previous round of games, with a focus on how the Viola were so tactically superior.
It is easy to see Roberto Mancini’s reasoning for how he laid out his Inter squad in Sunday’s match against Fiorentina. Paulo Sousa only arrived in Florence over the summer, but it was already clear how he wanted his Viola squad to play: keep possession, stay narrow and attack through the middle. This isn’t altogether different than how Mancini’s Inter play, and the Italian coach likely figured he knew exactly how to counteract the effectiveness of Sousa’s tactics.
On paper, Inter’s lineup didn’t look especially different than the one fielded most of the season so far. Sousa likely saw the players listed and figured his side would be up against Mancini’s typical 4-3-2-1, or some slight variation thereof.
Instead, Mancini repositioned his regular starting lineup in a move likely meant to counterbalance Fiorentina’s strengths, specifically in the middle of the pitch.
Miranda – the only recognized centre-back in the starting XI – started in between Gary Medel and Davide Santon in a relatively narrow back three. Alex Telles and Ivan Perisic started out wide as nominal wing-backs – though Perisic is more of an outright winger than defender – with Felipe Melo, Fredy Guarin and Geoffery Kongbodia crowding the centre of the pitch.
It was a gameplay designed to nullify Fiorentina’s attempts to retain possession and funnel attacks through the middle. The midfield trio would disrupt Fiorentina’s passing rhythm while Inter would have an extra man in defense to deal with the strikers.
Mancini knew also that Sousa favored a back-three in defense, and might have hoped that Perisic would be unchallenged enough out wide to reek havoc behind Marcos Alonso’s runs forward in attack. In theory, this might have seemed like a practical way to stop Inter’s most dangerous opponents yet.
In practice, however, it did nothing of the sort.
The primary reason Mancini’s gamble didn’t pay off was the penalty conceded by Samir Handanovic in the fourth minute of play.
Simply put, this season’s Inter side is not built to chase games. It’s built instead to contain the opposition long enough for a goal to be found. And so far this season those goals – only seven so far in six matches – have been hard to come by. Of those six goals, four came after the 55th minute of play.
Inter falling behind so early dramatically changed the complexion of the game. Inter were compelled to play more aggressively in search of the equaliser, and more space than usual was left in Inter’s rear as a result.
Fiorentina jumped at the opportunity, moving Borja Valero forward from his midfield position to press Inter’s defenders as they attempted to play the ball out from the back. Moving Valero forward risked jeopardising the Viola passing game, but that was outweighed significantly by the advantage of pressing Miranda and Santon when they were in possession.
Alongside and slightly ahead of him, Josip Ilicic and Nikola Kalinic energetically ran down the ball as it was played between the Inter defense. It was something like a feeding frenzy, the trio having smelled blood in the water after the penalty and harassing Inter’s new-look backline from all angles.
When Ilicic took a shot on goal from distance, Kalinic was already running toward goal to mop up Handanovic’s stunning – though ultimately meaningless – save.
Minutes later, Valero combined on the left flank to help Marcos Alonso undue Perisic’s woeful attempt to track back from his wing-back position. Alonso’s cross was ultimately converted by Kalinic. Twenty-two minutes into the game and it felt as if la Viola had already won.
That impression was only compounded seven minutes later when Fiorentina’s attack again combined to find a way through to goal and Miranda was forced into a professional foul that got him sent off. Inter played the remaining 60 minutes of the game down a man and lost 4-1.
Prior to Sunday, Inter had won five out of five matches, only conceding a single goal. Fiorentina changed all of that in less than a half hour of though effective, coordinated pressing high up the pitch. Thanks in no small part to Inter’s tactical misjudgment – one that Mancini should have fixed immediately after the penalty or, at the very latest, after the second goal – Fiorentina earned a devastating and historic result.