Inter 1-1 Sampdoria: Inter’s attackers struggle to break down Sampdoria’s two banks of four

October 25, 2010

The starting line-ups

Inter dominated, Sampdoria took the lead, then Rafael Benitez’s side rallied late on to claim a point.

Diego Milito was still out injured, but Esteban Cambiasso returned to the centre of midfield. Elsewhere, the side was as expected, with Jonathan Biabiany on the right and Coutinho on the left.

Sampdoria played their 4-4-2 (or 4-4-1-1) system, in order to solidly defend with eight players. Massimo Volta came in at centre-back alongside Daniele Gastaldello, whilst on the right Franco Semioli was replaced by Valdimir Koman. Fernando Tissone continued ahead of Andrea Poli.

Sampdoria’s approach was very defensive-minded. The two holding midfielders looked to get goalside of Wesley Sneijder, with the wide midfielders not much further forward. These eight players set out very narrow, denying Sneijder space – although his excellent movement meant he often found room to receive the ball, he rarely had time to get a shot away.

Samp to back five?

As moves developed, one of Sampdoria’s wide players sometimes dropped in and marked an Inter winger, forming something more like a back five, with the the relevant Sampdoria full-back tucking in and forming even more of a compact defence in the centre. This left the Inter full-backs free, of course, but neither Cristian Chivu nor Maicon provided particularly good crosses in the first half.

Sampdoria’s 4-4-2 (as opposed to their diamond shape) means that Antonio Cassano plays centrally, just off Giampaolo Pazzini. Inter were happy with this, as it meant that the trio of Lucio, Walter Samuel and Esteban Cambiasso dealt with those two very easily in central positions. Cassano caused Inter slightly more problems when he shuttled back out to the left-sided position he cuts in so well from – and although he didn’t create anything from that zone, it made Maicon slightly more reluctant to come forward, whilst Lucio was forced to come out of his natural position to the right flank, stretching Inter’s defence.

Poor transitions from home side

Sampdoria’s problem, however, was that there was a huge distance between the midfield and attack. Their defence was playing with a very deep line to prevent Samuel Eto’o’s pace causing a problem, but they were also seeking to minimise the space between defence and midfield, to stifle Wesley Sneijder. This meant that whilst there was generally only 10 metres between defence and midfield, there was frequently 40 metres between midfield and attack when Sampdoria won possession, and they didn’t form particularly good counter-attacks in the first half.

Sampdoria's two banks of four sometimes became pulled around by Inter's movement, but the eight players always stayed very narrow

The main goalscoring threat was the marvellous Coutinho, who made something happen nearly every time he got the ball. He took advantage of Sampdoria’s narrow defence and happily stationed himself in wide positions, before picking up speed and taking on defenders at full pelt. The one attribute lacking in his game at the moment is finishing ability, but he caused Sampdoria constant problems with his direct running.

Second half

The second half continued in similar fashion to the first, but Domenico Di Carlo had clearly instructed Cassano and Pazzini to drop deeper, because Sampdoria were much more compact in the second period, with passes between midfield and attack much easier. Cassano drifted across the pitch more, and it was from an unconventional right-sided position that he assisted the opening goal from, chipping a cross over for Stefano Guberti to volley past Julio Cesar – though the Brazilian goalkeeper should have saved it.

Inter changed nothing when 1-0 down, aside from removing Biabiany and introducing Goran Pandev, but the Macedonian did little on the ball. Inter’s squad still seems relatively weak, especially for European Champions, and Benitez was forced to rely on the players already on the pitch to conjure up a goal. It was Coutinho who provided the assist with a quick dart down the left, and Eto’o finished at the near post.

Sampdoria threatened to self-destruct late on, but the defence held firm and got some tremendous last-ditch tackles in. Inter had a couple of half-chances, whilst Sampdoria showed no ambition to get a second goal – in stoppage time they won a free-kick near the corner flag, but kept the ball there rather than trying to get it into the box.


One thing Inter did not do under Jose Mourinho was suffer home league defeats. Rafael Benitez looked to be on course to record Inter’s first league loss of the season, but Sampdoria were unable to deal with Coutinho, and Eto’o cannot be kept off the scoresheet at the moment.

In general Sampdoria defended well, but the transitions from defence to attack were disappointing (the goal came when Cassano won the ball in the corner from Chivu, rather than on the break). That was natural considering how deep the defence was and, in turn, how deep the midfield was – they simply couldn’t connect with the attack when they won the ball, especially with a double pivot of Esteban Cambiasso and Javier Zanetti in the way.

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