Episode 9 – The Italian Job
After getting through our Champions League group with only conceding two goals (both away against Zenit) but without exactly setting the group alight, we still come out on top. The draw for the First Round Knockout pits us against Internazionale, a team I have a soft spot for following my game breaking save with CM 2 Italia. Given we won our group, we play the first game away at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza.
We go into the game with our standard formation, player roles and team instructions. Isik and Ascacibar have struck up a good relationship and balance with each other so start ahead of Henderson and Dahul. Willems will dribble down the left flank and stay out wide to offer us width when (not if) Coutinho tucks in with his AP(S) role. All forwards have the added instruction to close down more to compliment our pressing style of play.
Inter notably have an attacking right wing back in Svensson, Paredes looks to be playing in a defensive position in the DM, Vazquez and Sanson are likely AP(S)’s, with Elyounoussi also clearly on an attacking duty.
Inter 1-0 Liverpool (Elyounoussi – 12mins)
After 12 minutes we go a goal behind. Inter take a throw in down our left-hand side. Immediately, I have worries over our set up. Coutinho is marking Guidetti and Willems is guarding Candreva. Ideally, I’d like a central defender to be marking Candreva and Coutinho to be marking the spare man, Paredes, to whom Svensson throws the ball.
As soon as Paredes receives the ball, both Isik and Coutinho press him, but because he has so much space the pass across to Sanson is easy – especially since Isik runs directly towards Paredes rather than closing down the passing lane (possibly wise given Paredes’s vicinity to the box). Ascacibar anticipates the pass from Sanson across to Vazquez but from a position that’s too deep to do anything about it. Remember Svensson was set to be an attacking wing back.
This free space that Vazquez has is enough for him to see the space that Svensson has to run into in the area behind Coutinho, who has switched off. With Willems still sat centrally marking Candreva, this ball is simple and without risk.
Svensson receives the ball and Willems and Coutinho realise their defensive mistake and close him down quickly but not in quick enough time to prevent the cross. As it happens, this cross is cut out by Clyne at the back post and cleared, but only as far as Paredes who has dropped away from the box.
Paredes then resets the move, passing it on to Sanson who is freed up from Isik moving on to press Paredes. Willems is still marking Candreva, leaving Svensson wide open as Coutinho has lost his man again. Yet another risk free ball goes in behind us.
Svensson delivers another simple cross as Willems and Coutinho react too late again. The difference this time is that Clyne has completely switched off at the back post and lets Elyounoussi drift past him for an easy goal.
This was a frustrating way to concede. In looking into the tactics of throw ins, it seems that you can only set up attacking throw-ins – presumably leaving defending throw ins to PIs and team set up. I can’t help think that poor anticipation, poor pressing and a lack of positional awareness from the likes of Coutinho let us down here. To not learn from the errors of the first chance created down the same flank just seconds before is also an annoyance. With a very fluid team mentality, I need all players to contribute to all stages of both attack and defence. Clearly Coutinho’s effort here did not meet my expectations and Willems positional play was questionable too.
We needs an immediate response if we’re to get back in this tie with defending like this.
Inter 1-1 Liverpool (Eggestein – 18mins)
We reply within 6 minutes. Berardi receives the ball in space from Ascacibar after various losses of possession from both teams. Berardi, set as an IF(S), drives inside at the defence and commits men to him.
This halts his run, and after a rather weak attempt to win the ball from the Inter midfield, Berardi lays it off to Ascacibar who then plays it across to our AP(S) in Coutinho.
Coutinho then finds himself pressed but Isik has moved to the side of the press which gives Coutinho an easy out. Willems sees the space that is in behind the Candreva and how narrow the Inter back four is set, and bursts past him. You can also see how balanced my team are set up with Luis holding his position in the DLP(D) and Ascacibar pushing on towards the Inter defence as the BBM(S) into the vacant AM area.
Svensson comes out to close down Willems but doesn’t block the cross at source.
Eggestein, who for a time was hovering in an offside position, cleverly drops back temporarily to lose his marker when Isik lays out the pass to Willems. This allows him space to attack the box and meet the whipped low cross from Willems and side foot it with his left foot into the corner of the net, leaving Handanovic with no chance.
Inter 1-2 (Coutinho 18mins)
Two minutes later we find ourselves with a throw in down our right-hand side. Clyne throws it in to the open man, Ascacibar.
Ascacibar then lays across an easy pass to Berardi as he’s closed down.
Berardi spots Eggestein is goal side of his marker, lays it off to him and Eggestein tries to double his and our tally, but his shot is blocked by Handanovic.
Such is the force of the shot, it falls to Coutinho puts the ball away into the open net and gives us the second away goal. Poor defending from Inter, who were probably shell-shocked from the first goal just two minutes ago. Good, simple, play from us to exploit their weakness at the back through poor concentration and marking.
Inter 1-3 Liverpool (Eggestein – 46mins)
To take a two goal lead into half-time would probably kill the game and possibly the tie, given that would mean three away goals. The players, accordingly, seem determined to have an easy half-time team talk from me. Ascacibar plays a pass across to Isik who in turn plays it to Coutinho who is completely open having found space to exploit to the side of the two-man central midfield. Coutinho’s role of AP(S) will see him drift in from the flank to act as a third central midfielder as you see here.
Willems has a feeling of de ja vu and attacks the open space behind Candreva as Svensson is sucked in to press Coutinho, who after all should be his man to mark, leaving even more space in the vacant right back spot. Coutinho plays an easy lofted pass into the vacant space.
Willems controls the ball, takes it deeper into the Inter half, is loosely closed by the Inter right-sided centre back and a back tracking Candreva, and then hits a cross to Eggestein who has considerable space away from his marker.
Eggestein hits a first time shot, this time to the front post, past a hapless Handanovic who has been badly let down by his defenders for all of the goals thus far. Four goals in the game and all of them came from the sides of the 18-yard box.
Inter 1-4 Liverpool (Eggestein – 88mins (hat-trick))
The second half is a much quieter affair with Inter clearly trying to attack us but getting frustrated by our high levels of team work and counter-attacking style. We make changes, with Bazoer, Stevens (a regen of our youth academy) and Dahul coming on for Luis, Coutinho and Isik respectively. Two of these players are involved in our fourth and last goal.
Inter take a throw in from our half, which Bazoer anticipates is weak and short across to Sanson. Sanson doesn’t see Bazoer coming until it’s too late and Bazoer is able to pick off the ball.
Bazoer then drives forwards until the half-way line and plays a cross field pass to Willems who is rushing forwards, in line with his attacking duty.
Stevens, who is playing in the role he’s natural at, IF(S), continues his run as Willems is stopped and pushed wider by Svensson, who has had a torrid night, first of all with Candreva offering him no support (resulting in him getting hooked at 45 minutes) and then when Inter go 4-3-3 as he is isolated down his flank. This is evidenced when Stevens’s runs in behind him, dragging their right-sided centre back out of his typical comfort zone. Willems plays a pass into space, in behind the Inter defence.
Stevens then pulls back a cross to the on-rushing Eggestein, who despite being more tightly mark, isn’t about to give up his chance of a hat-trick. He scored again by slotting it beyond Handanovic. Game, set and match to Liverpool.
I can only imagine the rage that’s going on in the Inter changing room. On the other hand, I’m very pleased with my players and their desire to come back from being 1-0 down. Our determination and desire to perform was very pleasing, as was our creativity down the flanks. Eggestein takes the match ball home, being awarded the Player of the Match to go with it. To play in such a style and create far more chances and better quality chances than Inter is also encouraging. Two to one in shots, with eleven of ours on target, six of which are clear cut and a further three half-chances gives you some idea of our domination. Were we perfect? No. Take a look at how we conceded the goal earlier. Something for us to work on in training.
Our higher tempo style play contributed towards three of our four goals, with the team transitioning quickly from winning the ball to attack and creating the chance. Despite having work the ball into the box on, we still put a considerable number of crosses into the box and it was clear from some of our passes, that we were passing it into space well. The crosses Willems hit in were also low, as per the instructions to the team, leaving Eggestein with every opportunity to beat his defender. This was made all the easier given that Inter appear not to have been marking tightly.
This advantage means that I can realistically afford to rest players for the home leg, giving game time to our up and coming players, or other squad players who don’t get sufficient game time in the League. We draw the game 1-1 and advance on to the Quarter Final.
To find out how our venture in the Champions League continues, check back for the next episode.
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