Inter 3-1 Palermo: Sneijder-Eto’o combination twice opens up Palermo
Leonardo won his first trophy as a coach, as Inter lifted the Coppa Italia.
Wesley Sneijder was fit to start for Inter, with Yuto Nagatomo at right-back, and Cristian Chivu on the opposite side.
Delio Rossi used his 4-3-2-1 system. Fabio Liverani was left out, and Afriyie Acquah played the holding role.
Palermo had the majority of possession, spent most of the game in the Inter half, and probably had more chances. They lacked a cutting edge, however, and Inter were ruthless with their quick breaks – a little like in the Champions League final last season.
Palermo’s Christmas tree shape was largely as expected, but Leonardo’s formation was a slight surprise. A 4-3-1-2 was expected, but instead the Brazilian chose a 4-4-1-1 system, with Samuel Eto’o high up on the left, Wesley Sneijder in a free role, and Giampaolo Pazzini alone upfront. This was welcome news, as it made the match-up between formations more interesting.
Inter’s attacking build-up play was poor when they didn’t break quickly. Nagatomo tried to get forward down the right, covered by Javier Zanetti, but on the other side Chivu wasn’t quick enough to overlap to allow Eto’o inside. In the centre, Sneijder often got into space between the lines but passes rarely came his way – Thiago Motta and Dejan Stankovic are both good ball-players, but were more concerned about protecting their back four from Palermo’s double trequartista threat than playing football themselves. Meanwhile, Pazzini was isolated upfront, and hopeful lobbed balls towards him in the air were predictably unsuccessful.Battlegrounds
Partly because of that, Javier Pastore and Josip Ilicic weren’t particularly involved in the early stages of the match, although there was one occasion when Inter’s defence was opened up when both Lucio and Andrea Ranocchia got dragged up the pitch – this should have put Pastore in, but his control was poor.
There were two interesting battlegrounds on the pitch, and both were eventually won by Inter. The first was in Palermo’s left-back zone, where Mattia Cassani wanted to attack and provide width for Palermo, but was troubled by the presence of Eto’o.
The second was Acquah against Sneijder. The young Ghanaian allowed Sneijder to go free between the lines and got sucked into the midfield battle ahead of him – it’s difficult to see why, because Palermo had numbers in that zone (more so that if Inter had played 4-3-1-2, certainly) and Acquah had no need to get involved. He could have stayed goalside of Sneijder, but moved up the pitch, missed a tackle, and then Sneijder sent the ball through to Eto’o, who came inside and finished with typical confidence.
Rossi really pushed his side forward in the second period. It was immediately obvious that the two full-backs were even more attack-minded (and even wider) than before the break, and on 54 minutes Palermo brought on another forward, Fabrizio Miccoli – with Acquah sacrificed.
This was obviously a very attack-minded move, and some reorganisation was necessary. Antonio Nocerino and Giulio Migliaccio played a little deeper to compensate for the absence of a true holding player, and Ilicic also dropped back a little to the right. Miccoli played left-of-centre, Pastore came to an inside-right position, and Abel Hernandez continued to play upfront.
This meant that Palermo now had a front four playing very narrow – but this was OK, because the width was coming from the full-backs, keeping the active playing zone large enough to stretch Inter. And Palermo played some fantastic football – Ilicic saw more of the ball because he wasn’t really being picked up by anyone, and Pastore kept beating players cleverly. All that was needed was a finish, but Hernandez’s shots were poor, and Inter got some last-ditch blocks in.
Leonardo saw Cassani as a threat down the right, and Eto’o was reluctant to drop back and defend too much, so Goran Pandev replaced Pazzini, with Eto’o going upfront. This had two benefits – first, Pandev was more defensively aware on the left flank, and second, with Palermo pushing forward and playing high up the pitch, Eto’o’s pace was an obvious danger in a central role. He took up good positions outside the two centre-backs, and Sneijder kept trying to play him in down the centre-right channel – a few balls were cut out by substitute Moris Carrozzieri, but the Dutchman (now enjoying even more space after Acquah’s departure) eventually played another ball to Eto’o, and that same combination doubled the lead.
That should have been game over, but there was a flurry of activity very late on. Ezequiel Munoz scored a hilariously free header from a corner, then was sent-off and left a hole at the back, and substitute Diego Milito pounced to make it 3-1 in stoppage time.
An entertaining game – Palermo were better in midfield and their build-up play was very good, but Inter had the most deadly player on the pitch, and Samuel Eto’o scored two stereotypical goals to settle the game.
It’s fair to say that both managers performed well here. Rossi’s side were frequently creating chances by playing neatly in midfield, but were lacking in the penalty box, whilst Leonardo’s surprise starting line-up made the Sneijder-Eto’o combination possible for the first goal, and his substitutions also worked nicely in the second half.
A good tactical battle.