Fiorentina will want to bounce back from their comfortable loss to Juventus last weekend. Vincenzo Montella’s side paid for playing too flat across midfield, allowing Juventus too much space between the lines for both Andrea Pirlo to exploit from deep and Claudio Marchisio and Arturo Vidal to run into. Montella surprisingly started with Luca Toni in attack alongside Stevan Jovetic, but the pair’s lack of defensive aptitude may see a return for Adem Ljajic.
Inter Milan’s approach is harder to predict – manager Andrea Stramaccioni is one of the most tactically versatile coaches in Europe. Inter have regularly switched between variations of a 3-5-2 and a 4-3-3 system, so predicting their starting system is difficult. Stramaccioni tends to mirror teams that play three in defence, which would suggest a 3-5-2 variation will be used. Nevertheless, to cover both possibilities and to consider their strengths and weaknesses against Fiorentina’s flat 3-5-2 formation, Inter’s two tactical options will be analysed.
Fiorentina’s 3-5-2 vs Inter’s 3-4-1-2
In a battle of 3-5-2 variations midfield depth is key, and just as Fiorentina struggled against Juventus due to their flat midfield five, so too may they be outmanoeuvred by Inter’s combination. The positive midfield triangle of Esteban Cambiasso, Walter Gargano and Fredy Guarin covers a lot of vertical space. Cambiasso is accustomed to playing a deep role and will naturally collect the ball from the defenders; Gargano is similarly defensive but more energetic, looking to press opponents in the middle of the pitch; Guarin plays a shuttling role between midfield and attack. Between the three players Inter’s midfield occupies space between their defensive line and forward pair.
In contrast Fiorentina’s trio all naturally occupy central positions. David Pizarro likes to drop deep in search of space from which to dictate play, but is unreliable in defence and does little to deter opponents finding dangerous positions in front of Fiorentina’s back three. Ahead of him both Borja Valero and Alberto Aquilani are fine players, but neither has the attacking ambition nor the technically quality to operate between the lines. As a result, while Montella possesses a midfield full of energy and ability, it is possible for tiered midfields to play around them.
With wing backs in direct confrontation and both teams with an extra man in defence, the midfield battle is key between two 3-5-2 variations. As mentioned in the preview for their game against Juventus, Fiorentina have the option of selecting Ljajic in attack so that he may drop deep to help with the midfield battle. Considering how deep Cambiasso and Gargano will drop, this may be an option again, but Guarin will pose the greatest threat, looking to run directly through Fiorentina’s midfield to link up with the forwards. Both Juventus goals came from players finding space behind their midfield, so Montella will need to find an effective balance to ensure Guarin’s runs into this area are adequately tracked.
Finally, Pizarro and Aquilani are the home side’s chief playmakers, but against such an energetic midfield as Inter’s they may find it difficult to find the necessary time and space to make threatening passes. Jovetic has the technical quality to offer a creative threat from further forward, and should his midfield teammates get too much attention he will be Fiorentina’s best attacking hope.
Fiorentina’s 3-5-2 vs Inter’s 4-3-1-2
Walter Samuel’s continued absence may see Stramaccioni persist with a back four, which would see Zdravko Kuzmanovic come in as an extra midfielder to form a diamond with Cambiasso, Gargano and Guarin. Should Inter adopt a 4-3-1-2 system, Fiorentina would be outnumbered in midfield but should enjoy greater support from their wing backs.
As already discussed, Fiorentina’s midfield lacks depth which can cause it problems against an opponents with similar midfield numbers, so against a side with an extra player in the middle of the pitch there is scope for the home side to be dominated. The selection of Ljajic would become even more useful, has the forward could occupy Inter’s deepest midfielder (Kuzmanovic). However, Fiorentina would need to utilise their system’s strengths, namely the freedom of their wing backs. With no direct opponent – Inter’s full backs will naturally play 10-20 yards deeper – both Manuel Pasqual and Juan Guillermo Cuadrado can support the midfield battle by taking up narrow positions without the ball before moving wide when in possession. They will specifically need to watch the lateral movement of Inter carrileros Cambiasso and Gargano who would be tasked with providing some midfield width.
Pasqual and Cuadrado also offer Fiorentina’s best attacking option, with both likely to get space out wide. Their position leaves Inter with a challenge – if the full backs engage them high up the pitch it would leave centre backs Juan Jesus and Andrea Ranocchia isolated against Fiorentina’s forward pair; if the widest midfielders (Cambiasso and Gargano) engage them, it would leave a Fiorentina midfielder free in the centre of the pitch.
Such a tactical match-up would offer an exciting tactical clash – Fiorentina’s dominance out wide against Inter’s strength through the middle.
Fiorentina have generally performed well this season, and their midfield trio have enjoyed successful campaigns. However, the three players don’t appear to offer a great deal of balance, and certain systems can exploit this weakness with relative ease. Should Stramaccioni choose to mirror the Montella’s 3-5-2 system, Inter will have the capacity to outmanoeuvre the home side in midfield, whilst matching them elsewhere on the pitch. A midfield diamond would challenge Fiorentina’s midfield even more, but leave gaps elsewhere. Whatever Stramaccioni decides on, Inter’s focus will likely be exploiting the space either side of Fiorentina’s flat midfield. Montella will hope his side can either adjust or find success in other areas.