Barcelona v Inter: tactical preview

April 28, 2010

It's round two

Inter take a 3-1 first leg lead to the Nou Camp to play Barcelona, in a fixture that finished 2-0 to Barca in group stage back in November. A repeat scoreline would send Barcelona through on the away goals rule, but here’s a statistic to blow your mind: in the history of the UEFA Champions League, nineteen ties have been decided on the away goals rule, but only five where the triumphant team lost the first leg.

This is the most difficult selection dilemma Josep Guardiola has faced since becoming Barcelona manager in July 2008, if only for the fact that the first leg was the first time in his managerial career that he has lost a match by more than one goal – and therefore we can deduce that never before has he got his team selection so wrong.

ZM’s preview before last week’s game predicted that he would go with a relatively defensive-minded selection with Maxwell playing on the left-hand side, with Lionel Messi and Pedro Rodriguez the only two forwards in the side, similar to how they played (in the second half) against Real Madrid three weeks ago. In fact, Guardiola selected Zlatan Ibrahimovic to play as a a central striker, with Messi and Pedro playing off him.

The shape was not particularly successful – Ibrahimovic was shackled well by Lucio and Walter Samuel, and had little impact on the game. At 1-3 down, Guardiola removed the Swede for Eric Abidal, a left-back, pushed Maxwell forward, and therefore played the side detailed in ZM’s preview.

So Guardiola now has a big decision to make ahead of the home leg between his two line-ups. Before the first leg, it was assumed that Inter’s backline would struggle against pace and movement rather than the most static threat of Ibrahimovic, and it’s difficult to draw any different conclusion a week on.

Perhaps Guardiola should play the two formations in the opposite order to the first leg – starting with an Ibrahimovic-less shape with Maxwell and Abidal on the left, to wear Inter down in the opening period of the game and negate the attacking ability of Maicon, before withdrawing a defensive player and putting on Ibrahimovic in the second half if a goal is needed.

Cares Puyol is out injured (which may be a blessing in disguise, as Gabriel Milito will come in and mark his brother, Diego – something Puyol struggled to do in the first leg) and Abidal is an injury doubt. Andres Iniesta may be unavailable, but having not played a full 90 minutes for over a month, he is unlikely to be risked – especially considering how Ibrahimovic’s early return backfired in the first leg.

For Inter, the big question has been the fitness of Wesley Sneijder, Inter’s playmaker. At the weekend it seemed he was definitely out – but it seems a classic case of Jose Mourinho exaggerating an injury to one of his star men, and it will be a major surprise if Sneijder does not start tonight.

A more realistic injury concern may be Goran Pandev, and it will be interesting to see how Mourinho reshapes Inter in his absence – Dejan Stankovic may have been a natural replacement, but is injured, whilst Mario Balotelli will surely be omitted after last week’s drama.

Inter’s left-sided player will have to do a strong defensive job on Dani Alves, so Mourinho might turn to Sulley Muntari or Christian Chivu to play on the left, perhaps even turning Inter’s 4-2-3-1 into a 4-3-3 or 4-3-1-2. There is again speculation that Maicon may play in midfield, but this seems an illogical move after how effective he was at right-back in the first game.

Considering how well Inter played in the first leg, it is unlikely that Mourinho will do anything dramatic in his initial team selection. There is, however, a chance that he could switch to an ultra-defensive 5-4-1 shape late on – something he showcased in the recent Coppa Italia game against Fiorentina – a second leg of a semi-final when Inter had the advantage.

Predicted line-ups:

Barcelona: Valdes; Alves, Milito, Pique, Abidal; Busquets, Xavi, Keita, Maxwell; Pedro, Messi.

Inter: Julio Cesar, Maicon, Lucio, Samuel, Zanetti; Cambiasso, Motta, Chivu; Sneijder, Eto’o, Milito.

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