Inter Milan 0-1 Bayern München: Bayern patience pays off – A tactical analysis

Introduction

A lot has been said in the run up to this match.  Most notably, the fact that this was a replay of last year’s final and that inevitably led to the many narratives pundits and journalists espouse in such instances.  Would Inter be the same without Mourinho?  Can Bayern take their revenge and redeem themselves?  Both teams have struggled with their own unique set of problems this season.  Inter faced a coaching change and the giant vacuum left by a personality like Mourinho while Bayern experienced their worst injury crisis in years as well as a big tactical shift.

Leonardo fielded a 4-3-2-1 with Sneijder and Stankovic playing off Eto’o in front of a midfield trio of Zanetti, Cambiasso and Motta.  Van Gaal continued with the preferred 4-2-3-1 with Gustavo partnering Schweinsteiger in the center and Pranjic deputizing at left back.

Bayern enjoyed a lot of space on the flanks.

Deja vu- Inter content to sit deep

In last year’s final, as throughout most of their Champions League campaign, Inter, under Mourinho, were very content to sit deep, absorb the pressure and finish teams off on the counter.    Mourinho drilled his defense to perfection and creative and quick players like Sneijder and Eto’o coupled with clinical finisher like Milito were the perfect compliment to such a system.

Leonardo seemed all too willing to replicate this tactic against Bayern.  Although this was a very open game with both teams creating several clear-cut chances, Inter were the less proactive side, inviting Bayern to attack and relying on their defense and three-man midfield to stifle their opponent.

Cambiasso, Zanetti and Motta rarely ventured forward and when they lost possession they dropped very deep into their own half.  This allowed Bayern to take all of the initiative and continue to dominate possession for most of the match.  No doubt that Inter wanted to stay defensively sound but in doing so detracted almost completely from any attacking momentum from their midfield.

Eto’o was Inter’s most effective player and successfully took on several of Bayern’s defenders but he was pretty much Inter’s only threat throughout the match.  Too often, Eto’o moved out wide to collect the ball with few link up options other than Sneijder.  Although Bayern’s defense is vulnerable against mobile and technical players like Eto’o and Sneijder, the two were not enough to trouble Bayern consistently.

Inter lack width and play narrow, allow Bayern to control match

Sneijder found it difficult to get into the game.

Maicon is known for his rampant runs down the flank and last season no fullback played that role better than Maicon.  Eto’o and Pandev also provided the bulk of Inter’s width last year as both are quick players comfortable taking on defenders.  Pandev was on the bench today and Eto’o spearheaded the attack.  The midfield trio of Zanetti, Cambiasso and Motta all played very centrally and deep while Sneijder had a difficult time further up the pitch and against Gustavo’s incessant running.  All in all, Inter was very narrow and as a result limited in their attacking options.  Maicon was the primary wide player and he was for the most part bogged down by Ribery, Pranjic and the defensive cover of Badstuber in the second half.

Because Inter played such a cramped game, Bayern had more open space to utilize and were able to keep possession more effectively.  Lahm, Robben and Ribery saw the ball very often and had tons of space to get forward or to receive passes.   Bayern effectively passed the ball around trying to probe Inter’s defense and had they been more incisisve the game could have been more high scoring.

Bayern’s style of play effective

Since day one Louis van Gaal has instilled in his players a possession and passing style of play.  It was slow to take off last year and underwent several structural changes but has gradually become more and more refined.  Last year only Barcelona outperformed Bayern in terms of possession and passing in Europe.  This season this has very much continued and has become a crucial part in any successful performance.

Against Inter, Van Gaal instructed his players to play a patient possession game that transitioned into an aggressive attacking and pressing game.  In last year’s final Bayern missed the creativity to split Inter’s disciplined defense.  This time around they were looking to correct those problems and came out more determined and organized.

Inter’s shape gave Bayern many more attacking outlets so their game was more spread out.  This made their passing a lot easier to execute and gave them the advantage of momentum.  Bayern’s players found tons of space out wide and most of their attacks came through Robben and Ribery, including Robben’s shot in the last minute that led to Gomez’s goal.  Inter had no choice but to sit back, defend and wait for Bayern to lose the ball.

On the defensive end, Bayern pressed high up the pitch.  Gustavo was especially effective in breaking up attacks and winning the ball in midfield.  Van Gaal specifically played him in the center to utilize his pace, aggression and mobility.  Arguably Bayern’s best player, Gustavo also denied Sneijder the space he usually needs to be at his creative best.

Final analysis

For a game that nearly ended 0-0 it was a very open and entertaining affair.  Both sides created enough chances to score two or three goals but were denied either by good goalkeeping or by the bar.  Bayern’s defense looked predictably vulnerable whenever the ball fell to Eto’o but Kraft had one of his better performances in a Bayern shirt.  If anything is to give Inter a chance in Munich it is putting Bayern’s defense under pressure.

On this day however, Inter’s open invitation to Bayern allowed the guests to create several chances and press until it paid off in the end.  Inter were playing with fire so to speak.  Instead of taking initiative and look to attack they had a rather defensive approach that played into Bayern’s hands.

 

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Cristian Nyari

Cristian is a football writer and analyst living in New York City, fascinated with the history and study of the beautiful game and all it entails. Follow Cristian on twitter @Cnyari

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