Inter out of luck, but not out of contention

Date: 17th February 2022 at 2:59pm
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Inter‘s 2-0 home defeat at the hands of Liverpool may have lengthened the odds of them qualifying for the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time in over a decade, but it wasn’t all doom and gloom at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on Wednesday night.

Second-half goals from Roberto Firmino and then Mohamed Salah soured an otherwise encouraging performance for Simone Inzaghi’s side, on a night in which the Nerazzurri turned out in the round of 16 for the first time since their two-legged loss to Marseille in season 2011/12.

Inzaghi will take heart from the fact that his team held their own, and then some, for much of the game until they were undone by what could be considered two rather fortuitous goals from the Reds, and with no away goals rule to rely on, the English side will still have to watch their step in a few weeks’ time.

Jurgen Klopp’s men scored with the only two shots on target in the whole game, leaving Inter fans with a bitter taste in their mouths; a sense of ‘what if’ and ‘what could have been’ should Hakan Calhanoglu’s first-half effort have hit the back of the net instead of bouncing back off the crossbar, for example.

The Serie A champions had a number of bright moments and will take away several positives from the match, above all that they made a highly impressive team struggle to find any sort of rhythm overall, mainly thanks to a clever, pre-planned counter-press. It was a case of, ‘you press me, I’ll press you harder’ from the Nerazzurri, and on another night it might just have brought home the bacon.

Inter’s pressing worked a treat against Liverpool

One thing that Liverpool are renowned for is their high-octane, no-time-to-settle style – otherwise known as the gegenpress tactic – which allows opponents minimal time in possession, before the Reds normally win the ball back and enjoy large spells on the ball, but Inter had the answer for large parts.

The fact that the Nerazzurri limited Liverpool to 54 percent of the ball overall is impressive – even away from home – and for large spells Inter were outplaying the Premier League side at their own game. Arturo Vidal and Marcelo Brozovic were snapping into the likes of Thiago Alcantara, while Milan Skriniar and co. were making life hard for Klopp’s attackers to impact the game.

Although neither side had enjoyed much in terms of goalscoring chances – until Firmino’s 75th-minute opener – Inzaghi’s men had succeeded in making the evening very uncomfortable for the six-time European champions. Consider that Liverpool have a Premier League average of 62.7 percent ball possession per game – second only to Manchester City – and the extent of Inter’s ball-winning work becomes clearer still.

A series of important substitutions then swung the game in the away team’s favour, however the Reds’ coach knows the battle may be won but the war isn’t over.

“It was a tough game,” Klopp said after the game. “It is still dangerous. It’s only half time but we don’t feel like we are halfway through. We know it will be tricky.”

Inzaghi was also under the impression that his side deserved more from the game.

“I am proud of my team,” Inzaghi commented. “Liverpool are very good, and we deserved more, but we can hold our heads high going into the second leg.”

Perisic continues to impress

Things may not have gone to plan for Inter as mentioned above, yet an impressive work ethic was not only true for the collective, but symbolic of the work that one Ivan Perisic put in on an individual level, as he tends to weekly.

The 33-year-old midfielder-turned-wing-back left Trent Alexander-Arnold for dust in a foray down the left flank in the first half and continued to be a thorn in Liverpool’s side from thereon in, thus meriting Klopp’s praise after the final whistle.

“Perisic caused us lots of problems,” Klopp said, and it seems as though the Croatian just keeps on growing in the role, even though he’s had a long road to get to where he is today.

A loan spell at Bayern Munich might have signalled the end of his Inter days in 2019, but Perisic has fought back from the brink of being outcasted to make the position his own in Inzaghi’s 3-5-2.

Robin Gosens’ arrival from Atalanta in January would also lead one to think that the German was signed for the exact purpose of replacing Perisic at left-wing-back, but the Croatian makeshift keeps on doing more than enough to deserve his place.

Although Perisic and teammates were unable to get on the scoreboard, they’d have done enough to show the rest of Europe that they are still very much alive going into the second leg at Anfield on March 8. Inter may have been out of luck, but are far from out of the Champions League with 90 minutes still to play.

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