About this formation
There's been a huge dilemma about whether Mancini will resort to playing 433 or 4231 now that he's got the wide players he so craved in Perisic, Ljajic and potentially Jovetic, as well as 2 full backs in Montoya and Telles (the former of which seems to have disappointed so far, but should be given some time to adapt. I will try to look through both scenarios about what Inter would look like in both respective formations, beginning with the 433.
The advantages of the 433 formation are several, though as every other formation it has its own weaknesses. For starters, the numerical advantage created with the trio in midfield means a lot for teams that tend to control the game and keep the ball in possession. Inter was one of the top teams in Italy as far as possession was concerned last season, so it shouldn't surprise us if Mancini wants to take this into the new season as well.
The three attackers are often split in their roles as two wingers and a center forward, or perhaps 1 classic winger, a center forward and a hybrid which is formally not a forward but regularly cuts inside (which would be the case with Jovetic, as he is not a classic winger). The wingers often have defensive responsibilities as well, because otherwise the full backs are left exposed by the space left in front of them, which can overburden the defense as well. This trio is the main attacking outlet for the team, and is largely dependent on mobility, which should not be a problem for our attack. If the team can afford for the wingers to stay high up the field even in the defensive phase, this formation also allows for effectiveness on the counter.
The defense is made up of a classic 4, but in 433 the full backs generally get the licence to roam ahead and provide further width for the midfielders to build up the play, as well as allowing the wingers to cut inside and rotate to create space for the incoming midfielders and center forward. This is why one of the midfielders in 433 (the central one, most likely) is one that generally gets more defensive duties and stays back to protect the duo of center backs in case a counter attack is launched and the full backs are caught off position. This defensive midfielder is also adequate cover for the two central midfielders in front of him, who also get the licence to bomb ahead and provide support in attack.
This formation has two weaknesses in general (the specific case about Inter's weaknesses in using this formation are a special story and will be mentioned below).
- The wide areas are exploitable. The huge space between the wingers and the full backs will often leave the latter isolated and will cause problems. In some cases it will be safe for the central midfielders to leave their position to cover on the lateral parts, but against teams that also have numbers in midfield, it could leave the midfield without structure and exploit space there.
The other weakness is that with the full backs bombing ahead, only 3 players are left to protect the goalkeeper - the defensive midfielder and the 2 central backs.
One should bear in mind that the coach will not be crazy and will judge which module of the 433 to use depending on the system and quality of the opponent (meaning he can decide whether to force the wingers to fall back and form a 4141 or keep them ahead to wait for the counter; whether he will want the full backs to push all the way up and replace the wingers, allowing them to move freely inside or only to midfield to ease up the build up play).
There are a couple of vital roles that need mentioning as well:
1. Full backs. The more complete the full backs - the more comfortable space for the coach. Seeing as how them leaving their position to bomb ahead would leave the defense exposed, it is highly useful if they also possess defensive qualities and have a lot of pace and stamina to cover great distance at speed.
2. Defensive midfielder. He's the go-to person when you get the ball out of defense and into the midfield, and he's also the last wall of protection before the opponents reach your defense, so you want a highly physical, mobile, aggressive player in that position, but one who is also relatively comfortable on the ball and can pass accurately.
3. Box to box midfielder - one of the midfielders in front of the central midfielder is one that gets both attacking and defensive duties; you want a player who can run a lot and cover a lot of distance over the course of the game; he's the one that runs behind the striker and into the box to provide numerical advantage in attack, but also one that runs back to help out the defensive midfielder in the defensive phase.
4. Playmaker. The other central midfielder is normally a playmaker, the go-to player that you want to see moving the ball around and dictating play in midfield.
* When taking the ball out of defense and into midfield, the midfield trio can rotate to create space, so the playmaker or the box to box midfielder might often come deep to get the ball if the defensive midfielder is man marked.
Applied to Inter
When applied to Inter's current crop of players, Inter's squad gives solutions to some of the problems, but gives birth to others.
Two major critical points here:
1. The midfield.
- I would have Felipe Melo as the defensive midfielder preferred to Gary Medel. Why? Because despite the fact that I love Gary and he's a better passer of the ball - Melo is more aggressive, bigger and most importantly for the attacking phase, he is also much faster on the ball than Medel. I've seen Gary slow down the game over and over again and it is going to be a problem for us, especially because of the next point:
- Kovacic is gone. This leaves Kondogbia as most likely the playmaker and Guarin or Brozovic as the box to box midfielders. The other option is that Mancini doesn't even have a playmaker, but that doesn't work lightly. We've seen that Guarin and Brozovic can do well as box to box midfielders, both being able to run a lot and Guaro having shown that he can occasionally also make the right pass and run into the box to take a chance. But seeing as how Felipe Melo is no Xabi Alonso, this midfield trio will have some problems in creating chances for the attack. I think Kovacic would have worked wonders if he had the width provided by Jojo/Ljajic and Perisic now at his disposal. What also worries me is that Guarin tends to lose the ball a lot so that will leave a lot of space for our opponents to exploit in our lateral areas as the full backs will leave their positions.
2. The full backs.
- Our full backs are not complete players. Montoya has allegedly been a disappointment for now, and even if he is given time to adapt after spending so much time off the field at Barcelona, he is hardly super fast or physical enough to be able to do an impressive job. This is why I don't expect to see too much of him + Telles together, but instead expect Santon on one of the sides, because he's big and has some slightly better defensive qualities than his colleagues. From what I've heard about Telles, he's got the pace but is hardly skilled in defense.
The good thing is that our attack should work quite well with Jovetic/Icardi/Perisic being supported by the full backs that we have + the midfield of Kondogbia + Guarin/Brozovic. All three attackers are fairly intelligent players (especially Jovetic) and moving around to make space for each other won't be a problem for them once they get to know each other better. They are also fairly strong (especially Icardi) and can muscle out opponents when necessary.