Italian tactics 101: Analyzing Inter Milan’s and AC Milan’s offense

Milan’s troubled attack

Milan has problems on and off the pitch. They are closer to the relegation zone than the Champions League qualification. Milan is 10th highest in goals conceded (1.41 Per Game) and 10th lowest in goals scored (1.35 PG). While they create a large number of shots (15.56 shots Per Normalized Possession, the 3rd highest in Serie A), they are low percentage chances: over 52% of them are long-distance shots originate from outside of the box (8.15 shots PNP, 1st in Serie A). Further, Milan generates the 7th fewest high % shot in the penalty box (6.15 shots PNP).

Milan’s offense looks stale when you watch them play. We can seek statistic evidence for support: We can use the number of passes per possession to approximate the speed of ball movement for any team. Imagine you have a tennis ball in your hands. In a given amount of time, you can hold it in one hand, or you can pass it between your hands. The ball moves faster in the latter case but you “possess” the ball for the same amount of time in both scenarios. The fewer passes that a team plays, the ball stays longer in a player’s feet.

Once the speed of ball movement is known, we can measure whether a team is making enough passes for the amount of possession they have. Because the amount of possession highly correlates to the number of passes (R=0.93), we can use linear regression to predict the number of passes a team should have made with a given amount of possession.


Milan’s ball movement is slower than expected because they make 7% fewer passes than predicted (the 3rd worst in the league). Torino and Roma play slower than Milan, but they compensate for the problem: Torino attempts a lot of dribbles (17.4 dribbles PNP, 1st in Serie A) to open up the opponent’s defense. Roma creates a high volume of dribbles and transition opportunities (6th and 7th in Serie A) to initiate their attack. For Milan, they don’t dribble enough (8.86 dribbles PNP, the lowest in the league) and don’t create enough transitions (26.1 transitions PNP, the 6th fewest in Serie A).

Milan is stale in three ways: 1, their ball movement is slow. The opponent’s defense has time to maintain an organized shape. 2, facing an organized defensive block, Milan’s players rarely use individual creativity (such as dribbles) to create an opening. 3, they cannot take advantage when the opponent loses its defensive structure because they create few transitional opportunities. In the end, they have to resort to long-distance shot to score goals. Without confidence, Milan does not play with enough courage and take risks. Gennaro Gattuso needs to fix Milan’s mental problem before implementing any tactical changes.

Inter’s fluid attack

Luciano Spalletti time and again shows us that he can develop the most efficient tactics based on his players’ characteristics. He created the organized chaos when he first coaches Roma and the ultra-long ball strategy with Edin Dzeko as a target man in his second Roma’s stint. With Inter, he designs the rote positional exchanges. I divide the pitch into zones to illustrate this tactic:


Inter uses the two center backs and three central midfielders in the initial build-up. If they attract the opponent’s defenders to tackle them, Inter’s players will pass to the two full-backs, Danilo D’Ambrosio on the right- and Davide Santon on the left-hand side. Inter prefers attacking the right side because they have more right-footed players than left-footed ones.

Once D’Ambrosio enters zone 1 (this zone extends to the area around the half-line), he will send a pass to Antonio Candreva, who often moves toward zone 3. Candreva will try to dribble past his defender or cross into the box to Mauro Icardi. After releasing the pass, D’Ambrosio will run into zone 5. If he is empty, Candreva can pass the ball to him, and D’Ambrosio will directly face the goal. If someone is marking D’Ambrosio, there is one less defender on Candreva. Sometimes Candreva will move into zone 2 if he can’t receive the ball in zone 3 or if he can’t get rid of his markers. In that case, Matias Vecino or Borja Valero will move into either zone 3 or 5, depending on where D’Ambrosio positions (he can also run into the box). This attacking play is the same on the left-side with different players involved. Their different characters provide variability to the play: Ivan Perisic and Santon like to cut inside and shoot while Cnadreva / D’Ambrosio prefer to cross/shoot from the outside. Moreover, if the ball is developing on the opposite side, Perisic or Candreva will move into the box to support Icardi and cause more confusions to their markers.

The division of zones is strict, but the duty and movement of the players are loose. Inter’s players continuously move in and out of different areas (zone 2, 3, 5, and the box) until the defense breaks down. This tactic is the basis of Inter’s fluid attacking plays. Inter creates 8.06 high % chances PNP and scores 34 goals (2nd and 4th in the league).




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