Inter’s elimination from the Champions League at the hands of Liverpool has once again raised the question as to why Italian clubs continue to come up empty in Europe, despite the Nerazzurri winning at Anfield.
Simone Inzaghi’s team bowed out of Europe’s top club competition 2-1 on aggregate, although taking the scalp of the Reds in their own backyard – Liverpool’s first home loss in a year and a day – after Lautaro Martinez’s spectacular goal sealed a 1-0 win on the night.
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The Nerazzurri’s elimination means that Serie A’s representatives in Europe have dwindled down to three, with one left in each competition. Juventus are left to fly the flag in the Champions League, while Atalanta are left in the Europa League and Roma have a chance of becoming the first-ever Europa Conference League winners.
So, that begs the question of what exactly is going wrong? A historical first Anfield win against perhaps one of the greatest Liverpool sides of all time leaves Inzaghi’s men going out with heads held high, but why wasn’t it enough?
Evidently, the Premier League and the Reds above all are renowned for their high-intensity, all-action style that normally suffocates opponents, but Inter did their very best to play them at their own game in both legs.
It’s a testament to Inter that they were arguably the best side the first halves of both ties, limiting Klopp’s men to a total of one shot on target across both. In fact, Inter almost played Liverpool at their own game in limiting the English team to little time on the ball and it was working up until a point.
It seems as though the well-drilled Reds ran out of fitness as they took majority control of the second half in both legs, with Inter clearly running out of steam, so is that what’s letting Italian sides down? Is it the notoriously slower nature of the domestic game and the lack of a need to bust a gut for 90 minutes in Serie A on a weekly basis?
Granted, Liverpool created lots of chances of their own when in possession and even hit the woodwork three times on the night at Anfield, but the Nerazzurri can be proud of having taken a step toward competing, and beating, the very best in Europe.
Maybe then, the key is to take such a style into Serie A and to adopt it on a weekly basis in order to ensure an overall, high level of fitness and thus to be ready and raring to go when Europe next comes around. The signs were there but Inter jaded as the Reds kept on going, and going, and going.
Flying the flag for Serie A on three fronts
As mentioned above, Juventus, Atalanta, and Roma are now the ones left in with a chance of bringing European silverware back to Italy for the first time in over a decade, but what are their chances?
It’s been well documented that the Bianconeri have somewhat fallen from grace this season, or had done before a mini-revival, so do they have what it takes to compete on all fronts, considering that they have dragged themselves back into the race for the Scudetto, more or less?
Massimiliano Allegri’s team head into the second leg with Villareal, at the Allianz Stadium, on March 16 having taken a 1-1 draw from the Estadio de La Ceramica thanks to Dusan Vlahovic’s Champions League debut goal after just 33 seconds.
Their La Liga counterparts aren’t noted for having the same intensity as the likes of Liverpool, so therefore such intensity isn’t required from the Bianconeri, but could come in handy if they want to overwhelm their Spanish visitors.
Such pressure, however, is usually applied by another of Italy’s European survivors – Atalanta – who have become known for their almost un-Italian style over the last few seasons thanks to the work of Gian Piero Gasperini, and they’ll likely need to be at their free-flowing best for their two-legged last-16 Europe League matchup with Bayer Leverkusen.
The Bundesliga side are 3rd in their standings and managed an impressive 64 goals in 25 league games -the same as Borussia Dortmund – but encouragingly for La Dea have leaked 40 goals, which is the most in the top half of the German top-flight.
In fact, there are only five teams in Bundesliga with a worse defensive record, and on top of that, the Germans are without top scorer, and former Sampdoria and Roma striker, Patrick Schick due to a calf tear. An eventual win in this competition – not to jinx Atalanta – would be the first Italian success since Parma lifted the formerly named UEFA Cup in 1998/99.
Moving on to the newly-formed Europa Conference League and Roma – who face the Eredevisie’s Vitesse – away from home in their first-leg game. The Dutch side are 7th and don’t seem to be so impressive. Thomas Letsch’s side recently went through a five-match losing streak in which they conceded 18 goals and were on the end of two consecutive 5-0 pummelings.
Jose Mourinho’s side are unbeaten in their last seven Serie A games and go into the game after beating La Dea 1-0 last time out. A win against the Dutch would set up a quarter-final with the winner of POAK vs KAA Gent and a potential semi-final meeting with 2015/16 Premier League champions, Leicester.
It remains to be seen if there will even be one Serie A team in the next rounds of Europe’s club competitions, but Inter’s Anfield win should be an inspiration for all those who are left standing.
A high-octane, no-holds-barred style has seen two all-English finals in the last three seasons of the Champions League alone, leading to the reinforcement of the view among many that it is the best domestic competition in the world. So, as the saying goes: if you can’t beat them, join them.
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