Eriksen and Conte: A Tactical Upgrade (3-4-1-2)

Antonio Conte and Christian Eriksen at Inter

Earlier this season, I had analyzed how Eriksen could fit in Conte’s tactics in an article for Inter Worldwide. I developed two scenarios; one where Eriksen adapts to Conte’s 3-5-2 and a second where Conte changes his formation to a 3-4-1-2 to fit Eriksen.

It seems like Inter’s head coach has opted for option number two.

But.. Eriksen is an attacking midfielder, how can he play in a 3-5-2? Well.. he won’t!

3-5-2 formation Conte
The preferred formation of Antonio Conte 3-5-2.

When Christian Eriksen first arrived at Inter, it was clear to everyone that there was something big cooking there. €20M were enough for Inter to secure the transfer of the Danish playmaker. A low price considering Christian Eriksen’s market value was close to €90M, although he only had 6 months remaining on his contract with Tottenham.

However, during his first few months in Serie A, Eriksen struggled to make a real impact and adapt to the league’s physicality.

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Christian Eriksen’s first goal for Inter in Europa League clash against Ludogorets

“HE DID WELL TONIGHT BUT HAS A LOT MORE WORK TO DO AND I THINK CAN DO FAR, FAR BETTER. I am happy for the goal, as that always helps with confidence, but he needs to rediscover the tempo and intensity that were such strength of his game in previous years.”

Antonio Conte to Sky Sport italia, after Eriksen’s first goal for Inter

Words that have surely put some extra pressure on the player. Antonio Conte openly asked more from his player as he saw in him a key piece of Inter’s future. While media kept doubting Christian Eriksen, Conte spent his quarantine time “tailoring” his tactics for the Danish.

Let’s have a closer look at how Eriksen is changing Antonio Conte’s system.

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Eriksen’s impact on each game phase:

By switching to a formation with an advanced play-maker, Inter’s midfield set-up changes completely. But not only the midfield. In fact, Eriksen affects EACH AND EVERY aspect of Conte’s original 3-5-2 tactics.

Here is how Antonio Conte’s Inter will look for the remaining games of the season:

3412-Conte-InterMilan using Eriksen
Antonio Conte’s 3-4-1-2 at Inter
3412-Conte-InterMilan using Eriksen
Antonio Conte’s 3-4-1-2 at Inter

Defensive changes

3-5-2

Defensively, Conte’s system counts on the two wingbacks to drop deeper and act as fullbacks. In central areas, Brozovic would also drop back in front of the back three while the other two midfielders would press at the edge of the box, while staying in position for counter-attacks.

3-5-2 defending Conte's Inter
3-5-2 defending Conte’s Inter

As a result, Candreva and Young are asked for a higher defensive work rate, which ultimately leads to them being positioned too low to participate to counter-attacks.

Also, Brozovic would carry a major part of the midfield’s defensive workload, having to drop on De Vrij’s sides depending on where the ball is.

3-4-1-2

On the other hand, using Eriksen higher up the pitch would result in Barella playing deeper and helping Brozovic carry the defensive workload.

An additional defensive asset that could help Inter build a solid defense.

3-5-2 defending Conte's Inter
3-5-2 defending Conte’s Inter

Consequently, Skriniar and Bastoni/Godin would be able to cover wider positions previously assigned to the wingbacks, thus allowing them to participate in counter attacks.

Barella dropping deep would also allow defenders to lower the defensive block and build from the lowest point, something Conte fancies particularly. Something, Inter’s defense has perfectly executed earlier this season against Barcelona.

Building from the back in 3 man defense – Conte’s Inter
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Midfield Upgrade

Transitional phases

When Conte’s team loses the ball, the players will try to regain position and form a 5-1-2-3. Asking the wingbacks to drop deeper and the midfielders to press less, which makes Conte’s team more vulnerable in central areas and less responsive in counter-attacking situations when it comes to wide areas.

Conte's defensive plan for a 3-5-2
Conte’s defensive plan for a 3-5-2

However, in a 3-4-1-2, Barella and Brozovic would drop wider and count on central defenders for wide areas, as a result wingbacks would have less defensive duties and can focus on carrying the ball to the opposing half.

In addition, Eriksen’s high position would enable Inter an extra man in the middle when regaining the ball in their own defense. Eriksen would ultimately allow Inter to launch quicker and more direct range of play, being a central point of Inter’s midfield.

Eriksen, central piece of Conte's midfield at Inter
Eriksen, central piece of Conte’s midfield at Inter

On the ball, as shown above, Eriksen could become the central piece of Inter’s possession play. Central, literally and figuratively, his position would allow the link betweend midfield, wings and attack. Allowing attackers to stay higher, wingbacks wider and midfield deeper.

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Final third

Originally, in his 3-5-2, Conte would hugely count on Lukaku to act as target man, and link up play between midfield and attack. By dropping back, Lukaku would create space for Lautaro to exploit.

Midfielders would sit deeper, at the edge of the final third, and create occasions by either switching sides or targeting strikers with a through ball. Wingbacks would try to overlap and get their crosses to the box.

3-5-2: Conte’s attack at Inter

On the other hand, having Eriksen play as a CAM, both Lautaro and Lukaku can roam with more freedom in the opposing final third.

In addition, Eriksen would be able to orchestrate the play and make use of his passing attribute to create chances for his side. The result of the strikers drifting wide however, would be limiting the available space for wingbacks, who will try early crosses instead.

3-4-1-2 Conte's attack at Inter
3-4-1-2 Conte’s attack at Inter

Overall what difference does it make?

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