This is the first of what I plan to be a (hopefully rare) recurring type of article for analyzing (“breaking down”) some of Internazionale’s most significant Defensive Breakdowns. Specifically, the purpose is to diagnose exactly what went wrong in the build-up to conceding important goals in big matches.
In particular, these “Defensive Breakdown” articles are intended to identify precisely which of our players were at fault, and to assign a percentage for how much of the blame each responsible defender deserves, by going back at least one day after the match to scrutinize the video evidence as objectively as possible.
This first installment is especially motivated by the fact that many Inter supporters primarily blamed our newly converted LWB starter, Ivan Perisic, as well as our aging goalkeeper, captain Samir Handanovic, for conceding Sergej Milinkovic-Savic’s equalizer in our 1-1 draw against Lazio last match on October 4th. Watching the replay a couple of days after the match, however, led me to strongly disagree with that assessment of who was at fault.
Match Highlights Video
Here are the match highlights from Serie A’s official YouTube channel, embedded with the link set to start playing at 1:47 in the video — the beginning of the build-up play to Milinkovic-Savic’s goal.
Examples of the Criticism
This widespread criticism initially came to my attention when a few of my fellow regular S.o.M. commenters at first blamed Perisic and/or Handanovic for conceding this goal, which was a perfectly understandable initial reaction...and they were far from the only ones. For example, Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera’s recap for this match heavily blamed Perisic, calling his performance a “disaster” and assigning a rating of just 4.5/10 for the newly converted LWB.
SempreInter’s player ratings for the match gave a 5.5 to both Handanovic and Perisic, criticizing our captain for being “beaten at his near post yet again,” and saying that the Croatian “struggled to defend” in a new role “that doesn’t come naturally to him.” By comparison, they gave Bastoni a 6.5 rating and complimented how his “positioning solves problems before they appear” — an assessment which will seem laughable by the end of this article, at least as it pertains to the young defender’s positioning in the build-up to this S.M.S. goal specifically.
To their credit, 90min’s player ratings gave Perisic a 6 because of his move that led to Lautaro’s opening goal. However, they incorrectly criticized how Perisic “did lose Milinkovic-Savic at the back post, allowing him to equalise” even though that’s actually the exact opposite of what happened with our defense in that scoring sequence.
Misleadingly Narrow View of ONLY the Header itself
Although I disagree with these criticisms with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, I can definitely understand why people had those initial reactions in the heat of the moment — if you look past the build-up play and only focus on the headed shot itself, then it seems pretty reasonable to think that Perisic could have done better in the aerial challenge, and that Handanovic could have covered his near post better.
Full Context — Judging the BUILD-UP to the Goal
When you rewatch the video of this goal — I highly recommend taking advantage of how YouTube enables you to watch it at 0.75 or even half speed — it becomes apparent that Perisic NEVER should have even been put in the situation where he had to defend this S.M.S. header!
First, Gagliardini completely failed to track Milinkovic-Savic’s run from central midfield…so when the goal was scored, 6’2” (1.88 m) Gagliardini was left in no-man’s land, not guarding anybody.
Second, Bastoni was also ball-watching in no-man’s land, not responsible for covering anyone else in the box at that moment. The 6’3” (1.90 m) Italian CB clearly should have been the one to defend against 6’3” (1.91 m) S.M.S.’ run into the box in that situation.
Third, Perisic saw that neither Gagliardini nor Bastoni had picked up S.M.S.’ dangerous run. So Perisic was forced to leave Lazzari alone out wide, as our 6’1” (1.87 m) wingback came in to be the ONLY one directly challenging Lazio’s large midfielder for that header at the back post!
Conclusion from ALL of the Evidence
The real issue here was a lack of communication/chemistry — Perisic NEVER should have been the one responsible for covering SMS in the first place on that header.
Gagliardini and Bastoni have BOTH had a full year now of playing in Conte’s system. Both of them were playing more central positions that actually should have been responsible for covering S.M.S.’ run from midfield. Instead, both tall Italians failed to communicate properly about who should be defending against Milinkovic-Savic in that situation. Perisic, still adjusting to a very new role, had to make a split-second decision in the heat of the moment to try to cover for his two ball-watching teammates.
In my opinion, at the very most, Handanovic and Perisic combined only deserve 5% of the blame for that goal. 4% of the blame falls on Handanovic for failing to cover his near post perfectly, as S.M.S. was able to squeeze in the bouncing shot aimed at the bottom corner. As for the other 95% of the blame, I’d say it was 45% Gagliardini’s fault for losing his man and not communicating, and 50% Bastoni’s fault as the actual CB who should have been the proactive one about picking up SMS’ dangerous run to the back post!