Beleaguered by confusion, void of a clever strategy and with a midfield stretched and exhausted by the sheer amount of work required to carry out the Coach’s vision of football – against both Milan and Schalke, Inter’s play suggested that tactically, Leonardo may simply be inept.
As a man who worships the offensive style of football, Leonardo’s greatest skill – unlocking the attacking potential of the squad – has become the reason behind his greatest failures. Scoring in abundance, the Coach has yet to solve the defensive riddle that forces his teams to be continually plagued by a sense of imbalance. Similarly to Milan last season and in direct contrast to Schalke’s forwards, Inter’s front pair did little by way of defensive work. Rarely tracking back to contribute, their insistence on remaining up top meant that Inter always looked outnumbered in most areas of the pitch.
Losing the battle in midfield has become a regular occurrence with a Leonardo led team and it is usually due to poor choices made in terms of personnel coupled with the lack of a clear defensive strategy. Against Manchester United last season, Leonardo decided to play without a hard tackler in central midfield to break up play and recoup possession leaving the back-line alone and under a mountain of pressure. Without a clear man in-front of the defence acting as a filter, alongside other midfielders who pressurise the opposition, the back-line is left unsupported and susceptible to a slew of attacks. You need only look at the amount of crosses the Nerazzurri’s centre-backs had to deal with against Schalke. Such intense pressure on the back-line unavoidably leads to an increased amount of individual errors such as Andrea Ranocchia’s own goal and Massimo Oddo’s error last year against Palermo when he lost possession at the edge of the box to concede a goal.
What is particularly disturbing is that Leo continues to play with a high defensive line regardless of the players he has at his disposal. When one considers the average age of his squads and their natural lack of pace, it is inconceivable to think Leonardo forced both Inter and the Rossoneri to maintain a high defence. Not only does it constantly fail, with Javier Zanetti playing Raul onside for his goal on Tuesday night, it also makes it considerably easy for the opponent to simply lob the ball over the defence to go through on goal.
Having up to seven players attacking at any one moment only works if the team in question boasts an incredible level of fitness. A Coach must understand the strengths and limitations of his squad before deciding tactics. Yet against Milan’s fast striker, Alexandre Pato, and countless times before against teams capable of making quick and short passes, Leo encouraged both his full-backs to push up via the wings at the same time to create a wide threat – suicidal tactics for a man forced to play with a centre-back pairing that possesses neither pace nor technique.
Under Leonardo, both Milan and Inter possessed overwhelmed midfields and a defence that lacked both intensity and organisation. As Inter’s defence lined up to watch Schalke gracefully pass the ball back and forth undisturbed at the edge of their own box, Milan fans saw a sense of déjà vu wash over them. Perhaps it was only a matter of time before Leo’s supposed defensive ineptitude was exposed by bigger, faster and more organised squads.