Inter Milan 2 – 5 Schalke 04 – Schalke Stun the Football World, How Die Knappen Pulled Off One of the Upsets of the Season

Introduction – Against all Odds

There are certain draws that will always be considered more favorable than others in European tournaments.  Clubs and supporters alike waited with bated breath to see who their side will face in the quarter finals of the Champions League this season.  After Inter came back from behind to eliminate Bayern they could not have gotten a more desirable draw than the only German club left in European competition, Schalke.   Arguably the most inexperienced side in the competition, Schalke have seemingly punched above their weight by reaching the Quarterfinals and are even undergoing a recent managerial change.  Schalke have also struggled domestically this season and are statistically still not safe from relegation.  In that sense, the outcome seemed more a formality than anything else.

Leonardo’s Inter came into this match after a rather humbling 3-0 loss to city rivals AC Milan over the weekend while Schalke got a controversial yet important win against St. Pauli this past Friday.  Despite domestic form however, Inter were heavy favorites going into this match and the only question seemed to be score line.  To be fair, even Schalke supporters remained realistic about the match, evidenced by the few Schalke travelers to Italy.

Leonardo positioned Chivu in central defense because of Lucio’s absence.  As a result, captain and utility man supreme Zanetti started at left back.   Stankovic and Milito also came in for Pandev and the cup-tied Pazzini.  Ragnick replaced the absent Metzelder and Kluge with Jurado and Matip.

Starting formations, also using average position/movement of players.

Schalke play high up the pitch

Ragnick is known for his proclivity for attacking football but that kind of exuberance can be the undoing of inexperienced sides in Europe, especially against a team as compact, experienced and disciplined as Inter.  Going against the grain, Ragnick instructed his side to do just that.  From the get go, Schalke took the initiative and was proactive in their play.  Baumjohan and Jurado played higher than their positions initially suggested.  Jurado started in central midfield alongside Papadopoulos and moving up could have left his 19-year-old midfield partner at the whim of Inter’s strong midfield trio.  Instead of hesitating however, the Spaniard pushed up quite often throughout the match.  That along with Raul’s tendency to drop back and help his midfield had the effect of squeezing Inter’s midfield from both sides.  Stankovic, Cambiasso and Motta found it increasingly difficult to control the match because of this.


Over the last couple of seasons Inter’s Maicon has distinguished himself as one of the best attacking fullbacks of his generation.   His dashing runs have become a trademark and opposition fullbacks step out of their defense at their own peril.  That is exactly what Ralf Ragnick instructed Uchida and Sarpei to do.  In another daring tactical maneuver, Ragnick fought fire with fire by utilizing Uchida and Sarpei as high up the pitch as possible and as Schalke’s only width.  Their doing so went a long way in keeping the likes of Maicon and Zanetti in check as neither got behind the opposition’s defense as they are accustomed to doing.   The decision comes rather easily when considering that Inter don’t really play with wingers so Ragnick did not feel compelled to use them either, Farfan aside.

Leonardo and Ragnick’s penchant for attacking football made it a very open game in the first half and the 2-2 half-time score line was a reflection of how willing both sides were to go at each other.  Defense seemed second priority to both sides.  The game became a much more cerebral affair in the second half however.

Inter rushed

After Schalke took the 3-2 lead early in the second half Inter became visibly shaken and began pushing up more for an equalizer.  Suffice to say, they did not expect to go behind in that manner and felt the pressure early on.  That pressure increased after Rannocchia’s rather unfortunate own goal.  The two goals pretty much turned the game in Schalke’s favor as Inter never looked comfortable both chasing the game and keeping Schalke from adding to their lead.

From the beginning it did not seem that either Leonardo or the Inter players expected such a reaction from this Schalke side.  Perhaps it was a matter of underestimating the opposition and believing the pre-match odd making.  Leonardo did not appear to have an answer to what was happening on the field and his side became sloppier in the second half as they were rushing to make up the numbers.

It must be said that Schalke’s work in midfield was crucial in this result.  Ragnick’s men worked overtime.  Edu and Raul for example played very deep and acted almost as proxy midfielders, adding to the pressure already exerted by their teammates.  Curious to note was Sneijder’s repositioning in the second half.  The playmaker operates primarily in the middle but as the game progressed he drifted out wide to the left more and more while the ever-dangerous Eto’o came inside.  It could be that this was a specific instruction from Leonardo but the outcome was far from desirable.

Edu tripled Schake’s lead with a brilliant turn on 75 minutes to put the game beyond Inter’s reach and put his side in an ideal position to advance to the semi finals.  Once again, it left Inter scrambling for concrete ideas and made the defending champions look rather hapless.

Schalke patient and defensively disciplined

Magath’s differences with Schalke’s management may have been his undoing but the mark he left on this team was still very much evidenced in their performance against Inter.  The current Wolfsburg coach is renowned for building his sides on the pillars of physical fitness and a solid defensive foundation.  And even though Magath was probably watching this game from his new home in Wolfsburg, those two ingredients were key in their impressive win.

Unlike Bayern who looked absolutely phased after Inter’s equalizer at the Allianz Arena in the last round, Schalke kept their nerves and drove on.  That persistence paid off on 5 different occasions and the strong mentality on display was key in executing such initiative.  Some Schalke supporters are pleased to see the back of Magath but the discipline he instilled cannot be overlooked in setting this team up in the Champions League.  The trust he instilled in young players like Papadopoulos and Matip along with purchases like Jurado, Uchida and the ever-important Raul has gone a long way.

Moreover, Schalke have become one of the more defensively disciplined sides in both the Bundesliga and the Champions League this season.  Players like Neuer and Höwedes have stood out in particular.  Against Inter, the pair showed their qualities again and made it quite obvious why Bayern is pursuing them.

Conclusion – What to expect in the second leg?

The beauty of a two legged affair is the nature of its’ unpredictability.  Despite a home loss, elimination is not a foregone conclusion for the Italians.  Inter lost their home leg against Bayern as well only to rally from behind and oust Bayern on their own ground.   The odds are now stacked against the defending champions for a change and Leonardo will have to get the performance of the season out of his squad to advance.

The score line sets up what should be an eventful second leg though.  Inter no doubt will come out to score, which they must in order to progress.  The question is how Schalke will set up.  Will they attack as is expected from a side coached by Ragnick or will they shore up shop and play out the tie by using their away goal advantage?  One is obviously riskier than the other but the stakes are high and Schalke have a chance to make club history, as they’ve never reached the semi finals of this competition.  Either way, the second leg is a safe bet as any to guarantee goals for the netural.

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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


  1. And no coach instills a better mental resilience than Magath. Will be interesting to see if that lasts or if Rangnick can maintain it going forward.

  2. i agree with you but ferguson still needs to get past chelsea. 1-0 is not enough, not sure what is wrong with chelsea with so much talent but they cant win. even playing at home man U has to be on their top level.
    As for schalke, they are on a roll and all can happen, leonardo is not the best coach but schalke just needs to surprice one more opponents and they will be in the final and having raul he is capable enough to work his magic. thats the beauty of this game.

  3. Schalke did run circles around Inter, but their most impressive feat was mental resilience. Who the hell goes down twice at San Siro & comes back to win so convincingly? And where did that come from?

    My money’s on Raul who, despite the language difference, must have told everyone “follow me, I’ve been here before, it’s just the Champions League.”

    Like many people, I’m sure, I was extremely skeptical about Raul, seeing as how he’d been less & less of a factor at Madrid the past 2-3 years. But he’s obviously driven to show he’s not done yet, metaphorically pulling that fork out of his back & tossing it aside.

    I was never a big fan of the man, though that had more to do with hating Madrid than Raul. But you can’t tell me Schalke would’ve got this far w/o him.

  4. Hello, Its will need the hand of God to turn the tides, but Schalke 04 have to be very careful.If they can make it in Milan 02-05 Inter can make in Germany.
    My advised is that The Inter should stay focus they can still make it.Nothing is lost.

  5. It’s not a secret that Leonardo lacks a certain tactical proficiency, which worked in Schalke’s favor for sure.

    Won’t be that easy should Schalke advance and face United. There they await a true master of the game.

  6. i didn’t watch the game but i did watch the milan vs inter game and their mids were clearly outplayed and it sounds like that happen again. it seems like leonardo doesn’t have a clue of what formation to use with skill enough to go along with thought defense. from what i read motta had a bad game again.

  7. Let’s just say that if Inter find a way to progress against Schalke it I don’t think they’ll care. They’ll have just beaten the most incredible odds in recent memory.

    Last time something like that happened was Deportivo La Coruna’s incredible second leg win over Milan after losing the first leg 4-1 in Italy. I don’t know if

  8. Just wondering–if Inter find a way to progress past Schalke, do they want to play at home? The San Siro’s been awfully good for the away side in this Champions League competition against both Inter and Milan.

  9. Thank you very much.

    Lucio should be back but I agree with Niklas that the difference won’t necessarily be that significant.

    Inter have been exposed throughout the season so I don’t think its a matter of players or individuals as much as it is one of coaching. Leonardo isn’t exactly known for his tactical prowess and this is a mountain to climb for them now.

    Then again, Inter have on average the oldest team in Europe! So maybe their fitness is reliant on a good gameplan. No wonder Mourinho did so well with the last year.

  10. Lucio will be back, but I don’t think that Inter will have an easier time defending, considering that they need to win 4-0 and have to attack as vigorously as possible.

  11. Wonderful analysis. Unfortunately I missed this match as I chose to watch Real Madrid v. Spurs.

    Will Lucio be back for the second leg, and if so do you think his presence will make much of a difference? Also, do you think that Zanetti may finally be showing his age and no longer have the pace to be a marauding full back? I imagine that Farfan and Uchida must really have kept his hands full, as you indicate in your post.

  12. Thank you for the compliments! Agree that Stankovic and Cambiasso had a hard time. Also think Motta struggled and was surprised that he wasn’t taken off sooner.

    Niklas is right too, Schalke outworked Inter simply put. It’s always easier to run once you put the medicine balls and leg weights down. 😀

  13. already early on in the second half I saw a stat that showed that schalke’s players had outrun inter’s by a 7 kilometers. I think everybody knows who deserves credit for that…

    having said that, Rangnick had the guts to put out an attacking line up, and it really paid of. I gladly eat my own words(for those who remember our first podcast…)!!!

  14. This match is the classic showcase of a wide 442 up against a relatively narrow 4312. Inter’s midfield water-carriers, Cambiasso and Stankovic completely failed to double up on the Schalke wingers in Farfan and Jurado, both of whom were excellent on the night. In fact, after Stankovic went of injured, Schalke enjoyed their best spell in the second half with Jurado and Farfan becoming increasingly pivotal figures.

    Also, I always felt that Schalke had a chance, although i kept such comments to myself for fear of looking like a fool 🙂 Inter’s defence is absolutely shambolic, and the match against Bayern showcased that.

  15. Nobody expected this result, I was surprised when I woke up this morning and checked the sport newspaper.

    The Eurofighters are back!

  16. Thank you for reading Anne, really appreciated.

    I have to say that I was a naysayer as well, I never expected this result, or performance for that matter, either.

    I think Holtby will have a good mentor in Rangnick, that’s if gets the support and time. At Schalke that is always an open ended affair.

  17. Great review Cristian! I didn’t actually get to see most of the match, since I was in class, so I really enjoyed your analysis. What an incredible result for Schalke, and for the Bundesliga. I feel ashamed for doubting Schalke (though I know I was in good company) and am happy to eat my words. I am also feeling much more at peace with my favorite player departing my club for Schalke next year. I hope Rangnick continues to do good things with the club through the summer. And who knows how far they will get in the CL…

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