The Cottage Tactico has shared with us another FM24 tactic recreation. This time it is with newly crowned Serie A Champions Inter.

INTRODUCTION

Under the leadership of Simone Inzaghi, Inter have been utterly dominant in their march towards securing the Scudetto this season. Don’t be fooled by a dodgy penalty against Atletico Madrid blowing their chances of Champions League glory, this is an elite football team. 

Fascinatingly, for an elite side they do things slightly differently, both in their system and outlook on football. On the system side of things, sure, the flexible back 5 out of possession has gradually become rather fashionable, but somewhat old school striker pairings like the one driving Inter forward are not. 

More fundamentally, unlike his fellow elite coaches at the pinnacle of European football, Inzaghi’s outlook is not one of an absolute ideologue insisting on ‘my way or nothing’. The hallmark of his Inter team is their ability to be flexible, reactive even, adjusting how they play depending on their opponents and the game state making them a uniquely dangerous side with many ways of getting things done.

More so than ever, therefore, this breakdown of Inzaghi’s Inter will explain how you can alter a consistent setup to emphasise different facets to Inter’s game and dominate game after game both in attack and defence as they have done in real life. 

If you’re here for an in-depth look at them and how we go about recreating this in FM24 you’re in the right place, but if that sounds TL:DR these are my two baseline tactics and which you can download HERE. You’ll be missing out on half the fun of managing like Inzaghi if you don’t keep reading though…!

DNA

Inzaghi’s Inter adopt an admirably flexible approach which means that they can appear to play very differently at different times when you watch them. 

On some occasions they press high with incredible intensity seeking a chance to regain and hurt an unsettled defence. Yet they also are comfortable in a resolutely well drilled block, waiting for the right moment to pounce and exploit space they create in behind. At times they play intricate, patient moves through the middle of the pitch with rotations looking to break down an opponent. At others they attack directly with pace, particularly down the flanks and try to hit their strikers early with crosses.

Despite their flexibility, you’d be foolish to overlook the consistent hallmarks of how Inter play. There are real touches of total football to their game. Every role on the pitch both attacks and defends and with the emphasis on fluid rotations players are constantly asked to step into different parts of the pitch in a given passage of play.

Under Inzaghi’s leadership his side won the league with comfortably the best attacking and defensive records, so it is crucial in game to try and balance Inter’s strengths at both ends of the pitch. Key for me has been managing overall mentality carefully. My approach is to vary this game by game, using a general rule of thumb where we are on positive when we need a goal, but drop down to balanced when we are comfortably ahead in a game. I should probably drop down more than I do to be strictly realistic, but the temptation to keep bagging goals has been too real!

 

IN POSSESSION

Inzaghi is not a pure tiki taka idealogue in the image of Pep Guardiola, Mikel Arteta or Xabi Alonso, but his side do like to pass it about. In Italy, Inter rank 5th in possession, averaging 56% of the ball. They rank 3rd for completed passes and the number of passes they play before the opponents attempt a defensive action against them (OPPDA) is the highest by far (18.72), which suggests teams are wary of pressing them and Inter will need to work hard to break them down.

Inter are very capable of doing this by working the ball patiently with short passes, especially when playing out the back. But they also often look to hit switches and exploit balls in behind for direct attacks that cut through stubborn opponents.

To reflect this, we are keeping things pretty simple in the team’s instructions in possession in FM. The default is slightly shorter passes and slightly higher tempo. But in keeping with the swiss army knife approach of Inzaghi’s play, both of these could and should be nudged up and down in line with the game situation.

The flanks are important to Inter, but the fairly wide default in this tactic with no specific focus of play suits that fine whilst allowing for some central progression via their ballplayers in midfield. With the player roles and shape utilised we cross enough to match Inter’s reliance on them (they’re 2nd in Serie A for crosses this season!) without having to specify hitting them early and spamming them too much.

Finally, Inzaghi’s side definitely play out from the back, often in a 4+1 or 4+2 structure despite playing 5 at the back (more on that later). And to help enhance the freedom with which the players can roam and rotate we look to be more expressive.

 

OUT OF POSSESSION

It’s not just in possession and in the build that Inter’s apparent back 5 seems to often not really be the case. Like many modern proponents of 5ATB systems, though Inzaghi drops into that shape to match teams attacking with 5, an overlooked part of having an extra defender compared to flat back 4s is that it allows his defence to jump aggressively to pressure teams without unduly exposing space.

This jumping is a key part of Inter’s approach when you watch them. Any one member of the back 5 has licence to jump out to pressure someone on the ball. And further up the pitch one of the midfield 3 has more licence to jump to make a 3 with the strikers who can then match up man for man with the 3 CBs many Italian sides play. 

In FM we look to press more often and step up to encourage this aggressive jumping out. However we do not necessarily do so with a high line of engagement. Inter are comfortable (after an initial counterpress) to sit off in an organised but aggressive mid block so as to draw the opponent on to them and create space in behind to attack directly on the counter. This lack of commitment to endless high pressing is clear when you consider Inter’s PPDA (11.93) ranks just 9th in Serie A. This is slightly unusual amongst top teams these days.

So after showing an initial countepress to try and regain the ball when we lose it, our Inzaghi recreation has us retreating into a mid block, but much like the in possession instructions, I tend to tweak things by switching to a high press when chasing a goal.

In a similar way, Inzaghi and Inter do not religiously play with a super high line penning teams in (say like Alonso’s Leverkusen) but do look to retain possession in the final third and push the CBs on to join the attack. That’s best recreated with a higher rather than much higher line, but it’s not unrealistic to drop this back to standard sometimes.

 

STRUCTURE, DYNAMICS AND PLAYER ROLES

1) Build Up and Defence

To facilitate the 4+1 or 4+2 build up shape that Inter like to play in we isolate one aggressive WB who pushes high and one more conservative WB involved in the build up as a more conventional FB with a slightly asymmetrical formation that gives us a hybrid between a back 5 and 4.

In the example above, Darmian has dropped in fairly conservatively, with Dimarco a pseudo winger in his early positioning. However when Dumfries plays he goes high initially on the right, with Dimarco getting on the ball earlier and deeper in an equivalent way. Whoever is the attacking outlet at WB is given an attacking mentality to their role. 

Dimarco shines best as a CWB on attack, allowing him to be the creative force he has been for Inzaghi in Serie A this season. Inzaghi’s LWB leads the league in expected assists per 90 and with ‘take more risks’ added to his already aggressive role replicates this in game. When we ask him to sit in the first phase he steps back one as a CWB on support.

When Dimarco takes on that role in build up Dumfries is the WB on attack, offering a more direct danger out wide. When the RWB needs to sit we instead use the more solid Darmian as a WB on support.

All of Inzaghi’s back 4 are comfortable on the ball. De Vrij or Acerbi tend to play as the central CB, but still play out comfortably, so we make them a BPD on defend. 

The wide CBs are crucial and get forward with freedom to support attacks. Both are WCBs on support, but we add instructions to the WCB on the side where the WB gets high and vacates space to encourage them to operate more expansively, carrying the ball, taking more risks and crossing themselves when high up the pitch. Bastoni on the left in particular relishes this role and stands out as a uniquely creative CB in settled possession, but Pavard is perfectly capable of doing it too.

To aid build up we instruct Yan Sommer, our SK on support, to take short kicks to one of the WCBs who then can use the DM pivot to help progress the ball.

 

2) Midfield Flexibility

Inzaghi’s ability to embrace some flexibility from within a familiar and consistent baseline extends to the use of his central midfield three.

What is consistent are the zones they operate in. Mkhitaryan plays to the left, Calhanoglu in the middle and Barella on the right. However when you study Inter’s average positions this season their movements can be different both at different times during a game and from game to game.

One is usually tasked with sitting more as a first phase passing option and screener as the ball progresses, one is tasked with getting up with the strikers to be that third forward (both in possession and out of it) and one does everything between the two.

Occasionally, Inzaghi plays the more aggressive CM on the same side as the more aggressive WB to overload, so feel free to switch them in game, but I’ve opted for the more regular positional approach where the aggressive midfielder is on the opposite side where there is more space to attack.

Other than the variation in the side on which the wingback is more aggressive, subtle tweaks to midfield balance are the main way Inzaghi changes things up in terms of player roles themselves, so I’d encourage you to play around freely with this. Here are my main variations though:

Let’s start with the most controversial shout, Calhanoglu is a DLP on support in the two main tactics. To pre-empt the howls of complaint that I’ve deprived you of using the man most commonly referred to as a Regista in the modern game in that role, let me try and explain!

Firstly, we referred to Inter’s rotations earlier and one of Inzaghi’s most common moves is to have one of his midfielders (and sometimes more than one), most commonly the central pivot, drop in to fill the space vacated by a CB who has pushed on. Calhanoglu is the player who does this most and in FM24 he does this more reliably as a DLP than as a Regista.
Secondly, if you look at Inter’s data in real life this season, it is Barella who is actually running the show. Whilst Calhonoglu has played the most passes (a function of his role in early patient build up) Barella leads the side in progressive passes, passes in the final third and passes into the penalty area. 

In order to give Barella that level of control in how Inter work the ball he needs to be a playmaker too and not be interfered with too much by an aggressive Regista role behind him. When he is tasked with being the most aggressive midfielder supporting the attack he is an AP, when he is working more across all phases I use him as an RPM. In both instances he needs to remain all action like in real life though, so I still ask him to tackle harder.

Mkhitaryan works in the half spaces and carries the ball well, supporting Dimarco down the left. When he is tasked with getting closer to the two strikers he is a Mezzala on support, when he is more conservative he can operate as a Carrilero.

Watching Inter’s many rotations, Barella does sometimes drop to sit in at RCB however, so I’ve also sketched out a midfield variant for you where he does exactly that and frees Calhanoglu up to be the Regista.

And if there has not been enough tweaking for you to manage in game already (hey, I never said being as good as Simone Inzaghi would be easy!) you could switch the more aggressive CM onto an attacking mentality to make sure they really get up with and at times beyond the strike partnership. 

Speaking of which, I think it’s time we talked about them!

3) Interchanging Strikers

A hybrid back 5 and a balanced and flexible midfield 3 aren’t in and of themselves that unusual in the upper echelons of European football, but a genuine strike partnership perhaps is. 

Understanding and recreating the frankly unstoppable interplay between Lautaro Martinez and Marcos Thuram is perhaps the most fun element of recreating Inter’s game under Simone Inzaghi. And whilst it took a while to get right, when I did in FM24 the results were unreal. 

Loosely speaking Inzaghi wants one player to come short, get on the ball and in turn create more for the other who looks to run the channels, use their physicality and get in behind to exploit space.

After a lot of testing I settled on having one of them as a Complete Forward on support and the other a Pressing Forward on attack. 

Both are strong, creative, hardworking, have an eye for a pass, can carry, finish, win aerial duels and hassle defenders out of possession. Their intelligent movement and understanding with one another has made them very hard to stop in Serie A this year.

That movement is particularly complicated for the opposition to deal with as it is not a given as to which side of the field either of the roles operates on or who indeed takes on which role. Each takes it in turn to drop deep or look to stretch the defence.

To get the interchanging element of their relationship nailed I’ve built the tactic to have the two strikers swap freely in game. With the CF usually stationed on the opposite side of the pitch to the more aggressive CM, meaning you get a balanced front 3 formed fairly regularly in game. 

Lautaro, who has an eye for the spectacular, is instructed to shoot more and to good effect. With 13 goals in 19 league games he tops Italy’s scoring charts in game for me. Thuram on 8 isn’t far behind and seems to be drastically underperforming xG, so you’d imagine some even more prolific returns may be in his near future. The pair also have a healthy 8 assists between them already, showcasing their rounded threat in this side.

CONCLUSION

Studying his side it is abundantly clear that what sets Inzaghi’s Inter apart is that they can beat you in every way conceivable. And, in real life, they have been doing exactly that. As mentioned, they’ve easily had the best defence in Serie A, conceding just 18 goals in 33 games. Yet they’ve also had the best attack in Serie A, scoring 79.

Reassuringly, after half a season of testing my Inzaghi tactics in FM24 I’ve replicated having the best of both worlds. Creating the most shots and scoring the most goals, whilst simultaneously giving up the fewest shots and conceding the least goals on my way to an unbeaten record.

My attacking record is slightly more dominant than my defence, perhaps as I’m a little reluctant to drop down to a balanced mentality with the aggressive player roles in this side as often as I should. So you could perhaps do Inzaghi more justice in your own management of my baseline systems.

In game, our utter dominance in chance creation (21 clear of the nearest challenger on this metric) is fuelled by the most completed crosses in the game and just 54% possession on average, which is nothing like some of our possession hungry rivals who easily average 60+%

It’s sometimes thought to be the case that you have to play football a certain way to have reliable success, both in real life and in FM. But that’s frankly boring! I’ve found Inzaghi to be a refreshing antidote to that sort of thinking. If you have the level of comparative talent in your squad that Inzaghi’s Inter have and use consistent but variable principles of play, working in the style they do can deliver results. So I’d be eager to see if this translates into different teams you want to play Inzaghi-ball off the back of this blog.

So, there you have it, the champagne football of Simone Inzaghi’s scudetto winning Inter in FM. Once again, you can download the tactics HERE

Having already looked at Bundesliga Champions Leverkusen previously, I think it’s time to give Don Carlo his flowers and break down what he’s doing at Real Madrid this season next. But do get in touch with me about this or any of my other recreations over on Twitter @CottageTactico. I’m slightly drowning in requests for more of these blogs and whilst I can’t promise I’ll do your shout next, I do honestly look at them all and hope to get to them as soon as I can.

Thanks for reading!

Author

  • Cleon

    Cleon is a distinguished figure in the Football Manager community, known for his tactical acumen and profound understanding of the game's intricacies. With a penchant for sharing knowledge, Cleon has authored "The Football Manager Playbook," offering a deep dive into crafting effective tactics. He's the brains behind the well-regarded blog "View From The Touchline," where he elucidates on football philosophies, game strategies, and more. Beyond the written word, Cleon engages with enthusiasts through social media, making complex football management concepts accessible to many.

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