Pioli, Inter should continue three at the back experiment at Bologna

Inter's upcoming trip to Bologna isn't the most challenging on paper: while the Nerazzurri performed admirably against Empoli at the weekend to earn their eighth win in nine games, Bologna are still reeling from the 1950s-style thumping Napoli handed down to them (7-1) in early February. Even more embarrassingly, this defeat came at home.

Even without Mauro Icardi and Marcelo Brozovic, it's hard to see the Felsinei doing well.

Fortunately, Sunday's tie will be the perfect opportunity to experiment once again with three at the back, which seemed to work so well last week against Empoli. The advantages of going down this road are numerous, starting from the fact that Giovanni Martusciello's team was generally kept quiet throughout the 90 minutes.

With former Inter coach Leonardo claiming before Christmas that fellow Brazilian Miranda hasn't got the legs to do loads of running anymore, it's been refreshing to see the 32-year-old look more at ease with two partners, especially when one of them can use his dynamism and physical tools to bully the runner (Jeison Murillo) and the other (Gary Medel) has the smarts and grittiness to plug gaps.

For a team that has mostly preached wing play this season, adding a central midfielder has added density to the middle of the park, allowing Joao Mario to go on his runs. As Matteo Bonetti has been saying for a few weeks now, it's incredible that Frank de Boer (and half of Italy!) saw this man as a deep-lying regista, especially when he's zooming up the pitch with the ball glued to his feet.

The defensive aspect seems to be in order, with Geoffrey Kondogbia and Roberto Gagliardini buzzing around the ball carrier like wasps at a Sicilian picnic. Not a lot has changed in attack, where two wingers support the centre-forward, though the cross-field balls seen against Empoli suggest that the Nerazzurri may have more options, or at least freedom to spread their wings.

There's more good news: even after the Bologna game (which, knowing Inter, could well be a step backward), Inter still get to face Crotone, Sampdoria and Cagliari in quick succession, with Roma and Atalanta difficult opponents, but both visiting the San Siro.

One hopes that the Nerazzurri will be able to learn more in that time. Three at the back is far from a walk in the park, that's for sure, and the system can come with many gremlins.

For one, many teams (like Bologna, but luckily it's only Mattia Destro) play with just the one centre-forward: as Jonathan Wilson wrote a few years back, this tends to leave one marker effectively unoccupied.

This could be compensated for by having Medel push up, which would allow him to take some of Gagliardini's defensive duties. It's not a coincidence that the precocious Italian has looked less flashy with three at the back, as he's stuck doing more routine work.

Medel himself can be a worry, too: as much as he won two Copa America titles by playing in this exact position, his read of the game still isn't quite fine-tuned to containing exciting attackers.

There's an age issue, too: most of the defence is 28 or above, hardly the time to start playing in this kind of system. Admittedly, Danilo D'Ambrosio has looked more dynamic as a wing-back -- his role back in Turin -- but is still very ineffective.

Antonio Candreva's deployment on the opposite flank isn't ideal, either: he has struggled to backtrack and cover runners before, D'Ambrosio often rushing off his line in the 4-2-3-1 system. Player recruitment would also be affected, with certain prospects (again, the former Granata man springs to mind) being picked or rejected according to their suitability to a wing-back system.

Speaking of four at the back, the advantage that formation (especially 4-4-2) generally confers is that most of the areas on the pitch are covered. With 3-5-2 (or its variants), there are holes that teams like Juventus can make the most of to keep possession, as they did two weeks ago. As much as the first half was impressive, a tired Inter (without Marcelo Brozovic) occasionally resembled an amorphous blob more than a structured team.

Still, a three-man defence has been used to great effect in recent years, whether it's Antonio Conte's Juventus, Walter Mazzarri's Napoli or Luciano Spalletti's recent Roma side.

As much as 3-5-2's usefulness in Europe has been questioned -- Conte's Juventus looked predictable, while Max Allegri's men trumped Real Madrid by playing a diamond formation -- it could well be the way forward, if only as a Plan B.