It is not surprising how many fans looked at Inter’s team sheet on Saturday night and thought: “Hmm, five defenders, but only one natural central defender on the pitch. That is a solider Plan. “
The truth is, very few would have been inspired by Antonio Conte’s insistence on maintaining his beloved, time-tested 3-5-2 formation no matter how many of the necessary staff were unavailable for the greats Derby Della Madonnina.
Milan rolled into town (well, it’s their town too, so … sauntered across the lawn?), As did the outsiders in that tie. Despite their struggles in recent years, Stefano Pioli’s men have undoubtedly been Italy’s form team as of early 2020. The authoritative Zlatan Ibrahimovic led them to three wins in a row in the new season.
Those three turned four on Saturday and to the surprise of most spectators, Inter lost 2-1 to bitter rivals. I, Rossoneri, put in a great performance, met their hosts twice early, then took the pressure off and rode their luck to order to get all three points.
Inter had the chance not only to tie the game, but also to claim a victory. Ultimately, it shouldn’t be. Even so, it all feels so obviously avoidable.
Conte set up his squad with three center-backs but his choices were limited due to injuries and positive coronavirus tests. The usual suspects Alessandro Bastoni and Milan Skriniar had to pause, which meant the Nerazzurri boss had to formulate a plan B.
Only his Plan B was terribly similar to his Plan A – and worse. Instead of changing the team’s dynamics to remove the imbalance in the middle, he instead opted for his classic system and pushed full-backs Aleksandar Kolarov and Danilo D’Ambrosio into their zone of discomfort.
That made Stefan de Vrij the only natural central defender on the team, and the boy made this painfully clear in the first 20 minutes. Aging and over-experienced (old) Kolarov was the first to feel each of his 34 years, get on the wrong side of Ibrahimovic and engage in a shocking duel to concede a free kick.
That was properly punished – on the second attempt – and Inter had everything to do. It didn’t stop there, however. Conte was offered a twofer in his poor lineup just three minutes later when Rafael zoomed in and chopped off Leao D’Ambrosio, leaving him on the line for dead before moving on to an unmarked Ibrahimovic who did the rest.
Not tagged, by the way, because Kolarov was still somewhere in Rome (mentally and possibly physically) rather than sticking to one of the deadliest strikers on the planet.
Thanks to Inter, they didn’t work out.
Spurred on by the feeling that there was little left to lose, they threw everything at Milan in a pulsating 70 minutes of football. Romelu Lukaku pulled one back and he, Lautaro Martinez, Achraf Hakimi and several others had the chance to spare the blush of the backline.
Unfortunately it shouldn’t be. I, Nerazzurri, could not open the red and black door and its up and down was in vain.
Maybe it’s for the best. Maybe Conte can this time in the end learned that choosing a system for its available players is a better alternative to choosing the best players for its preferred system. After all, a certain Christian Eriksen may actually be worth the hefty fee paid in January for playing in his prime position – a role that doesn’t exist in the usual setup.
The same goes for Alexis Sanchez and Ivan Perisic, both of whom so late in their careers are tasked with adapting to a brand new position – two players who, if used correctly, can still offer so much.
By the way, why did you sell Diego Godin? A decision that seems strange every week. Maybe he’s not starting with XI quality now, but he couldn’t do any worse than the giggling brothers who took to the field today.
These questions need to be asked. A last minute equalizer could have glossed over the obvious cracks in that ad on Saturday night, and the narrative could have turned to a spirited comeback.
Indeed, the Inter boss could still point to a possible penalty that was flagged towards the end of the second half or the string of opportunities that were miserably missed. Anything to divert criticism from his precious, precious system.
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