“We want to return home with a positive result to keep our chances alive for the second leg”, said Manuel Neuer, Schalke’s goalkeeper-captain, adding: “We are keen to cause an upset.” And what an upset they caused. The German side racked up an incredible five away goals to put them in pole position to advance to the next stage of the Champions League while Inter were left wondering how they went from 2-1 up to 2-5 down in just over 45 minutes.
In his post match interview, Leonardo was quick to underline how unlikely a comeback in the second leg is. However, he also added: “This tie isn’t over just yet. Everything is possible in football.” Interestingly, Inter’s saving grace could yet be the very same thing that condemned them to defeat last night.
In the last round of the competition, Inter overcame a 1-0 deficit from the first leg to claim an unlikely away goals victory against Bayern Munich. They achieved their victory in Munich by going at Bayern relentlessly and attacking with little regard for their own defensive security. Despite conceding twice on the night, a late goal from Goran Pandev was enough to see them through.
While going all out attack in the second leg may seem like suicide, on closer inspection it could be the only option for Leonardo’s team. In their domestic league, Schalke have only scored eleven goals on the road all season, so the five they hit against Inter can only be viewed as a freak occurrence. In fact, only three teams in the entire Bundesliga have scored less than Schalke this season, which seems promising for Inter.
In fact, there are a number of signs that suggest the game isn’t quite done and dusted. Firstly, Leonardo noted after the game Inter have often played their best football under him when they have had no choice but to go for a win. Clearly they can’t play for a draw in the second leg, so perhaps lining them up in what is essentially a 4-2-4 formation is the Leonardo will bring the best from his team.
Another encouraging sign hidden in defeat is the much-improved performance of Diego Milito. Il Principe has been terribly short of form this season but showed signs he is returning to his deadly best with a well-taken goal and was a handful for the Schalke defence all night. Alongside the brilliant Samuel Eto’o and Wesley Sneijder, Milito is the type of forward who can strike at any time and tip a game in his side’s favour.
Lastly, Leonardo can look to a number of his senior players and expect much improved performances in the second leg. Both Maicon and Javier Zanetti were far short of their best, as was Esteban Cambiasso. The loss of Dejan Stankovic to injury was a blow for Inter especially after he demonstrated his almost unparalleled ability to strike a ball for the first goal and he will hope to return to add more creativity to the side.
Under Leonardo Inter seem to flourish in this type of situation. They certainly have the ability hit the back of the net a number of times in a game. Put simply, while the tie may have tipped dramatically in Schalke’s favour, Inter are certainly not out just yet.