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Match Report: Wolfsburg 3-1 Inter Milan: Defense ruins the team (again)

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A defensive horror show gifts Wolfsburg 3 goals and leave Inter needing a much improved performance next week to attempt to go through to the next round.

Martin Rose/Getty Images

The 2-2 draw against Napoli at the weekend showed the best and worst of Mancini's Inter. On one hand there was the sloppy, disjointed Inter that gave away chances like candy and handed Napoli a 2-0 lead. On the other hand there was the tenacious Inter that pushed back and clawed their way to a 2-2 draw. So when (arguably) the most inconsistent team in Europe lined up against Wolfsburg today, nobody knew which version of the Nerazzurri would show up.

In terms of the lineup there weren't too many surprises. Mancini went with his usual pick of playing Carrizo over Handanovic (oh don't worry we'll get to that one). Other than that, the only real difference from previous EL games is that Hernanes started in midfield.

(So in this review I'm going to spend less time on what actually happened and more on why things turned on the way they did-in my opinion. If you disagree with my breakdown feel free to comment about it.)

Recap

Inter started the match pressing very well and it payed off early. D'Ambrosio forced a bad pass that fell kindly for Icardi. He hit a no-look first time pass for Palacio who slotted the ball past the Wolfsburg goalkeeper to put Inter up after just 5 minutes.

Wolfsburg began to grow in possession and confidence and by the 28th minute leveled the score. A corner found an unmarked Naldo who headed straight at Carrizo but had too much power for him to force away, only pushing it to the roof of the net on the way in. The rest of the half Wolfsburg pushed for the go-ahead goal but was unable to score, while Inter had a few chances on the counter.

The second half began with Inter being presented with the chance to take the lead again. Santon found Palacio with only the goalkeeper to beat and all the time in the world. Unfortunately it gave him too much time to think and instead of curling the ball past the keeper, he tried to power it into the near post top corner and ended up hitting the side netting instead.

Mancini then opted to bring on Vidic in place of Hernanes, switching to a back 3 to help relieve pressure from Wolfsburg's constant attacks in the second half. Unfortunately though things only got worse in the 63rd minute. Carrizo played a short pass that went to Vieirinha who crossed for De Bruyne to lash home.

Nine minutes later the Germans scored again. Vidic was booked for a rash challenge about 20 yards out. Then De Bruyne curled in the resulting free kick that left Carrizo no chance (though he had been moving in the wrong direction and dived late).

From there the game was effectively over. Mancini sent on Kuzmanovic and Kovacic for Santon and Shaqiri but Inter were unable to get another vital away goal. In fact, Wolfsburg were the closest to scoring again with De Bruyne flashing a shot wide in his bid for a hat trick on the night.

Breakdown (aka why the second half was such a mess)

  • Vidic for Hernanes substitution: We'll start here because all 3 of these factors play off each other (at least in my mind). When asked why this substitution happened Mancini said that it was to help cope with Wolfsburg's attacks and also to mitigate their threat down the wings. While on this logic alone the switch makes sense, there was another side effect to this change. Guarin had not been having a very influential match in midfield and Shaqiri was drifting to the right side a lot so once Hernanes was removed, there really was no midfielder that could play the ball up the pitch. This lead to the responsibility of holding possession to the defense...
  • Defensive tactics: It looked as though the strategy in the second half was one looking to play the ball out of the back. The problem with this was that our centerbacks are not exactly the most confident players on the ball. As a result, Wolfsburg were able to press the defenders a lot more effectively, forcing a number of pass-backs to Carrizo with him being forced to either play the ball to another defender or blast it forward. And about 9 out of 10 times he opted to play the ball to another defender, continuing this back and forth between the defenders and the goalie, with the occasional pump forward for the attackers before the ball was lost and Wolfsburg would attack. All this system needed to collapse was for one person at the back to make a mistake, and boy did that happen...
  • Carrizo: (So at this point i'm starting to think that there is a Ranocchia-centered curse on this team. Against Napoli he played well and JJ had a bad game. Today Rano was decent and Carrizo decided to fail at his job. I feel like Ranocchia should just start playing badly again so we don't have to worry about whose turn it is to suck.) But honestly, Carrizo had an absolutely shitty game. There's really no other way to put it, he was just awful. He was directly responsible for the 2nd goal, liable for the 1st, and over-committed to the wrong side for the 3rd. I understand that it is a thing at a lot of clubs to play your second goalkeeper in cup competitions to give them a run out/keep they happy and motivated, but if Mancini is/was prioritizing the EL (which it looked like he was doing but you never really know with him) then for a match like this, Handanovic needed to start. Now, I'm not saying that Handa would've saved all 3 of those goals (cause he hasn't exactly been playing perfectly this season and you never know what would actually happen in a game) but it is hard to make the argument that he would have made all of those errors. Or even two of them. Possibly even one. Either way it would have been better to have him out there even if he had made those mistakes because that way we would not have been wondering with every goal "If Handanovic had been playing would that have happened?"
Essentially all this boils down to the fact that Mancini got things wrong today. From the substitutions to the tactics to the lineup, there were errors in all of them. The claim has been made against Mancini numerous times that he is not a good coach in European competitions and he did not do himself any favors today. The better coached team won, it's as simple as that. So now all we can do is hope that Mancini can realize his mistakes, change things for next week and hope the players can do enough to overturn this deficit.