Marseille 1-0 Inter: Marseille finally get the breakthrough with their 44th cross of the match

February 23, 2012

The starting line-ups

Andre Ayew pounced in stoppage time, and Marseille will take a one goal lead to Inter.

Didier Deschamps was without top scorer Loic Remy, so Brandao was upfront. In midfield, Benoit Cheyrou started rather than Charles Kaboré.

Claudio Ranieri made the fitness-related decision to omit Diego Milito, and instead play Diego Forlan and Mauro Zarate – otherwise, the side was as expected.

A strange game here – Inter looked in control midway through the second half, but then increasingly invited pressure. 0-0 was probably a better reflection of the balance of play.

Formation battle

Inter lined up roughly 4-3-1-2 shape, with Wesley Sneijder drifting over to the left of the pitch without the ball to cover that flank – although even when given no defensive instructions he tends to drift to that flank anyway.

So, as we’ve seen in other games recently – Milan v Arsenal, PSG v Montpellier – we had narrow versus width. Interestingly, all these games have been Italian coaches against French coaches.

Inter shape

This formation battle was complicated, however, by the fluidity of Inter’s attacking system, and it was a more flexible 4-3-1-2 than we often see from Italian clubs. Wesley Sneijder, while hardly enjoying a particularly fruitful evening himself, caused Marseille problems with his movement and made things happen down that side of the pitch. Marseille naturally viewed him as the main threat, but their determination to stop him, plus his unusual movement, resulted in both Alou Diarra and César Azpilicueta being concerned with his positioning.

This meant that Esteban Cambiasso could motor forward down the left of the pitch untracked, and he was the game’s standout player in the first half – he created a couple of chances and had an attempt on goal himself. This was a particularly promising situation for Inter when one of the two forwards, generally Zarate, moved to that flank to further overload Marseille in the right-back position, though it should be noted that Azpilicueta coped well and had a very good game.

Marseille shape

Marseille were a fairly standard 4-2-3-1, and they knew that it was down the flanks that they needed to focus on, with both Azpilicueta and Jeremy Morel getting forward. However, it took a while for Azpilicueta to get forward and become a threat down the right because he was worried about leading Sneijder unattended, and for a while Marseille were too concentrated down the left, where Maicon and Javier Zanetti are very good defensively.

Still, Marseille’s width meant a large number of crosses were attempted – nearly four times as many as Inter, although Lucio and Walter Samuel are happy enough dealing with high balls.

The most interesting aspect of this battle was the positioning of Mathieu Valbuena, the Marseille playmaker. He’s been mentioned before as fitting the mould of a ‘central winger’, and he showed that today by constantly drifting from flank to flank to try and overload Inter 3 v 2 in the wide areas. You won’t find a more obvious pattern of a central player moving to the wings:

The logic of this was sound – Inter packed the centre with three conservative midfielders, so Valbuena had no space to operate, and it was out wide where he was likely to get joy. However, with both him and Sneijder moving to the flanks, it did mean the game lacked a real creator in a central position.

One man who could have solved that problem was Cheyrou, but he was too static and didn’t contribute enough to attacks. Often Marseille were simply attacking 4 v 7, then 5 v 7 when an overlap from a full-back came. Cheyrou could have been braver with his positioning and made some late runs into the box.

Second half

Inter stepped up their attacking threat with Yuto Nagatomo on for Maicon – he was much better than the Brazilian, who may have been unfit. For a while Inter looked the better side, but both their forwards faded, while Sneijder created little.

The game became rather dull in the second half, partly caused by Ranieri’s decision to move to a 4-4-1-1 formation: Joel Obi on for Zarate, and used on the left, with Sneijder becoming a support striker. As mentioned, the forwards weren’t particularly involved, and the new formation gave the full-backs more protection, so despite the eventual defeat it wasn’t a particularly bad move, although either Milito or Giampaolo Pazzini surely should have been introduced to play upfront alone.

Still, better defending from the corner would have secured the draw, and it was primarily that rather than tactics that cost Inter.


A game that seems dull from the scoreline was actually very interesting for a while – then Ranieri’s attempt to nullify the game by switching formation largely killed the contest as a spectacle, which probably indicates the move worked well despite the eventual defeat. He was, after all, trying to shut the game down.

For long periods Marseille attacked intelligently but without enough quality to go ahead. They may have been marginally the better team by the end, but they were fortunate to nick a goal from a set-piece, and could do with Remy back for the second leg.

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