There’s a lot of ground to cover this week so for sanity’s sake – what little I have left - I am only going to talk opinion on The Derby at this time. And while last game against Parma was less nuts and bolts and more personnel, this game was very much nuts and bolts. It’s the kind of game that makes Italian football incredibly great and very frustrating at the same time.
But let us talk about greatness first. This was a classic contrast in styles, an essentail part of any great contest.
In one corner, Stramacioni wanted to play wide, with lots of movement and appeared to me to have lined up his troops in that fashion with the 4321. Many English language sources that I have read, including Zonal Marking, reported the 4411 lineup that my feed displayed on my screen, but it looked to me to be much more like a Christmas tree in practice – which is what all the Italian sources, including Inter.it, described in their match descriptions. So if I am wrong on this one, I at least have good company.
The pressing game is something that the higher ups in the Inter hierarchy have been looking for when they hired Mourinho. They were essentially still looking when Benitez rolled into town. Leo was less a pressing hire, but Gasperini was definitely another attempt at bringing the pressing game to Inter. Now with Strama, for the first time that I can tell, we look like we have a plan to press and maybe half the personnel we need to do so – which is an improvement to my mind.
Anyway, Strama lined up his troops in the Christmas Tree formation that has proven so hard for many teams to crack lately. Strama, again to my eyes, likes to overload one side of the field with the fullback on that side, the midfielder on that side, and the two attacking midfielders. When Milan shifted, Inter changed fields where the athleticism that Maicon or Nagatomo have can cause the havoc we learned in the last meeting that a player attacking this Milan wide can cause. Don’t believe me? Check out the game Zanetti had against this Milan side earlier this year under Ranieri and note how Milan always transitions to defense by retreating towards the middle of the field before looking at defending the ball:
In the other corner, Milan lined up in its 4312/433/4321 hybrid. Part of what make’s Milan’s attack dangerous – besides the personnel, is that they often switch positions or alternate coming deep to confuse defenses. Milan’s tactics looked very similar to anyone who watched an unholy amount of Inter highlights when Ibra was on the Blue And Black side of town. They play narrow and they play direct with not much wiggle in the ball until the end.
In another contrast in style, Milan look to me, and this is in admittedly a small observed sample size as I just don’t like to watch too many of their games, as much more a traditional retreat to the middle defending Italian team. It’s a style that has worked for us, especially in bigger games, but to me it was something that Inter so desperately wanted to change since Mancini’s departure.
All due respect to Nocerino and van Bommel, but mobile they are not. Tough, yes. Midfield destroyers, yes. Make the occasional forward run here and there to lend support, sure. But, sideline to sideline agility or coverage is not their strong suite, in my opinion. And to be fair, in Italy, they really don’t need to be. Most teams are too busy defending a very good front line deep to think about sideline outlets and attacking the weak points of their midfield and defense – the outside. Milan want to keep the ball and Milan wanted to keep it in the middle of the field where they had their strength and scoring power. Every once in a while they tried probe the corners to see if Maicon or Naga could be caught forward, but Obi, Guarin, Cambiasso and Zanetti were excellent in keeping their coverage discipline.
I thought coming in that Muntari would be a wild card here, because he can go outside or inside, be terrific or insanely bad. Realistically he wasn’t really much of a factor outside of making hard tackles that barely skimmed the rules – and that’s being generous – early and often.
Another contrast between the two teams seemed to be the level of physical-ness that each team was willing to go to. Inter was willing to play the game and pass and press their way to dominance. This isn’t to say that Inter didn’t make hard fouls, I mean that they played in the game. Tackles were hard, sometimes late, sometimes early but the ball was in play and there was some attempt – miniscule at times – but an attempt at the ball. Milan often resorted to pushing, yelling or attempts at bullying to show their dominance through strength. For example, Alvarez was pushed in the back for playing hard defense and Baresi almost got into a fistfight trying to deliver the ball to an Inter player for a free kick as Robinho tried to rip the ball out of his hands. Or Ibra’s slapping at Cesar for his penalty antics. It’s a psychological thing and for the most part it’s a harmless mind game. Sometimes it’s even often detrimental to the side that doing it, especially if relying on it takes the place of playing the actual game.
There was even a severe contrast of style on the primary goal scorers for each team. The power, training ground skill and directness of Ibra against the much more subtle, collective minded, penalty area poacher in Milito.
Like a puncher against a counter puncher, or a passing NFL team against a running NFL team, games that offer these dramatic disparities in style is an open book. Milan team blue against Milan team red. Everyone can see the storylines and they are stark and easily perceived. Its fun to watch and it’s hard to stay a neutral. Kind of like a summer blockbuster movie.
This segues nicely to the topic of refereeing. Well, every summer blockbuster needs an over the top villain, right? And to an Inter supporter Rizzoli was definitely the villain yesterday. To say it was bad would be an understatement. There was a considerable leniency given to several tackles on both sides and a caution given to Zanetti that was, to say the least, bizarre, considering he was breaking up a fight. There was the curious non-goal on Cambiasso’s header, especially considering the other “phantom goal” controversy. The play happened quickly and that has to be taken into account. But, it was the second time the ball was taken out of the net that night and the third time in two games with these guys this season.
The offsides call on Lucio was correct and I have no issue. But then Abbiati went diving backwards into the net and he started from his line. But okay, the play happens quickly and the ref gave Milan the benefit of the doubt. Fine, but that means that he should be giving us the same consideration. That would be fair. However there was a push by Ibra on the back of Naga that was allowed to stand and only Cesar’s quick reactions saved the move from being fatal. There are those who might think that’s nickpicking, but there was a large reaction from the crowd when it happened. Clearly, it was obvious to everyone present what happened. Then there was the completely fabricated penalty in the first half that everyone knows was completely wrong. What everyone doesn’t know is that the yellow Cesar got means he’s now banned from Sundays game against Lazio. It could have been worse. Samuel was taken down in the box from behind by Muntari to no call. If Abate didn’t continue his stellar and very obvious work against Milito, things might have been very different. We were very lucky that Milito has Abate’s number and the team has a very different attitude re: hardship.
On twitter, someone mentioned that the refereeing really threatened to turn what was shaping up to be a very entertaining game into a lot of hate. But I give a lot of credit to the players for keeping their heads and trying very hard to keep playing the game. Like a lot of things since Strama took over, Inter’s reaction to adversity has changed a great deal these last two months or so.
Cesar had an otherwise very good day and made the stop of the century, for which he was punished far too severely. The whole of the defense, including Cesar, was taken far too easily after the break.
Lucio and Samuel were duped after the half but otherwise were relatively safe-ish. There were 2 occasions when first Ibra and then Muntari had virtual sitters from right in the center of the area. For his missed sitter Ibra had gone wide and left the middle open for S&L to find other marks. They should have stayed home.
Naga and Maicon both had what I think were excellent games and they boost that defensive score quite a bit. They defended adequately and they were collectively the lynchpins that Strama used to bypass Milan’s midfield breakup artists.
It was the midfield that won this war. They did an absolutely awesome job – in the strictest definition of the word “awesome” – staying true to Strama’s tactics, keeping the defense from having to stop the Milan attack on their own and kick starting the assaults by overloading one side of the field and then switching the attack to the opposite fullback. Guaro, as he is starting to be called, had a monstrous first 60 minutes or so but had to be subbed out for fatigue. I gotta tell you, I have a lotta love for a guy who literally ran himself unconscious for the club. Cambiasso was in the part of the park that he was born to play. Zanetti did his part passing, tackling, covering and just being him. Obi needed some time from when he entered the field of play to warm up to the game, but I think he did fine once he got into gear. Alvarez and Sneijder combined together so well since Strama took over that it’s a joke to think that there are those out there who think they can’t coexist.
The midfield ran like it was the engine of the team. Just like it’s supposed to. It’s hard to think that this entire year we had been harping about putting the young guys in for so long… look at how well they play together: Guaro, Obi, Ricky, Sneijder all under 30! Four out of six midfielders used under 30… it’s got to be a season low or something. Where’s GdSs very relevant articles about the age of the squad since Strama took over, huh? It was phenomenal to watch them run rings around a very relatively static Milan midfield. Where the fuck was this all season?
Milito was great on the day, but his success is really the benefit of having an actual midfield behind him, backing him up and feeding him the ball. And that’s it really. He’s a great player, but he needs to see the touches. He doesn’t need many of them to score when he’s on, but too many is better than not enough. He scored a tap in and 2 penalties, so it’s a reasonable assumption to say that he should have scored on his shots, but we all remember the weak penalties he gave us midseason, don’t we? It’s wonderful to see Milito confident. What I really enjoyed about Milito’s game was that he made himself available to the team by dropping deep, holding onto the ball and then advancing the ball again to his comrades who passed him up to pressure the Milan goal. Classic, collective forward play, beautiful to watch, incorporated into a very modern strategy. Well done.
Even as I write this there is more news and notes in the making that needs to be discussed, opined, commented on and further analyzed. I promise to get to it all as soon as I am able. For now my recommendation, if I may be so bold as to give one, is to further enjoy the basking in the win and the feeling of hope for next season it brings.