Inter 2-1 Lille: both sides poor, and vulnerable in different ways

November 2, 2011

The starting line-ups

Inter overcame Lille in a match lacking in quality.

Claudio Ranieri stuck with the 4-3-1-2 he used in the weekend defeat to Juventus, but there were changes in defence, midfield and attack. Walter Samuel, Thiago Motta and Diego Milito all returned.

Rudi Garcia played a flexible 4-2-3-1 that changed throughout the game, and seemed to become a 4-4-2 in the second half. In the first half, Joe Cole started centrally but drifted to the right, Eden Hazard was on the left and Moussa Sow was a right-sided forward.

Inter created chances without playing particularly well, whilst Lille frequently got into promising positions on the flanks but failed to turn these situations into goals.

Lille weaknesses

Early on, Lille were extremely vulnerable to balls being hit over their defence for Diego Milito to run onto – the Argentine hit the bar through this approach after a couple of minutes, and a similar ball was played to him soon after. Mauro Zarate also tried to get on the end of a ball from this approach, though Mickael Landreau started to sweep rather more keenly after the first few minutes.

Lille were also sometimes unable to deal with Inter’s full-backs getting forward. With a 3 v 4 disadvantage in the centre of midfield, Hazard and Sow were brought inside to help out, leaving Javier Zanetti and Cristian Chivu free. Zanetti set up the second goal in the second half, with a cross for Milito.

Debuchy free

Inter, in traditional fashion, couldn’t cope with opposition full-backs moving forward. Stephane Lichsteiner exposed them at the weekend in this respect, and Mathieu Debuchy did something similar here. Time and time again, the ball was played out to him, Esteban Cambiasso couldn’t quite get out in time, and Debuchy had time to cross. With Franck Beria at left-back less comfortable on the ball, almost all Lille’s crosses came from the right, as shown below. The majority came from Debuchy, most of which were unsuccessful.

It was a shame that only one Lille full-back was comfortable at crossing – as Schalke showed last year, bringing both forward and constantly switching the play from side to side is very effective against an ageing 4-3-1-2 (and that’s what it was: the oldest Champions League starting XI in history for Inter tonight). Schalke constantly moved the ball laterally across the pitch, which Lille rarely did here.

Lille strategy

Lille could have been a little braver with their positioning, seeking to quickly hit Inter on the break. More of an aggressive 4-2-1-3, for example, might have been a better strategy. Hazard and Sow could have played high up and pinned the full-backs into their own half, looking for balls in behind to run onto. Cole would have been the link man, looking to play slide passes.

It would largely have left defending to six men, but then Inter’s play is predictable, overly dependent upon Sneijder for creativity – and it’s debatable whether his level of performance lives up to his reputation as a creator – and above all, narrow (if you nullify the full-backs). It wouldn’t have been unreasonable to expect six defensive players to cope with Milito, Sneijder and Zarate, plus the sporadic runs from three conservative midfielders.

Lille may have actually dominated possession more than is ideal – by doing so they let Lucio and Walter Samuel retreat to a comfortable position on the edge of their own box. Playing quickly and exposing their lack of pace is probably a more promising approach – it won’t give you much possession, but it should bring chances. (Of course, you need a strategy in possession too – but Lille had that, by playing out to Debuchy.)

Counter-attacking was less of an option when 1-0 down, and to be fair to Lille, their pressing after half time was very good. They got back into the game having replaced three of the four attacking players, and Garcia deserves some praise for seeing that Tulio De Melo was a better target man for crosses than Ireneuz Jelen, but his goal was primarily because of poor defending.


A poor game between two sides struggling for confidence. Lille seemed to have a slightly more cohesive gameplan but couldn’t execute it well enough in the final third, whilst Inter still look exactly what they are – a very old side who have no real ideology, having been coached by five different managers in the last 18 months.

Lille probably won’t qualify, Inter probably will – but it’s difficult to see either side having a real impact upon the tournament.

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