Inter 1-1 Milan: Milan should have been out of sight by half-time

February 25, 2013

The starting line-ups

Inter upped their performance after a terrible first-half display.

Andrea Stramaccioni gave a rare start to Ricky Alvarez on the left, after his impressive performance against Cluj in midweek. Diego Milito is out for the season, so Antonio Cassano and Rodrigo Palacio started upfront together.

Max Allegri made changes from the victory over Barcelona – Mario Balotelli, cup-tied in Europe, returned in place of Giampaolo Pazzini, while Riccardo Montolivo played in Massimo Ambrosini’s deep-lying role to allow Antonio Nocerino to play.

Stramaccioni managed to alter things to get his side back into the game, but only Milan profligacy and another fine Samir Handanovic performance prevented the ‘away’ side from victory.

Pattern

Milan derbies can settle down into a slow, scrappy battle, but this was a fast-paced game between two sides both trying to play good football.

Inter actually started well, with good possession close to the Milan penalty box, but slowly Milan asserted their dominance on the game. In particular, Milan’s pressing at opposition goal-kicks meant they won possession quickly high up the pitch, and Inter lacked a midfielder with time and space to start attacks.

Inter open between the lines

Inter’s lack of shape in the first half was horrendous, and yet not shocking to anyone who witnessed their 4-1 defeat at Fiorentina last week. There, Stevan Jovetic and Adem Ljajic kept finding space between the lines, while Borja Valero and Alberto Aquilani shuttled forward to record three assists between them.

That gap between the defence and the midfield was again obvious. Here, Inter were being pulled in two different ways. Esteban Cambiasso and Walter Gargano were being dragged up the pitch into battle with Nocerino and Sulley Muntari, but the centre-back duo of Andrea Ranocchia and Juan Jesus were terrified of Mario Balotelli’s pace, so tried to sit deeper. The result was a huge area of space for someone to exploit, and the first time Kevin-Prince Boateng ducked inside into that zone, he provided the pass for Stephan El Shaarawy’s fine opener.

Milan allowed to start moves from the back

Milan were playing well at both ends – pressing from the front, passing from the back. Inter’s lack of discipline high up the pitch was surprising – Palacio and Cassano had been told to take turns in marking Riccardo Montolivo, and when they stuck tight to him, they forced a couple of rare errors in possession. However, the longer the game went on, the more Montolivo was given space to hit passes towards the flanks.

A secondary problem was that Inter made no attempt to stop Cristian Zapata and Philippe Mexes moving forward with the ball. Zapata did this more regularly but Mexes did so more notably, charging into the final third with possession at one point.

De Sciglio overlaps

But Inter’s major problem was with De Sciglio, who turned in an excellent performance from left-back. He continually charged past Fredy Guarin, who tried to track his runs but never quite managed to stop him – finding it difficult to watch man and ball at the same time. De Sciglio was constantly played in by Muntari, who played penetrative passes in behind the defence, and he provided some excellent crosses – most notably for Balotelli, who should have found himself on the scoresheet.

De Sciglio’s freedom down that flank was assisted by the movement of El Shaaraway, trying to run between Nagatomo and Ranocchia in behind the defence. Yuto Nagatomo was dragged extremely narrow, leaving space near the touchline, and should probably have passed El Shaarawy onto Ranocchia more readily, in order to keep a wider position.

Second half Inter switches

Despite being battered in the first half, Inter managed to get back into the game, and dominated the second period. There were three things Inter changed for the second half.

First, Stramaccioni switched his two full-backs, as Nagatomo went to the left, Javier Zanetti crossed to the right. In fairness, that’s probably their more natural positions anyway, so while Stramaccioni’s decision to swap them worked, it was his initial decision that had backfired in the first place.

Surprisingly, this seemed to work very well. Zanetti dealt with El Shaarawy more effectively, and was cleverer in his positional play – not being dragged too narrow, and coping with De Sciglio on his (admittedly rarer) charges down the touchline.

Second, there was more of an attempt to close down Montolivo, who made some good interceptions in the centre of the pitch but was surprisingly sloppy when he was closed down. Milan stopped building passing moves from deep, and the centre-backs had less freedom to get forward.

Third, Stramaccioni introduced Ezequiel Schelotto on the right, and he scored the equaliser. Cambiasso had been withdrawn, with Guarin moving into a central position. The goal wouldn’t have arrived without the changes – the assist was provided by Nagatomo, bursting forward from left-back to cross with his right foot – as he did so effectively at the Asian Cup a couple of years ago, convincing Inter to sign him from Cesena. Schelotti’s winner was a powerful header, and Milan have looked nervous against aerial attacks in recent weeks (Barcelona, of course, don’t provide that type of threat).

Milan sloppiness

But while Inter deserve praise for coming back into the game, Milan were disappointingly tame after the break – almost as if they’d become too complacent and expected to dominate the second half without really trying. There were fewer forward runs from full-back, Boateng was less involved and Balotelli failed to consistently test the Inter centre-backs, despite both being on a booking.

Milan also lacked a proper holding midfielder – Ambrosini, or the injured Nigel de Jong – to keep a solid position ahead of the back four. One deliberate foul from Montolivo, when he’d been caught too high up the pitch, summed up the problem.

Conclusion

Inter were battered for the first half of this match – Milan found space between the lines, played out from the back comfortably, and constantly got De Sciglio free on the overlap to cross.

But they fought back bravely, with the full-back switch helping, and the side becoming more disciplined overall – but Milan shouldn’t have given them the opportunity to take something from this game.


Inter 1-1 Milan: Milan should have been out of sight by half-time

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