Inter 2-5 Schalke: awful defending produces an incredible scoreline

April 6, 2011

The starting line-ups

Schalke shocked Inter to put themselves on the verge of a European Cup semi-final place.

Leonardo switched to a 4-3-1-2 system after Inter’s poor display against Milan with a 4-2-3-1. Dejan Stankovic replaced Goran Pandev, whilst Diego Milito played alongside Samuel Eto’o upfront.

Ralf Rangnick played a 4-4-1-1ish system. Kyriakos Papadopoulos was used as the sole holder in midfield, with Jurado given license to go forward. Raul played just off Edu upfront.

The game got off to a fantastic start with an amazing volley from the halfway line from Dejan Stankovic – Inter were 1-0 up after just 40 seconds.

Schalke dominate

The goal put Inter ahead, but Schalke were unquestionably the dominant side for most of the first half. Inter’s narrow system couldn’t contain Schalke’s full-backs, particularly down the home side’s left. Atsuto Uchida broke forward on various occasions completely untracked, and other times worked 2 v 1 situations with Jefferson Farfan down the flank.

Inter seemed content to let Uchida – and other Schalke players – have time on the ball in wide positions, as the Inter midfield three was very slow to shuffle across to close down. This was big mistake, however, because Cristian Chivu and Andrea Ranocchia both had terrible games at the back, and the constant stream of crosses was always going to cause them problems. In the end, Schalke got their equaliser from a corner.

Midfield battle

Inter may have had more bodies in the centre of the pitch, but they didn’t work well as a unit and were often played around by Schalke. Thiago Motta stayed as the deepest midfielder and had the responsibility of looking after Jurado, but the outside midfielders, Stankovic and Esteban Cambiasso, were unsure of what they were doing both with and without the ball (as previously discussed). With the ball, there was confusion about whether they were supposed to stay in central positions and allow the full-backs to overlap, or pull wide and stretch the play. With those two offering little, Inter’s build-up play was entirely predictable – almost all of it when through Wesley Sneijder.

Inter's attacking play all went through the centre-left channel, through Sneijder

This was a lot to ask of Sneijder, because he was near-man-marked by Papadopoulos for much of the opening period. Sneijder’s response was to drop deeper, lose his marker and pick the ball up near the halfway line, before sending balls over the top. A couple of his passes were excellent, and one created Milito’s goal to put Inter 2-1 up, after Cambiasso was free at the far post.

The goal that made it 2-2 was bizarre, considering the formations and the general pattern of play. Inter had packed the centre of the midfield, whilst Schalke were working the ball from side to side and trying to play down the flanks. Therefore, it was a surprise that Schalke’s goal came from a direct break down the middle. They took advantage of Motta trying to storm forward – the Brazilian was trying to exploit space created by Sneijder dragging Papadopoulos away, but as the deepest midfield and his side 2-1 up, he probably should have stayed in position He miscontrolled the ball, though, and Schalke broke straight down the middle to equalise again.

Other developments

Amongst all the tactical features that resulted in goals, there was other points of note. Raul worked extremely hard defensively, dropping off the front and pressuring one of Inter’s midfielders, often Motta, to give Schalke more bodies in that zone. He also provided a different passing option, whereas Inter’s strikers both stayed high up the pitch.

Schalke defended very well, keeping a good defensive line and catching Inter offside six times in the first period. Their full-backs were the ‘free’ players, and did well at tucking inside and creating a spare man at the back when Inter had the ball in wide positions – Uchida covered his centre-backs well, in particular.

Second half

In the second half, Schalke managed to extend their lead to 2-4 with two goals in a crazy ten minute spell. The goals simply owed a lot to classic features of modern football – movement, pace and quick passing. The third, through Raul, came after some wonderful passing that cut Inter open through the centre, whilst the fourth came from a break down the right – exploiting the space in behind Chivu, just as Milan did so successfully at the weekend – before Ranocchia summed up Inter’s defending by turning the ball into his own goal.

Schalke were constantly able to switch the ball to Uchida in space

Chivu had a disastrous evening, losing tackles and eventually being dismissed for a second bookable offence. It was his second red card in four days, and frankly Inter might be better off with him suspended. Leonardo had to bring on Ivan Cordoba as another centre-back, and so took of Houssine Kharja, who himself had replaced Stankovic early on. This was a relatively minor feature of the game and Inter were hardly likely to turn it around, but it was a strange decision to replace Kharja, who had fresher legs, when Inter looked exhausted as a whole.

Some more ludicrous defending at the back meant Edu added a fifth – but Schalke weren’t playing much better at the back, leaving spaces which Eto’o enjoyed running through – but poor finishing from he and Milito let Inter down.

Rangnick used his substitutions simply to replace tired legs, and it finished 2-5.

Conclusion

A ludicrous game that asks serious questions of Leonardo. Inter were outwitted tactically, made an incredible  number of individual mistakes, and looked exhausted at an early stage. Their attacking play was too predictable and revolved almost completely around Sneijder.

Rangnick should be praised for his approach, however. He presumably knew how much Inter depended on Sneijder and therefore used Papadopoulos and told him to stick tightly to the Dutchman. He also exploited Inter’s defensive weakness on the flanks, instructing his players to frequently switch the ball from flank to flank. By the second half, Schalke didn’t need a grand plan – they just ran into the huge spaces in the Inter defence and helped themselves to goals.

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Inter 2-5 Schalke: awful defending produces an incredible scoreline

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