Fiorentina 0-1 Inter: Eto’o wins the tie, then Inter go ultra-defensive

April 14, 2010

The starting line-ups

When two teams play each other twice in quick succession, the second game is often boring and predictable – so the fact that there were eleven changes between the sides from the weekend’s line-ups was a welcome surprise.

That first game was a league game, where the sides drew 2-2. The first leg of this encounter was, ludicrously, as longago as 3rd February, where a Diego Milito goal gave Inter a 1-0 win. Away goals counted after 90 minutes, so a single Inter goal would leave Fiorentina needing three.

Fiorentina essentially returned to their strongest available line-up - Alberto Gilardino upfront, Juan Vargas and Marco Marchionni back on the flanks, and Cristiano Zanetti in the holding role, in their usual 4-2-3-1 / 4-1-4-1ish system.

Mourinho chose to deploy Maicon in a wide-right position (interesting, considering his Brazilian right-back rival Dani Alves played the same position in El Clasico last weekend) in a three-man attack, with Samuel Eto’o and Mario Balotelli switching between the central striking position and the wide-left position. Javier Zanetti sat in front of the four-man defence, which included Ivan Cordoba at right-back, with two midfield battlers in front of him.

The main feature of the weekend’s game was that both of Inter’s goals came from right-wing crosses played in behind the Fiorentina defence, and Maicon exploited Fiorentina’s weakness there from the outset. Twice he got into dangerous positions, with Felipe looking no more comfortable at left-back tonight than he did at the weekend.

It was a strange tussle in that area of the pitch – a right-back at right-wing against a centre-back at left-back, and Maicon clearly had the beating of Felipe for pace. He also played much deeper than Balotelli on the opposite side, and often found himself in space when Vargas ventured forward. The fact that Inter’s left-sided centre-back was left-footed helped, as Materazzi looked to hit long left-right balls into Maicon’s path.

At the weekend, Fiorentina took up a 4-5-1 shape with Jovetic becoming the left-winger in the defensive phase of play, and they started by playing this system again. But the system was fairly pointless because Maicon was not at right-back, and his replacement, Ivan Cordoba, never looked to get forward. Therefore there was no need for Jovetic to be tracking Inter’s right-back, and Cesare Prandelli instead told him to play a more central role, and pick up Javier Zanetti when Inter had the ball.

This led to Fiorentina dominating possession for most of the first half, and they created numerous half-chances. The freest midfielder on the pitch was Cristiano Zanetti, and he played a couple of superb balls for Gilardino, who was unfortunate not to score. It was slightly surprising that Sulley Muntari was not pushed forward onto Zanetti, although Mourinho clearly wanted a ’spare’ player in the defensive midfield zone.

Fiorentina were rampant towards the end of the first half, but failed to take their chances. Often they simply had two few players inside the penalty area when balls came in, whilst they probably could have done with a more attacking force from left-back to allow Vargas to take up a more central position.

the final 30 mins

No changes at half-time, and the tie was effectively won after half-time when Eto’o found himself in a crazy amount of space inside the area and lashed in. Fiorentina’s offside trap failed miserably, and they have conceded too many goals recently by simple balls played into the space between defence and goalkeeper.

Knowing that Fiorentina needed three, Prandelli brought on another striker – Keirrison, and lined up in a vague 4-4-2 / 4-3-3 shape with Jovetic playing to the left of the two forwards.

Mourinho immediately responded – taking off both Eto’o and Balotelli, and bringing on Diego Milito (to hold the ball up) and Esteban Cambiasso (to add extra steel to the midfield). Inter then pushed Maicon to right-back, shifted Cordoba in one, and lined up with a remarkably defensive 5-4-1 system (with four defensive midfielders) that shut down the game extremely well. In fact, whilst Fiorentina had much of the ball, Inter looked equally likely to score on the break.

Little happened for the half hour Inter played with the 4-5-1 shape. They were happy to defend, whilst Prandelli later admitted that the Eto’o goal effectively won the tie, and Fiorentina looked demoralized.

Inter will be happy to progress to the final, but will be disappointed at the nature of the two results in Florence – they drew when they needed to win in the league, and then won when they merely needed a draw in the cup.

For Fiorentina, a potentially glorious season comes to a trophyless end, and they are now battling to scrape into the Europa League next season. With Sebastian Frey, Stevan Jovetic and Juan Vargas wanted by some of Europe’s elite, qualification for the Europa league might be the difference between the end of an era, and another season with some of the most talented players the club has played in years.

This game neatly summed up Fiorentina’s failings this season – they’ve dominated so many games but failed to take the points. For supporters who have always been more concerned than the rest of Italian football about pretty football, it has been an enjoyable season and the majority want Prandelli to stay for next season – but they really would have loved a trophy.

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