Nerazzurri’s Tottenham Comeback for Naught
Internazionale fell to Tottenham Hotspur in their Europa League clash, but the Nerazzurri will have many regrets about bowing out. In the first leg, Andrea Stramaccioni’s men were steamrolled 3-0 and narrowly failed to overturn the tie last night despite their 4-1 victory (after extra-time) at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza. After what almost was a comeback of Herculean proportion, we must ask what went so wrong for Internazionale against Tottenham?
The first mishap of the first leg, it has to be said, was the defence. Not only were the individual performances not good enough – from pretty much the entire back-line with the centre pairing of Juan Jesus and Andrea Ranocchia being particularly culpable – but the set up was not ideal against a team like Tottenham either. In effect, Spurs’ strength lies in its flying wingers and although Javier Zanetti is usually as reliable as ever he struggled a bit alongside a defence that was clearly overwhelmed. The fact that both Zanetti and [especially] Cristian Chivu were the fullbacks meant that Internazionale had very little thrust down those flanks, and thus were not really pushing forward to check Tottenham’s wide men. In the second leg, Ranocchia was dropped and Jonathan played on the right side of the back four to offer that push down the flanks that Internazionale had lacked in the first leg.
Stramaccioni’s bad defensive set up in the first leg was further exacerbated by the midfield composition. Even if the Italian coach’s strategy was to invite the Tottenham forwards onto him to hit them on the counter, his team was completely smothered in midfield and failed to play the ball out. The sheer physicality of the Tottenham midfield was overwhelming and the Nerazzurri were unable to break the press in order to find the spaces through which to counter. Moussa Dembélé and Scott Parker were particularly good at applying that pressure to physically dominate the midfield, something their opponents failed to do in the absence of Fredy Guarin. In effect this is something Stramaccioni corrected well in the second leg by introducing Guarin into the midfield and going with four men instead of the three-man midfield that had failed to impose itself. Moreover, a particularly poor performance from Esteban Cambiasso really handicapped Internazionale as he left Walter Gargano stranded alone on numerous occasions with Tottenham knocking the ball past and around him for fun.
Stramaccioni’s also made a mistake in playing with a tridente (front-three) comprised of Antonio Cassano through the middle and in a sort of False Nine role. Physically, Cassano was simply unable to cope with Jan Vertonghen or William Gallas who had the beating of him in the air and on the ground for both strength and pace. In the second leg, Stramaccioni started with both Cassano and Rodrigo Palacio. Palacio was particularly effective with his mobility, working the flanks and running behind the Tottenham defence, alongside Cassano in a more natural seconda punta (second-striker) role.
In terms of what went wrong for Internazionale, ultimately it was the first leg. However it was more specifically the fact that Stramaccioni set up his side to absorb too much pressure. The Italian coach expected that his team would be able to cope with it, but because other departments of his team were unbalanced and mismatched vis-à-vis Tottenham, it just meant that Internazionale were constantly under pressure as Spurs relentlessly got at them wave after wave. One of the main architects of this offensive pressure was of course Gareth Bale, who was absent in last night’s second leg due to yellow card accumulation. Internazionale would have been very familiar with Bale, especially after the Welshman had caused them all sorts of trouble in their Champions League group game encounter back in 2010. However Bale played in a central position in the first leg and roamed throughout most of the match, thus making it difficult for the Nerazzurri to pick him up.
Of course, although last night’s performance was much better, we do have to remember that Tottenham were protecting a 3-0 lead and thus Internazionale was possibly allowed more space than it had been the case at 0-0 in the first leg. The absence of Bale, who gives Spurs so much thrust and profundidad (verticality), was evident last night as André Villas-Boas’ men failed to ratchet up the gears and thus succumbed to the Nerazzurri’s pace. At the same time, Stramaccioni must be given credit for making the changes he made and recognizing the errors he had committed in the first leg. At the end of the day, Stramaccioni is quite a good reactionary coach and this is often seen in Serie A when Internazionale’s second half performances are usually vast improvements from their first. But at the same time it is a shame and a missed opportunity for the Nerazzurri as their great fight-back proved insufficient, much like Stramaccioni’s tactics given the first leg humiliation.
Follow Ogo Sylla on Twitter at: @Rossonerogo_3