Tottenham 3-1 Inter: Inter fail to deal with Bale
Gareth Bale dominated the game to a staggering extent as Tottenham recorded a famous victory.
Spurs went with their expected XI. Carlo Cudicini came in for the suspended Heurelho Gomes. Elsewhere, Tom Huddlestone and Peter Crouch returned, with the rest of the side the same as the one which faced Manchester United at the weekend.
There were no major shocks in Inter’s line-up. Diego Milito was only fit for the bench, so Samuel Eto’o continued upfront alone. Sulley Muntari came into the midfield.
The reverse fixture at the San Siro resulted in a 4-3 win for Inter, but also saw a fine individual display by Bale, who claimed a superb second half hattrick. There were, therefore, no question marks about how Tottenham were going to play this game, nor were there any surprises in store for Inter.
Therefore, it’s strange that Inter were so incapable of dealing with Bale, especially considering they had one of the best right-backs in the world in Maicon playing up against him. The Brazilian has not been in particularly good form so far this season, but it’s still surprising that his combination of both pace and experience was unable to stop Bale.
The simple clash between Bale and Maicon was as one-sided as it was crucial to the game – no real further explanation is needed there, though the Chalkboards below outline the battle nicely.
The question is why Inter were so unable to give Maicon any kind of assistance in dealing with the obvious dangerman, and the answer lies in a combination of poor tactics from Rafael Benitez, and a natural consequence of the battle going on elsewhere on the pitch.
No support from the wing
The decision to field Goran Pandev on the left and Jonathan Biabiany on the right was a curious one, since both players are capable of playing on either side. Admittedly, the way they were positioned tonight is probably the side most natural for both, but Pandev has regularly been fielded on the right so far this season, whilst Biabiany has been used on the left – in the game against Werder Bremen, for example.
When it comes to defensive abilities, there is a clear difference between the two. Biabiany is a raw youngster who jogs back when he loses the ball, and frequently ends up in central positions, unable to cover his side of the pitch. Pandev may have spent most of his career as a forward, but last season proved himself to be a player with excellent defensive attributes, sacrificing himself on the wing along with Samuel Eto’o. In the 2-0 Champions League final win over Bayern, for example, he did a very good defensive job on Philip Lahm.
Therefore, it would have been the right move to deploy him ahead of Maicon, in order to offer more defensive protection against Bale – or even just to deal with Benoit Assou-Ekotto, as the Cameroon left-back surged forward a couple of times with Biabiany completely neglecting his defensive duties, leaving Maicon with 2 v 1 when he couldn’t cope with 1 v 1. It’s surprising that Benitez – who was so keen on defensive wide players at Liverpool (Dirk Kuyt, for example) was slack in this respect.
No support from midfield
Another strange factor was why Zanetti didn’t offer slightly more support. Under Jose Mourinho he would frequently move to the right to help Maicon when up against a tricky player – in the 2-2 draw against Fiorentina, for example, he was notably deployed in a deeper, wider role than usual to combat Stevan Jovetic, who was playing a leftish position in a 4-3-3. Here, he was in a prime position to assist Maicon, having been moved across to that side due to Muntari’s presence, but rarely offered real support when Bale got the ball.
Those two factors concentrate on situations when Bale had the ball in deeper positions – when the ball was played in behind the Inter defence, with Bale high up against Maicon and running in behind, doubling up is less of an option. For situations like that, there were two reasons Inter dealt with him poorly.
First, the obvious. Inter could have played a much deeper defensive line, to prevent Bale’s pace being such a threat. Last season they won the Champions League by playing notoriously deep – and this suited their backline, who are more comfortable dealing with crosses into the box than dealing with pace and trickery. There would have been downsides to playing a deep line – Crouch won a lot of headers, for example, and it’s better to keep a player like that high up the pitch. But since the primary threat was Bale, defending deep seems like an obvious tactic.
No spare man
The final factor in this concerns the positioning of Rafael Van der Vaart, in an unintentional way. The Dutchman played very high up the pitch – note his position for the first goal, on the shoulder of the last defender trying to spring the offside trap. It was not rare to see him as Spurs’ furthest player up the pitch – previously, for example, he had strayed offside when becoming the main striker as Crouch went short to win a header.
Therefore, Inter had to treat van der Vaart as a ’striker’ rather than as an ‘attacking midfielder’. Had he played deeper in central midfield, he would have been watched by an Inter midfielder, whilst Lucio and Walter Samuel would have been able to take it in turns to mark Peter Crouch, with the other one acting as a spare man.
The fact that van der Vaart occupied one of the centre-backs meant that Inter were frequently without a spare man at the back, and therefore Lucio was unable to rush out to the flank and help Maicon. When van der Vaart moved deeper, Lucio was freer to come across, and Bale was less of a threat. This is basically what happened for the first 15 minutes of the second half when Bale was quieter – van der Vaart had departed through injury, Jermaine Jenas came on and played deeper than the Dutchman did, was taken care of by Inter’s midfield, and Lucio was therefore free and always acting as cover (Crouch generally played up against Samuel).
Of course, as Inter pushed men forward they left space at the back, and Lucio wasn’t able to cover enough ground to keep up with Bale when defending near the halfway line, a fact ruthlessly exploited by Bale for the final goal. But had he been used as a spare man in conjunction with a deep defensive line, Inter may have had fewer problems.
A game completely dominated by the battle in one area of the pitch. Maicon had a shocking game but was given little protection from his teammates. Sometimes it’s impossible to stop an in-form player, but Inter shouldn’t have been so exposed considering Phil Neville and Rafael have coped OK with Bale in the two games between the Inter games.
Elsewhere, Luka Modric was the other key player in the game – Inter’s holding players sat very deep and Wesley Sneijder played high up and to the left, which meant that Luka Modric was given far too much time on the ball and dictated the play. He also created the first goal – it was rare to see him that high up the pitch, and therefore there was some element of surprise for Inter. Harry Redknapp was forced to take off van der Vaart at half-time and bring on Jenas, and whilst it would have been most natural for Modric to play as the most attacking of the three central midfielders, Redknapp deployed Jenas in that role and left Modric in that position in space. It is decisions like that which make Redknapp a much better tactician than he is given credit for.
Spurs didn’t close out the game particularly well, however. Their habit of playing direct football was ill-suited to a 2-0 lead, when ball retention would have been a better option (much like Blackpool on Monday night) and they were too keen to get the ball forward. Roman Pavlyuchenko came on and was completely incapable of holding the ball up, failing to complete a pass in his 15 minutes on the pitch – though he got the decisive touch of the game to seal the 3-1 scoreline.
Chalkboards courtesy of TotalFootball iPhone app