A quick look at the score-line and most would be gripped with disbelief. A German side that has struggled to score all season crushed the Italians who once-upon-a-time defended so admirably. Yet the result will come as no surprise to those who watched both matches.
Whilst much can be said about the Inter side and their limitations this season, including the club’s abject failure in rejuvenating a team so easily overrun, much of the blame belongs to Coach Leonardo. His timid and negative approach to the game not only went against his very footballing philosophy but it went against a general narrative that would demand a more attacking approach at such a time.
For 90 minutes, the Nerazzurri fans were waiting for their team to charge forward, to play the attacking style of football they have become known for ever since Leonardo’s arrival. Yet for 90 minutes, what started with hesitation, ended in almighty surrender. Bizarrely, the Coach initially opted for a diamond formation that included more defensive players than was necessary – presumably a way to remedy the defensive problems suffered in the first leg. Yet these very problems hauntingly returned as Raul so easily carved open the defensive line, sending Lucio the wrong way and eventually out of sight completely to score the opening goal. The high defensive line so easily overcome and the lack of a pressing game that allowed so many Germans to pass through the midfield with ease ensured that Leo had not yet learned his lesson.
Even more disturbing was that whilst Manuel Neuer impressively read the game and came out in certain moments to rescue Schalke, even initiating attacks with his distribution, Julio Cesar looked a shadow of himself as he collided with his own players and stayed in place when courage should have guided him out from his posts in an attempt to stop Schalke’s second goal.
The only thing Leonardo’s prudent and narrow play achieved was in limiting his side’s attacking potential. Samuel Eto’o, an indomitable beast of a man when played in the centre, was forced to drift to the left to add some width which left Diego Milito isolated in the middle. The tactics played right into Schalke’s hands who enjoyed the few options Inter had once they did manage to get the ball to the final third. This was in direct contrast to the home team who, when they attacked, did so in numbers with plenty of support and several options open on either side. With Douglas Maicon’s runs proving fruitless, Inter had no way to penetrate a heavily guarded Schalke back-line with as many as seven players committed to defending, including the omnipresent Raul.
Goran Pandev’s introduction and Leonardo’s reversion to a 4-2-3-1 in the second half only served to unbalance the team. Their one goal did not arise because of this change but because they actually committed more players to the attacking cause. Furthermore, the shape failed to make the squad more compact with Eto’o and even Wesley Sneijder regularly found running deep into their own half to collect the ball and initiate an attack – attacks that could not be completed without the help of Eto’o in the box.
The Nerazzurri as a whole boasted a far superior squad to that of Schalke’s with players who could make the difference at any moment. Inter completed 410 passes to Schalke’s 196 and enjoyed 60% possession yet their inefficiency cost them against a squad that converted two of their four shots on target. Perhaps it was too much to expect an ageing treble winning side, exhausted both mentally and physically, to overcome a German team high on energy and both fluid and quick in their movement. As one Inter fan put it: “There’s always next year.”
(Aggregate; Schalke 7 – 3 Inter)