Inter 2-1 Chelsea – a narrow victory for Mourinho by containing opposition full-backs

February 24, 2010

It depends how you want to read this one. On one hand, with the advantage in the tie, Inter are content going to Stamford Bridge knowing Chelsea have to beat them to progress. On the other, Chelsea’s away goal could turn out to be vital, and a 1-0 win in the second leg will see them go through.

Inter set out with their standard 4-3-1-2 formation, Chelsea went up against them with a fairly standard 4-3-3, with Kalou and Anelka in wide positions, and Mikel in the holding role.

Inter’s free man was Esteban Cambiasso, sitting in front of the defence, whilst Chelsea’s spare players were the full-backs. Indeed, the fact that Inter play so narrow meant that Florent Malouda was not tested too much in his unfamiliar left-back role. Maicon’s runs forward were relatively rare, which also helped Malouda. Part of the reason for this is that Javier Zanetti was playing at left-back, rather than his usual role on the right of midfield. When he plays there, Maicon can bomb forward without fear of leaving the defence exposed, as Zanetti covers. This was not the case today, and therefore Malouda was not troubled too much.

Essentially the key to the game was Chelsea’s full-backs, and how much they looked to get forward. In the first half they largely stayed at home, perhaps concerned that Inter’s numerical advantage in midfield would result in Wesley Sneijder getting forward unmarked to create a third forward.

At half-time, Carlo Ancelotti seemed to give them the green light to go forward, and Ivanovic’s storming run forward almost immediately created the goal, for Kalou.

Inter then re-took the lead, through Cambiasso’s run forward. As the free man in the midfield, no-one looked to track his run, and he was afforded two free shots on goal.

Then came the game’s defining tactical move – Jose Mourinho withdrawing a midfield player, Thiago Motta, to put on a wide forward, Mario Balotelli. Rather than the attacking move that the ITV commentators insisted it was, it was actually the complete opposite. Although Balotelli is clearly a more attacking player than Motta, it meant that one of the existing strikers moved to the wing, and therefore Inter had two wide players tracking the Chelsea full-backs, who had caused so much danger at the start of the second half. The diagrams on the left show how Chelsea’s full-backs went from free to venture forward, to having a direct opponent to mark.

It was essentially defensive in that it looked to stifle the way Chelsea play, and close down the full-backs who had suddenly become so vital. The fact that Mourinho decided to change things immediately after the goal demonstrates the fact that this was a containing move, not an offensive move.

And after that, the game was more or less dead. There was no goalmouth incident in the final 20 minutes, because the only ‘free’ players on the pitch, with both sides playing a 4-3-3 system, were a centre-back on either side.

Gareth Southgate regarded the switch to 4-3-3 as an ‘attacking gamble which didn’t come off’, but it was anything but. It was a defensive move to close out the game that, as usual with Mourinho’s tactics, worked brilliantly.

The game in three weeks’ time will be even more interesting.

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