The father of modern chess, "the Michelangelo of chess", or the great Wilhelm Steinitz (1836-1900) argued that "the accumulation of small advantages leads to a considerable supremacy". This aphorism came to mind when I looked at Borussia Dortmund-Inter. No, Inter didn't play a two-sided game, they didn't do better than their opponents in the first half, and above all, they never gave Borussia any lessons. In the same way the hosts did not enter with another mentality in the second half, with another game (only slightly more concrete). The game always had the same score. If we substitute Steinitz's aphorism with the adjective "considerable" with the term "territorial", we will not only realize the secret similarities between two games so different (we can speak in both sports of 'positional style'), but we will understand better Inter's defeats against Borussia and Barcelona. We will also understand the goal against Bologna a little better, and of course Sassuolo's near-comeback. To talk only about physical decline and playing time is simplistic, almost offensive (see Sabatini's reaction to Conte's words at the end of Bologna-Inter). Instead, a more serious and opportune question is to reflect on the relationship that this alleged tiredness has with tactics, and ultimately with the style of play of this Inter. Perhaps we are still victims of a misunderstanding, we have misunderstood the early days of the Nerazzurri. We exchange beautiful and harmonious restarts (Conte is the pinnacle of Italian tradition, the most esthetic of catenacciari) with the beautiful game of modern game-makers, which is instead under the banner of domination. To paraphrase Cruijff, this Inter in Europe cannot dominate the opponent, at most he can win.
ILLOGICAL RACES AGAINST RATIONAL TEAMS – How many times at the Westfalenstadion or at the Camp Nou we have seen irrational races eluded by the geometries of Borussia and Barcelona! These are the "small advantages" mentioned by Steinitz. Conte after the defeat with the Blaugrana said: "Our possession was aimed at hurting Barca, in going vertical, while theirs was to control the game and make us tire". And it was almost an involuntary admission.
Here is an attempt of Nerazzurri pressure starting from a 5-3-2 (isn't it a contradiction?), After a kick from the defense. Pique, hunted by Lautaro, chases the ball, while Sergi Roberto opens diagonally to receive the first pass. Lautaro closes the direct line between central and fullback. Busquets is required. Brozovic's race to shorten on the Quitanieves is as significant as it is ineffective and useless. One wall of the median is enough, and Barcelona exploits the extra man in the band making the bull a bull. The balloon thus returns to Pique which he can set more calmly.
It happens more or less the same even in the first half of Borussia-Inter (and throughout the game). I take any maneuver development of the gialloneri. Akanji's back pass for goalkeeper Burki.
Brozo, seeing his peaks on the respective central units, rises in pressure on the Weigl median, the most probable outlet in front of the goalkeeper. Observe the same principle of play pursued by those who build, regardless of position and roles: a simple wall to free the third man. Just a small trick applied at the right time. And Inter runs over.
DOES INTER-4-2-3-1 SUFFER? Yes, because then the central advances at the foot and conquers the field and Brozovic has to watch out for the midfielder and the false nine Gotze: you have noticed that both the BVB and the Bologna, as Barca and Sassuolo (in the second half) were all lined up with 4-2-3-1? A case? Nothing automatic, eh, but .. In short, below if the Croatian does not run fast to cover the possible filter for Brandt they are trouble. But in doing so Weigl is free, the player who wanted to hinder him first. There is something contradictory about these pressures. And this I do not know that the rationality of the Germans has unmasked it punctually, systematically throughout the entire ninety minutes. Other than first half and second half .. other than physical decline!
On the weak side, while the game was changing, the BVB always put a player in the middle space, next to the Nerazzurri midfielder opposite to the origin of the ball. A position halfway between the competences of the fifth and the middle one in question. In this case it is Hazard, the left exterior, but Brandt or Gotze could also be very well. Clear signal that the Dortmund was playing on the weak points of the system of game of the adversaries. And of course the fullback also went up (Schulz on the left and Hakimi on the right).
THE LITTLE RONDOS- When the gialloneri reached the bottom (and more generally the band at any height of the field), apparently innocuous situations of numerical and positional superiority were created, but that in the long run proved to be devastating for the psychophysical estate of Inter. Hazard's descent was followed by a low cross rejected by De Vrij, with the ball immediately returned to Borussia ownership. The exhaust back (here for Witsel) was always guaranteed, since neither Lukaku nor Lautaro could return in time and with the right predisposition to hinder the dribbling of the hosts. The 3-5-2 of Conte, who turns too often and willingly in a 5-3-2, is clearly a cause of that encirclement effect that we had when watching Inter defend.
Soriano's goal in Bologna-Inter is not simply "an own goal" (a definition that made Sabatini rightly post-match), but the end product of a good action, descending from a starting situation similar to the one seen above ( rondo in the band). Here, too, a critical structurality that is inherent in Conte's gaming system is also exploited.
Below, an image from Borussia-Inter again, so that they do not all look like isolated cases. The bullock this time is Barella. Also note the three against a ready on the weak side on the possible game change (and the specific position of Brandt in particular, alongside Vecino).
THE LIMITS OF THE NERAZZURRO PALLEGGIO Naturally when I speak of Conte as a 'counter-party' I don't just want to provoke his admirers (I am also among them), I want to amplify instead a European vulgate, which otherwise we would not understand. And with that justify it. I will object: but Conte asks to start playing from behind, what you say is false! How many times do you take risks in the area just to attract the pressure of your opponents! Fear not, I see it too, and it is true what you affirm, but incomplete. The problem with Inter dribbling is that it hardly settles in the opponent's half. It is as if it tended to reach its own trocar, where in fact it has the greatest number of men, to then deal with the matter with combinations (sometimes aerial sometimes not) characterized by longer passages, which also involve longer runs. I mean that while in the first third of the pitch Inter tries to be patient in construction, from then on it accelerates so much that it always seems precipitous. So there are many attempts at combining which, not being realized, are exhausted not beyond or just beyond the middle of the field. With this feeling of a perennial vanishing counterattack that occurs when Inter loses the ball, even when Inter is itself under construction. "We are such a vertical team, that we are too," admitted Conte once more.
Now I would like to conclude by submitting to you a last comparison between two almost identical situations respectively drawn from BVB-Inter and Sassuolo-Inter. Evidently we are faced with a coded play to skip the high pressing of the opponents. The launch of the left central third for the fifth opposite. Impressive the distance of the Inter midfielder from the ball (Barella and Vecino). Barella's "long" movement moves him away from the ball (it removes short passage lines) but brings him closer to the otherwise too-isolated points.
The game change for Candreva fails and Dortmund immediately starts the restart.
As it happened on the occasion of Boga's goal in Sassuolo-Inter (the 3-4 that made us so much talk). With the entry of Djuricic the neroverdi went to 4-2-3-1 in the second half, and the pressures worked better. Inter therefore struggled to get out of their own half of the pitch not only because of fatigue, but also because it was more complicated than before. See how the launch of Sticks follows Skriniar's play perfectly as seen above. How many short pass lines did he have in front of him? None (the three midfielders are very far away and in uncomfortable positions to reach). Inter in these cases does not give up the long ball. Rather.
On the intercept of Duncan the Nerazzurri are open in midfield and very low with defense. Boga will receive from the Ghanaian in a very painful position for Conte's men, between Gagliardini and Brozovic. And you can aim for speed.
When, on the other hand, Inter keeps their dribbles close to their defense, a very large space opens between the two forwards and the same halves. I take the action of Lautaro's goal on purpose. Godin, wall of Vecino and Candreva's blue. Can a mistake by Akanji be enough to talk about a great first half? What is most functional in this action is at the same time what kept Inter in its own half of the field for the rest of the race, the first part included and beyond the good double.