“Inter collapse, now it’s a real crisis” reads the headline in La Repubblica over the match report from the San Siro on Friday night, with Diego Costa beginning the piece saying “Inter are a side who are lost”. Fabrizio Bocca, also La Rep, allowed himself a single word to describe the result, “Amen”. That is to say, that while the current run is shocking it is completely believable and somewhat unsurprising. The root causes of the problems affecting the Milan club are numerous, and well documented elsewhere, but throughout this season and more specifically the recent poor run one aspect of the Inter team has been particularly interesting to follow: the deployment of Wesley Sneijder.
They say that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover and all that glitters is not gold. You should also be wary of jumping to conclusions about the league season before the first 10 games have been played. “Dreaming isn’t forbidden” mused Cagliari owner, Massimo Cellino, as his side enjoyed a magnificent start to the season. Since then wheels have well and truly fallen off the wagon for the Sardinian side and they go into the Christmas break in 15th position having already sacked two managers this season alone – so what has gone wrong?
At the turn of the year, last season’s champions, Inter, had been considered by many to be all but out of the title race. When Leonardo was appointed, he vowed to turn things around with love and hugs rather than a cold and heartless iron fist. Since his appointment Inter have played 9, Winning 8 with just the 1 loss against a currently impressive Udinese side. This represents a marked change of form and they are beginning to pick up momentum.
Momentum is something that other sides at the top of the table have lacked in the past few weeks, on Tuesday and Wednesday night Inter’s title rivals provided the perfect platform for them to catch up a pack trying their hardest to fall over themselves. With Milan, Lazio and Roma all drawing and Napoli and Juventus both losing, the top 5 or 6 are very tightly crammed together and Inter had the chance to leap into 3rd place by winning at the Stadio San Nicola.
Two sides who had had completely opposite starts to the season marked the beginning of the Saturday schedule Serie A. After topping the table Chievo now lie 10th and Roma have long since overtaken them into 7th place and are looking to push on and trouble the sides at the top. The pitch at Bentegodi was in an awful condition, a huge bare strip down the centre left it looking somewhat reminiscent of the DW stadium in Wigan – the DW would’ve been embarrassed of this pitch though. The conditions meant that we were to see more than a few stray challenges flying in throughout the course of the game.
We saw a rare start for Brazilian Adriano alongside Vucinic, and Roma decided to play their usual narrow 4-3-1-2 with Simplicio behind the two strikers. Chievo 4-3-3/4-5-1 asking the wide players to do lots of tracking back and very often leaving Sergio Pellissier all alone up front to try and get the better of Mexes and Burdisso. Long hopeful balls were a big feature in Chievo’s early play, sadly so was the offside flag with Pellissier often finding himself in an offside position.
Roma’s first goal came from a set piece, with a high ball delivered into the box and none of the Chievo players willing to put their head on it. Fabio Simplicio gambled at the back post, a bit of gangly juggling to get the ball under some control before lifting it over onrushing Sorrentino in the Chievo goal. Simplicio got a second goal by prodding at a ball across the face of the goal, it ballooned up of his foot and went into the net off the far post – Roma were leading 2-0 at the break.
Pioli made a positive change for Chievo on the hour mark bringing on forward Granoche for Marcolini in midfield and pushed 3 men up front, but they were allowed back into the game by way of a goalkeeping blunder. Moscardelli aimed a weak shot at Julio Sergio in goal and the keeper went down far too early, allowing the ball to bounce over his hands and into the net – at this point it seemed as though Chievo were going to have a go and were having a short spell in the ascendency. At least Pellissier had some company up front now though.
Lack of width
Paolo Castellini was in for the injured John Arne Riise and provided some attacking width from left back, this proved to be very important with the absence of any real threat on the wings from any of the attacking players. This meant Chievo had little work to do in order to defend their goal, they were able to stay within the lines of the 18 yard box and clear up any flicks that may have evaded the first man. When Roma did go wide they struck their second goal after movement on the right hand flank, but they failed to learn any lessons from this. As well as stretching the defence it was a matter of practicality, the pitch was bare and appeared water logged in the centre and playing the ball on the flanks would have been much easier for the players.
The width that Castellini provided was not reciprocated on the opposite flank, Cassetti is very reluctant to go forward and prefers to tuck in and help his centre backs instead. This gives the side a very lopsided formation and we see much of the attack going through the centre and left – accentuated when Vucinic plays because the Montenegrin perennially enjoys drifting into the inside left channel and causes lots of problems from this position.
Ranieri’s first change was to remove Leandro Greco for right winger Rodrigo Taddei, the formation did not change though and Taddei simply played out on the left and came inside. There were few wide options open to Ranieri, his squad is very much set up to play 4-3-1-2 and not a lot else which does raise worries about their adaptability to situations.
Roma spent most of the 90 minutes dominating territory and possession, they failed to make many real guilt edged chances though. The goals they conceded were born of very poor lapses of concentration, a real shame to see after going in 2-0 up at half time. As the game wore on they stopped trying to play the sort of football that had given them the lead and kept looking for the long ball option. As the game progressed the Roma back line became deeper and deeper and left the Roma looking particularly disjointed.
The Roma back line had looked very organised for the majority of the game, but when Chievo pumped a ball forward once more looking for the flick on Burdisso tried to step up but 3 other players played Granoche onside. Granoche was clear through on goal and on the edge of the 18 yard box, he didn’t have far to go before sliding the ball underneath Julio Sergio. It has to be handed to Stefano Pioli for throwing men forward, but Roma should not have conceded this goal and indeed they probably would not have if complacency hadn’t crept in.
It might be that they were told not to have the ball on the ground because of the conditions but that would be contradicted by the introduction of Jeremy Menez for Simplicio. Menez is known for his great dribbling rather than his passing and thus not the ideal solution, perhaps the introduction of David Pizarro would have made more sense. Pizarro may have been able to spray some passes to the Roma forwards to collect from a deeper position.
In the end it wasn’t any sort of tactical master stroke that proved the deciding factor. Chievo continued to play long balls up to Pellissier, something that they had been doing for the duration of the game. The Roma back line allowed this to prove successful by withdrawing from their original high line and losing concentration as well as organisation. By the time Roma had resorted to this tactic themselves in a state of panic, Adriano had left the field – he had previously been their best player in the air. A win would have taken the side from the capital into 3rd position and put pressure on Juventus and Napoli to match their accomplishment – the recovery will have to wait a little while longer.
There had been much discussion in the run up to England’s friendly against Egypt earlier on this year about the north African side’s shape and similarities to England’s group opponents Algeria at the World Cup this summer. Jonathan Wilson made a number of useful observations as to how a 3-5-2 style system could unpick a side fielding a 2-man attack. Yesterday evening however Algeria threw their group C opponents a curve ball by fielding a back four.
Algeria turned up against Ireland playing what resembled a very lopsided 4-3-3 or a 4-3-1-2.The first comment to be made on this line up is the position of Portsmouth left back Nadir Belhadj, the left footed full back/winger was playing in an advanced position on the left hand side. It was difficult to pick out whether he could be considered part of a midfield four or a front three. Behind him Mesbah was making his international debut was playing a slightly unorthodox left wing-back role. He plays as a winger for his club, Lecce in Italian Serie B, so he was very keen to get as far forward as possible and this saw he and Belhadj rampaging up the left flank.
Algeria’s right hand flank looked barren throughout the entire game. Right back Guediourra sat back to cover the marauding runs of his left footed counterparts. He was able to get forward on a couple of occasions but lacked the same drive as Mesbah on the left. More worryingly for Algeria during this game was the lack of cover and support afforded to their right back. With no wide right sided midfielder there was acres of space for Cunningham and Duff on the Irish left flank to outnumber and attack the full back.
Despite the attacking intent of the two left sided players much of the attacking work was left to Karim Ziani of Wolfsburg. He had to cover lots of ground, starting from the centre of midfield and working out to the right to create the illusion of width on the right hand side. He was unable to create any clear cut chances for Algeria’s two fairly static strikers, Djebbour and Ghezzal, and the shot count illustrated this as Algeria had only two shots on target.
Defensively Algeria were all at sea, they had every intention of pressing high up the pitch but only half the team appear to have been informed. They held an offside line which was just outside the centre circle for much of the game but their midfielders and forwards were not putting sufficient pressure on the ball. This left them open to some very well timed long passes over the top onto the heads of Doyle and Keane upfront.
Their marking was also suspect and England can look to take advantage of this. Algeria look to man mark at set pieces but they were far too tight against Ireland last night, they failed to give themselves space to react to any movement. The first goal was the culmination of both of these errors, Ireland took a free kick 24-25 yards out from goal and the Algeria offside line was placed just inside the 18 yard box. They left far too much space to attack between themselves and the goal and Ireland took advantage.
The biggest problem the Algerians had was the lack of communication and coordination in their already high and dangerous offside line. England general manager Franco Baldini was at the game and would have been very happy with what he saw. England should be licking their lips at the prospect of facing this Algeria side, if they can keep Ziani and Belhadj quiet there will be plenty of space to attack the full backs and split their centre backs.
Last night Jose Mourinho took Inter to the Champions League final for the first time since Hellenio Herrera won the European Cup 45 years ago in 1965. This morning the Italian press is hailing the Inter display as a heroic effort and a defiant struggle. Mourinho has even been proclaimed as being like Herrera himself, a little premature perhaps. The evening was described by Jose as the greatest of his career stating that they left blood on that field.
It amuses me however to consider the manner in which Inter got to the final. In September 2004 Mourinho slammed Spurs manager Jacques Santini for his negative tactics in their encounter at Stamford Bridge. He said: "As we say in Portugal, they brought the bus and they left the bus in front of the goal.
Yesterday evening the Santini bus had changed it’s colours. Mourinho parked his bus and forced Barcelona to play through 10 men in a 20-25 yard band of the pitch between the 18 yard box and the centre circle. This left Barcelona with little room in front of or behind the defence where they could play the football everyone talks about. Plan A was to aim direct balls up to Ibrahimovic but these were gobbled up by Lucio and Walter Samuel all night long until the Swede was withdrawn. Guardiola then went for a mobile approach switching to a 4-2-4 bringing Bojan and Jeffren on to try and play quick passes and pigeon footed dribbling around the Inter back line. There simply wasn’t the space for such play to be successful.
Barcelona failed to stretch and turn the Inter back four. The bus was parked and only a futile effort was made to move it. Well done to Inter, typical of a football manager to slam a style of play only to then employ it himself while thinking nothing of it.