Inter 3-2 Palermo: a game of two halves

January 31, 2011

The starting line-ups

2-0 down at half-time, Leonardo gave Giampaolo Pazzini his Inter debut and the game changed dramatically.

Leonardo made various changes to his side, but kept the 4-3-1-2 shape he’s used since taking over as manager. Diego Milito returned upfront, Coutinho started as a trequartista.

Delio Rossi used his usual 4-3-2-1 system with his expected eleven players – there can’t be many more consistent starting XIs in Europe than Palermo’s.

In terms of possession and territory, Inter dominated the whole game. As in other games where Palermo have come up against a similar system, Rossi instructed his side to sit back and play on the counter-attack, and for45 minutes, this worked excellently.

Width from full-backs

The battle in terms of formations was fairly predictable, with both sides flooding the centre of the pitch, and the only width coming from full-back. It was the two right-backs who got forward the most – Maicon got down the flank, covered by Javier Zanetti, to threaten on a couple of occasions, but it was Mattia Cassani who made the decisive impact.

He constantly overlapped down the right (with support from the left coming from Antonio Nocerino, the most attack-minded of the three central midfielders) to provide Palermo’s attack with width, stretching the opposition defence. He found himself next to the byline for both of Palermo’s opening goals, scored by Fabrizio Miccoli and Nocerino.

Contrast in shapes

The away side’s formation was working much better – they had two playmakers rather than one, which made it easier for them to find direct forward passes. It also meant life was much more difficult for Inter’s centre-backs – they were forced to keep guessing as Javier Pastore and Josop Ilicic took it in turns to support Miccoli.

On the other hand, Palermo’s centre-backs had a clear responsbility – 2 v 2 at the back, with Coutinho picked up by Armin Bacinovic. Thiago Motta was Inter’s equivalent there – he spent most of the game in the centre of the three with Esteban Cambiasso on the left – Motta helped Inter’s passing rhythm, but often looked fragile defensively.

Half time changes

Second half formations

Leonardo changed things around completely at half time. Davide Santon (who had an awful first half) went off, with Javier Zanetti moved back into the defence. Coutinho was also sacrificed, and on came two new signings – Houssine Kharja, who attacked from the right of midfield, and Giampaolo Pazzini, who became part of a front three with Milito and Samuel Eto’o – Pazzini generally played in the centre of the pitch, but the three were reasonably fluid. Kharja’s attacking instincts, meanwhile, meant Nocerino was forced deeper.

The obvious effect here was to pin back the Palermo full-backs. Eto’o (for large parts of last season) and Milito (against Barcelona) have shown they’re capable of doing decent jobs in wide positions in the past, and this was very important as Inter switched to a completely new system. Eto’o had the bigger job up against the first half’s key man, Cassani, and Leonardo was particularly complimentary about the Cameroon striker after the game – “The work Samuel Eto’o did in the second half was crazy.”


That basically put a stop to Palermo’s counter-attacking threat (although they did win a penalty, missed by Pastore), but Inter’s transformation into a dangerous side in the box owed little to the change in system, and a lot to the brilliance of Pazzini. His two goals were the two classic things you would associate with a “number nine” – the first, he received the ball with his back to goal, before turning and firing into the far corner. The second, he made a dart to the near post to meet a free-kick, and headed in powerfully. Pazzini is a tremendous signing for Inter, and has the potential to be the best out-and-out striker in Europe.

By this time, Palermo had taken off Miccoli (who looked less than pleased) and Pajtim Kasami, a midfielder, came on. They kept broadly the same shape, but Pastore moved up as Palermo’s highest player up the pitch – something he wasn’t suited to. Palermo couldn’t retain the ball, and Inter kept coming back at them. This was bad news, because Palermo simply couldn’t deal with Pazzini in the box, and this resulted in them losing the game – Ezequiel Munoz pulled him back, Eto’o converted the penalty, and Inter had turned 0-2 into 3-2.


Was Leonardo’s switch a moment of tactical genius? It’s hard to say – he mentioned tactics little in his post-game comments, and it’s entirely possible he simply wanted to bring on Pazzini, with the formation change a knock-on effect. Whether intentional or not, however, it’s impossible to deny that the move was very important in the outcome of the game.

The shift was identical to Claudio Ranieri’s move at half-time in the game against Bayern. 2-0 down at half time, shift from 4-3-1-2 to 4-3-3, and win the game 3-2 with a late penalty.

Palermo’s shape worked very well in the first half, and Rossi may feel he was too cautious when removing Miccoli in the second half – he invited constant pressure, and ultimately his defence couldn’t cope.

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