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Defensive Breakdowns: Kolarov vs Milan, Vidal vs Gladbach

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Both new signings received heavy criticism for back-to-back “disasterclasses” amidst a Covid-induced depth crisis

FC Internazionale v ACF Fiorentina - Serie A
Aleksandar Kolarov metaphorically “passing the baton” of his defensive mistake-proneness to fellow new Inter signing Arturo Vidal
Photo by Claudio Villa - Inter via Getty Images

A month and a half ago on October 16th, I published a “Defensive Breakdown” article analyzing how we conceded Sergej Milinkovic-Savic’s header in our 1-1 draw against Lazio. It was the first in what would ideally be a relatively rare recurring series to diagnose specifically what went wrong when we allowed significant goals in big matches... I was hoping it would be longer before I had to write the second in this series, but alas, that was never likely given how our defense started out this season.

We ended up conceding four goals total in our two very next matches after that Lazio draw — the 2-1 loss on October 17th against AC Milan, and the 2-2 draw on October 21st against Borussia Monchengladbach. In addition to the chronological proximity of these four goals occurring in back-to-back matches, I was very intrigued to notice how much they had in common tactically — out of the two goals conceded in each match, the first was from a penalty, and the second from a counterattack. Furthermore, a new signing had been singled out for each result as the primary scapegoat by far, with Aleksandar Kolarov blamed for both of Milan’s goals, and Arturo Vidal blamed for both of Gladbach’s goals.

I actually meant to finish this article a few weeks ago, but I’ve been really busy, and it ended up taking almost 5400 words plus about 60 screenshots in order to break down all four of these goals properly — I hope that the level of detail makes up for the delay! For any readers who might not have time to read the whole thing, I also copied just the conclusion sections for all four goals into a “TLDR” section at the end.

Before diving into the analysis itself, I want to emphasize very strongly that defending is a TEAM effort. It’s usually pretty easy to identify the primary culprit in real time during the live stream, but it is extremely rare for a goal to be entirely one single individual’s fault.

The impulse to blame the most obvious scapegoat is understandable, especially in the heat of the moment during an important match. However, the purpose of this article series is to scrutinize the match replay/highlights in order to assign a more fair breakdown — with the benefits of hindsight and slow-motion replay — of exactly which players deserve specific percentages of the blame.

Aerial View Of Stadio San Siro, Milan
Aerial view of Stadio San Siro, home of both “Derby della Madonnina” rival clubs Internazionale and Milan
Photo by Blom UK via Getty Images

2-1 loss in Kolarov’s first Derby della Madonnina

FC Internazionale v AC Milan - Serie A
Zlatan Ibrahimovic of AC Milan is fouled by Aleksandar Kolarov of Internazionale in the penalty area for AC Milan to be awarded a first half penalty during the Derby della Madonnina — Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on October 17, 2020 in Milan, Italy
Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

Goal #1 — Penalty drawn by Ibrahimovic

Embedded official highlights video set to the relevant timestamp:

Calabria beats Perisic

Davide Calabria, the 23 year old Rossoneri RB, got past our LWB starter Ivan Perisic by cutting centrally into midfield territory.

Calabria pass between Brozovic and Vidal

Despite being outnumbered, Calabria managed to bypass our double pivot far too easily with a simple pass, placed perfectly through the narrow gap in between Marcelo Brozovic and Arturo Vidal.

Calhanoglu plays Ibra in with a quick final ball

The Rossoneri playmaker Hakan Calhanoglu wasted no time after receiving the pass — already aware of his superstar striker’s positioning, Milan’s #10 played in Zlatan Ibrahimovic behind our defense with just two quick touches, separated only by a brief pause to draw Stefan De Vrij in closer before then bypassing the defender with a clever through-ball into the acres of space opened up down the middle.

GRANDPA RACE!

34 year old (now 35 actually, as of November 10th) Aleksandar Kolarov successfully managed to catch up to 39 year old Ibrahimovic, despite letting the experienced goalscorer get the initial step inside on him.

Speaking of Kolarov running, I was very surprised to see in the statistics on Serie A’s official website that the now-35 year old has the 32nd highest average total in all of Serie A (out of all 487 players listed as of December 1st, 2020) for the distance covered metric “KM Run,” with a current average of 10.731 kilometers per match! This total also puts Kolarov in second place out of the entire Inter squad for this statistic (which is a relevant one to Conte), not very far at all behind 21 year old Alessandro Bastoni’s current 10.83 KM average.

KM Run Serie A Dec 1st 2020
KM Run statistic ranking for all players in the entire league, according to Serie A’s official website, as of December 1st, 2020

Zlatan’s Fake Shot

After getting back in front of Zlatan, Kolarov was in the proper position to block what looked like a certain shot attempt.

Zlatan’s Pull-Back from Fake Shot

Unfortunately, the experienced striker fooled Kolarov with a fake shot, drawing him into a diving challenge.

Kolarov Penalty Tackle

Kolarov’s challenge wasn’t horrible, as he did actually manage to touch the ball with his outstretched left foot. However, he also clipped the back of Zlatan’s right foot, and the 209 lb (95 kg) tank — whose career highlights are filled with examples of his extraordinary balance and coordination — was more than happy to go to ground in a successful attempt to draw a penalty.

Alternate Angle of Kolarov’s Challenge

Alternate Angle of Ibra’s Dive

This angle makes it very clear that Zlatan would have been fully capable of staying on his feet IF the tough veteran with a Black-Belt in Taekwondo had actually wanted to do so.

My Subjective Conclusion about Milan Goal #1

  • Kolarov — 40% of the blame, despite somewhat understandably falling for Ibrahimovic’s convincing fake shot, and despite Zlatan’s clear willingness to go down easily for the penalty. Even though it appears that Kolarov actually did make contact with the ball, it’s also undeniable that he also lightly clipped Ibra’s heel, and unfortunately that was just barely enough contact to draw the penalty call
  • De Vrij — 35% of the blame, for how easily Calhanoglu was able to slip that final ball past him, completely removing our only natural CB in that Back Three from the equation. D’Ambrosio was occupied by correctly focusing on Rafael Leão out wide, so De Vrij should have known better than to leave Kolarov (still adjusting to his new CB role) stuck one-on-one against arguably the greatest striker of the last two decades. Calhanoglu was way too far away from our goal to actually be a shooting threat, so there was no excuse at all for De Vrij to rush into closing down on him... especially considering how leaving Kolarov to fend for himself against Ibra was guaranteed to be a more dangerous alternative
  • Vidal — 15% of the blame, for not quite cutting off Calabria’s passing angle to Calhanoglu. At first glance, this was the mistake that I didn’t notice initially since Vidal never got involved in a direct challenge. However, he was only about a step or two away from an easy interception, and a world class veteran like Vidal really should have known better than to leave that gap open for the play to bypass him
  • Brozovic — 9% of the blame, for waiting too long to step up and help Perisic in a pressing “trap” that almost certainly could have won the ball if it had been timed more proactively
  • Perisic — 1% of the blame, for getting beaten a little bit too easily by Calabria at the other end to start the build-up sequence. To be fair though, it was still pretty high up the pitch, and Calabria’s decision to cut in towards the center likely led Perisic to assume that our midfielders would have the situation covered

Goal #2 — Ibrahimovic finishes a counterattack

Embedded official highlights video set to the relevant timestamp:

Calabria to Saelemaekers

Once again, Milan’s goal started with Calabria (who is underrated by the way, as one of the best Right-Backs in the league in my opinion) initiating their build-up play, this time starting from deep in their defensive third.

Saelemakers to Calhanoglu

The young Belgian winger Alexis Saelemakers bypassed Brozovic with just a single touch and elegant turn, then dribbled through open space to advance the ball before laying it off to Calhanoglu, whom Vidal had left wide open in central midfield.

Calhanoglu to Leão

Milan’s #10 hit the pass first-time — which, despite being in no rush with acres of space around him, proved to be an intelligent decision — quickly progressing the ball to Leão on the wing, where he would be one-on-one against D’Ambrosio, our starting RCB in this match.

Leão beats D’Ambrosio

Milan’s pacy young LW didn’t completely get past D’Ambrosio, at least not in terms of moving centrally. However, Leão did find it far too easy to advance the ball deep into our final third, faking a cut in centrally before bypassing our versatile converted fullback out wide.

Leão’s dangerous cross

After freeing up space away from D’Ambrosio, Leão dribbled in towards our goal, thus forcing De Vrij away from the center of the box in order to close down the Milan LW’s possible shooting angle. Then, intelligently timed just before our Middle CB could reach him, the Portuguese 21 year old put in a dangerous cross with impressive accuracy despite hitting it with his weaker left foot.

Ibrahimovic WIDE OPEN at the Back Post

Out of all the players in the world, Zlatan f***ing Ibrahimovic is among the very LAST that a defender should be willing to leave wide open in a dangerous position. There’s no sugarcoating it here — Kolarov definitely messed up.

That being said, the benefit of hindsight and slow-motion replay reveals that Kolarov actually did have a legitimate excuse — one which does not fully justify leaving Zlatan so wide open, but which nonetheless makes Kolarov’s otherwise-horrendous positioning mistake at least somewhat understandable.

Go back and look at the first picture under “Leão’s dangerous cross” — specifically, if you check where Kolarov was actually looking at that moment, it becomes clear that our newly converted LCB had noticed that Calhanoglu was at least a step ahead of Vidal while making a dangerous run towards the middle of our box. Therefore, concern about leaving Milan’s #10 wide open from the most dangerous possible shooting angle was probably the main reason why our newly converted LCB ended up leaving Ibrahimovic so embarrassingly wide open at the back post.

Ibrahimovic was left wide open at the back post for his second goal in the Oct. 17th, 2020 Derby della Madonnina, but replay reveals that this was probably because Kolarov actually had been distracted by Calhanoglu’s dangerous run past Vidal, which would have resulted in Milan’s #10 being wide open in the middle of Inter’s box

However, Kolarov still should have realized that his priority was to cover the actual striker, who happens to be one of the most dangerous in the world at that position. At the very least, Kolarov should have fully committed one way or the other — instead he was caught in no-man’s land between Ibrahimovic and Calhanoglu, leaving both attackers open as a result.

Easy Finish for Zlatan’s Second Goal

The 39 year old superstar made it look like an easy tap-in as he hit the cross first-time, smashing it past the diving Handanovic.

My Subjective Conclusion about Milan Goal #2

  • Kolarov — 45% of the blame, for leaving one of the world’s most dangerous strikers wide open at the back post
  • Vidal — 40% of the blame, for completely failing to cover Calhanoglu in TWO different situations. The chance might have been prevented in the first place if Vidal hadn’t left Milan’s #10 wide open to get the ball to Leão in the build-up play. More subtly but also far more importantly, however, Vidal absolutely should NOT have allowed Calhanoglu to then race past him to make a dangerous run down the middle of our box!
  • D’Ambrosio — 7.5% of the blame, for getting beaten too easily by Leão
  • Brozovic — 7.5% of the blame, for getting bypassed too easily by Saelemaekers at the beginning of the build-up play, and then for failing to communicate with Kolarov about how open Zlatan was at the back post
FC Internazionale v FC Barcelona: Group F - UEFA Champions League Photo by Danilo Di Giovanni/NurPhoto via Getty Images

2-2 draw in Vidal’s first Champions League match for Inter

FC Internazionale v Borussia Moenchengladbach: Group B - UEFA Champions League
Referee Bjoern Kuipers gives a penalty for Borussia Moenchengladbach after checking the replay as recommended by the Video Assistant Referee during the Group B - UEFA Champions League match between FC Internazionale and Borussia Moenchengladbach — Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on October 21, 2020 in Milan, Italy
Photo by Christian Verheyen/Borussia Moenchengladbach via Getty Images

Goal #1 — Penalty drawn by Thuram

Embedded official highlights video set to the relevant timestamp:

De Vrij’s Horrendous Turnover

First of all, it has to be mentioned that the penalty foul situation should NOT have happened in the first place. Right after we had just won the ball back, Vidal was wide open to build up through the middle, but De Vrij BADLY missed his pass for an embarrassingly easy interception.

As shown in the three-image slideshow directly below, the Dutch CB — who is widely praised for his usually excellent skill on the ball — should have played a soft pass to the left side of Vidal from De Vrij’s perspective, safely away from the onrushing press... instead it went about a yard to Vidal’s right and was significantly overpowered, going straight to a deeper Gladbach midfielder who probably couldn’t believe his luck.

Gladbach’s quick “build-up” play

All it took was just two quick passes for the visitors to get the ball to their #10 star LW Marcus Thuram just inside the left edge of our box.

(Quick side note: this ends up being irrelevant to the penalty foul, but after criticizing Kolarov, it’s only fair to point out that his positioning was basically perfect throughout this sequence)

Thuram’s fake cut-back

Credit where it’s due, Thuram is a talented player and did an excellent job selling his fake cut-back, which is a subtle-but-deadly move that has famously fooled some of the best defenders in the world!

(Yes I’m referring to the iconic goal during the 2015 Champions League Semi-Final in which Lionel Messi “murdered” Jerome Boateng — regardless of the German CB’s revenge en route to winning a treble last season, I “8-2” break it to Bayern supporters, but that goal will NEVER get old)

Vidal’s sloppy, rash challenge

For such a notable hothead, it is worth mentioning that instead of wasting even a moment expressing frustration about De Vrij’s dumb turnover, Vidal made a commendable effort to get back defensively right away without complaint... however, “King Arturo” completely fell for Thuram’s cut-back, and that’s not even much of an excuse — if Gladbach’s #10 had continued his initial feint, the way that Vidal dove in like that inside our box probably still would have risked a penalty. D’Ambrosio did well to anticipate Thuram’s change of direction, but Vidal’s momentum carried him feet-first toward the tricky winger.

Even more frustratingly, it wasn’t the initial rash challenge that made the penalty foul contact — it was Vidal’s off-balance attempt to make a wild recovery tackle, which was as unnecessary as it was sloppy, since D’Ambrosio appeared to have the situation covered properly.

To be fair, Thuram definitely went down too easily, which was almost certainly intentional since his team had failed to generate even a single real scoring chance after almost a full hour of play by that point. Regardless, a veteran star like Vidal should clearly know much better than to leave his foot stuck in so wildly like that in the box.

My Subjective Conclusion about Gladbach Goal #1

  • Vidal — 55% of the blame, for an undeniably rash AND actually unnecessary initial challenge... immediately followed by an even sloppier attempt to make an even more reckless recovery tackle while stumbling from the momentum of his initial bad decision. To be fair though, Thuram almost certainly made a conscious choice to make Vidal pay for that mistake, by leaving his trailing foot back and then going down too easily to “earn” a penalty for Gladbach’s first realistic scoring chance of the match
  • De Vrij — 40% of the blame, for an absolutely horrendous turnover that directly caused the dangerous situation in the first place. To quote Jürgen Klopp, “no playmaker in the world can be as good as a good gegenpressing situation.” Using that analogy, if counter-pressing is the equivalent of Messi (or Eriksen), then De Vrij was the deep-lying playmaker equivalent of Pirlo in this situation... except in this case his pre-assist was for the other team. 40% might seem harsh, but the fact that De Vrij had such an obviously easier alternative for the placement and weight of his pass to Vidal means that the 28 year old ball-playing CB fully deserves such a high percentage of the blame for the ensuing penalty sequence
  • D’Ambrosio and Barella — 2.5% of the blame each, for not communicating to Vidal to slide back towards the near post to help cover behind D’Ambrosio — this should have been conveyed before Vidal had even started moving into his initial rash challenge
Klopp quote explaining how gegenpressing is the world’s best “number 10” playmaker because it “lets you win back the ball nearer to the goal. It’s only one pass away from a really good opportunity.”
Original Photo by Alexander Hassenstein - UEFA via Getty Images

Goal #2 — Hofmann finishes a counterattack

Embedded official highlights video set to the relevant timestamp:

Bastoni’s turnover in Gladbach’s half

Bastoni’s attacking impetus in possession is generally admirable, but in this specific case, the 21 year old’s decision to make a headed pass attempt from all the way up in Gladbach’s half was far too risky from an out-of-position CB while tied 1-1 late in an important match. Worse yet, the headed pass was recklessly aimed for Lautaro between two defenders (Stefan Lainer at RB and Cristoph Kramer at RDM)... even though Kolarov out wide to the left was a significantly safer passing target in this situation, with the “worst case” outcome there being the ball going out for a throw-in, which would at least give Bastoni time to get back in position. The talented defender’s youthful inexperience led to a clear mistake here, and Gladbach happily took full advantage.

Huge gap between Midfield “Five” and Back Three

In the recap for this Gladbach match, David astutely pointed out a recurring problem — there was a huge gap between our midfield and defense in both the build-up before Milan’s counterattacking second goal and before Gladbach’s counterattacking second goal, as shown in the following images.

Lainer’s volleyed interception found Thuram open just inside the halfway line. D’Ambrosio charged far ahead of the defensive line in order to follow Gladbach’s #10, with Brozovic and Barella joining in an attempt to surround him. However, Thuram managed to find space between the oncoming midfielders for a pass back to his own midfield teammate Florian Neuhaus, whose subsequent long pass directly led to the goal while all three of Brozovic, Barella, and D’Ambrosio were caught much too far away to help defend against the counterattack.

Vidal stuck against Gladbach RW’s nearly offside run

Several of our players deserve blame for the gap between midfield and defense in this situation, but Vidal is NOT one of them. Bastoni, as already mentioned, was caught too far up the pitch for the turnover that launched this counterattack. Kolarov had switched to LWB when Bastoni was subbed on, but the veteran wasted a moment expressing frustration about the turnover before even attempting to get back, and he was probably too far up the pitch to help regardless. As a result, Vidal took responsibility for covering the vacated LCB position, as the only option left to defend that flank against Gladbach’s RW.

Possible offside, or extraordinarily perfect timing of the run?

I don’t want to dwell on this point too much, because even without it, our careless defensive positioning on this goal was asking for trouble. That being said, it looked like the ball from Neuhaus (LDM) that played Jonas Hofmann (RW) in for an easy one-on-one with Handanovic might have been deflected along the way by a slight touch from his teammate Alassane Pléa — and if that actually was a touch, it occurred at almost the exact same moment that Hofmann ran past our high defensive line, therefore making the goal potentially offside.

After his dumb turnover started this counterattacking sequence, Bastoni actually had a chance to redeem himself at this point, as Neuhaus’ pass was still moving through midfield. However, Bastoni failed to reach Pléa in time to disrupt what ended up being the assist for Hofmann’s goal.

Very close call if this was actually a slight touch as the ball passed by Pléa

To me, it definitely appears that Pléa got a touch there, and watching the video replay in slow-motion seems to confirm that the ball was deflected in a slightly different direction after passing him... so the question of a possible offside is absolutely legitimate to ask, to a far greater extent than the CBS commentator made it seem in the heat of the moment.

Whether or not that actually was offside though, it still is NOT a valid excuse for us to blame VAR given how the rules are currently defined, because this certainly doesn’t prove to be “a clear and obvious error” — at least, not from this angle shown on the televised broadcast.

That being said, this situation really does seem to have been just about as close to offside as it possibly gets... which actually makes the ensuing result even more frustrating now than it was at the time. In the month and a half since this very close call, Gladbach managed to build on the momentum of holding us to a draw by thrashing Shakhtar Donetsk twice to go top of our group; meanwhile, our own hopes of advancement ended up on life support, after we followed up dropping points against Gladbach by losing both of our matches against Real Madrid. This really was a “game of inches” type of situation, showing just how tiny the margins can be sometimes between significantly different outcomes — who knows how different the group standings might be now if this goal had been disallowed?

RW exploited a pace mismatch to leave Vidal in the dust

Regardless of whether or not the timing of the run made it offside, it was asking for trouble to leave a 33 year old midfielder alone against a 28 year old winger. Hofmann would most likely have the pace advantage over Vidal even if they had both started from a completely standstill at the exact same time. The fact that the aging midfielder was trying to hold the high defensive line for a possible offside trap while Hofmann was building up momentum meant that Vidal had absolutely no chance at all of catching up to the winger if he had timed it correctly to stay onside.

Easy finish one-on-one with Handanovic

Our captain received some criticism for this goal, but I think that is extremely unfair, since he was put in an impossible situation. The pictures below show that Hofmann had multiple options for the finish — a chip directly over Handanovic’s head, a curler to either top corner, a simple pass directly to the bottom far post corner, or even a Ronaldo “Fenomeno” Nazario-style dribble to round the keeper before walking the ball into the net. The fact that Hofmann chose to go for the nutmeg added insult to injury, but realistically, it would be unfair to expect any goalkeeper in the world to bail out his defense after they had left an opposing attacker with so much time and space to take his pick for the easy finish.

My Subjective Conclusion about Gladbach Goal #2

  • Bastoni — 50% of the blame, for getting caught out in Gladbach’s half after being intercepted on a pointlessly risky headed pass, which the 21 year old should have known not to attempt while tied 1-1 late in a big match. Even after that dumb turnover, Bastoni actually had a chance to redeem himself as Neuhaus’ pass was still moving through midfield. However, Bastoni failed to reach Pléa in time to disrupt what ended up being the assist for Hofmann’s goal
  • De Vrij — 20% of the blame, for failing to anticipate that Vidal would need help against Gladbach’s winger. Bastoni again deserves some blame here, as De Vrij was distracted by the possible threat from Pléa in the middle. That being said, De Vrij should’ve recognized that Hofmann was the bigger threat here and positioned himself slightly closer to Vidal. As a result of staying more central instead, the experienced Dutch CB was unable to cover the angle and get back quite in time to prevent Hofmann’s ridiculously easy one-on-one chance against poor Handanovic (who deserves NONE of the blame)
  • D’Ambrosio — 10% of the blame, for being caught way out of position in midfield like Bastoni, but without being guilty of the careless turnover. The main reason why this percentage isn’t higher is because D’Ambrosio at RCB was on the opposite side from Vidal covering at LCB, so even positioned properly within the Back Three, D’Ambrosio still probably would have been too far away to help against Hofmann anyway
  • Brozovic — 10% of the blame, for being caught too high up the pitch, even though it’s obvious that our Back Three is far too slow to play such a suicidally high line with no help from the midfield (again, except for Vidal, who was at least attempting to cover for Bastoni and Kolarov)
  • Vidal — 10% of the blame, primarily because he is simply too slow to be covering a quality top flight winger by himself, and failed to account for that fact — the 33 year old should’ve called De Vrij closer for help against such a mismatch, or else he should’ve been more careful about timing the offside trap perfectly... however, the fact that Vidal was the ONLY midfielder back at all somewhat redeems his performance in this sequence, even though that commendable effort is ironically also the main reason why Conte’s new signing was initially scapegoated (just like Perisic against Lazio on the S.M.S. header)
FC Internazionale v Borussia Moenchengladbach: Group B - UEFA Champions League
Internazionale manager Antonio Conte pointing out instructions during the Group B - UEFA Champions League match against Borussia Moenchengladbach at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on October 21, 2020 in Milan, Italy
Photo by Christian Verheyen/Borussia Moenchengladbach via Getty Images

TLDR copy of assigned blame percentages:

“Too Long, Didn’t Read” acronym image — External source: https://www.theconfidentteacher.com/2017/01/tldr/

Loss against Milan:

Goal #1 — penalty drawn by Ibrahimovic:

  • Kolarov — 40% of the blame, despite somewhat understandably falling for Ibrahimovic’s convincing fake shot, and despite Zlatan’s clear willingness to go down easily for the penalty. Even though it appears that Kolarov actually did make contact with the ball, it’s also undeniable that he also lightly clipped Ibra’s heel, and unfortunately that was just barely enough contact to draw the penalty call
  • De Vrij — 35% of the blame, for how easily Calhanoglu was able to slip that final ball past him, completely removing our only natural CB in that Back Three from the equation. D’Ambrosio was occupied by correctly focusing on Rafael Leão out wide, so De Vrij should have known better than to leave Kolarov (still adjusting to his new CB role) stuck one-on-one against arguably the greatest striker of the last two decades. Calhanoglu was way too far away from our goal to actually be a shooting threat, so there was no excuse at all for De Vrij to rush into closing down on him... especially considering how leaving Kolarov to fend for himself against Ibra was guaranteed to be a more dangerous alternative
  • Vidal — 15% of the blame, for not quite cutting off Calabria’s passing angle to Calhanoglu. At first glance, this was the mistake that I didn’t notice initially since Vidal never got involved in a direct challenge. However, he was only about a step or two away from an easy interception, and a world class veteran like Vidal really should have known better than to leave that gap open for the play to bypass him
  • Brozovic — 9% of the blame, for waiting too long to step up and help Perisic in a pressing “trap” that almost certainly could have won the ball if it had been timed more proactively
  • Perisic — 1% of the blame, for getting beaten a little bit too easily by Calabria at the other end to start the build-up sequence. To be fair though, it was still pretty high up the pitch, and Calabria’s decision to cut in towards the center likely led Perisic to assume that our midfielders would have the situation covered
An extraordinary display of balance and coordination from the same player who fell over after Kolarov lightly clipped his heel, with the minor contact “earning” a penalty as a result

Goal #2 — Ibrahimovic finishes a counterattack:

  • Kolarov — 45% of the blame, for leaving one of the world’s most dangerous strikers wide open at the back post
  • Vidal — 40% of the blame, for completely failing to cover Calhanoglu in TWO different situations. The chance might have been prevented in the first place if Vidal hadn’t left Milan’s #10 wide open to get the ball to Leão in the build-up play. More subtly but also far more importantly, however, Vidal absolutely should NOT have allowed Calhanoglu to then race past him to make a dangerous run down the middle of our box!
  • D’Ambrosio — 7.5% of the blame, for getting beaten too easily by Leão
  • Brozovic — 7.5% of the blame, for getting bypassed too easily by Saelemaekers at the beginning of the build-up play, and then for failing to communicate with Kolarov about how open Zlatan was at the back post
This picture is worth re-posting here in the “TLDR” section because it shows what is probably the single most surprising and illuminating discovery from this entire process of going back to scrutinize these four goals — there was actually a legitimate reason, which does not fully justify, but at least partially explains why Kolarov ended up leaving Ibrahimovic so wide open at the back post to score his second goal in our 2-1 Derby della Madonnina loss

Draw against Borussia Mönchengladbach:

Goal #1 — penalty drawn by Thuram:

  • Vidal — 55% of the blame, for an undeniably rash AND actually unnecessary initial challenge... immediately followed by an even sloppier attempt to make an even more reckless recovery tackle while stumbling from the momentum of his initial bad decision. To be fair though, Thuram almost certainly made a conscious choice to make Vidal pay for that mistake, by leaving his trailing foot back and then going down too easily to “earn” a penalty for Gladbach’s first realistic scoring chance of the match
  • De Vrij — 40% of the blame, for an absolutely horrendous turnover that directly caused the dangerous situation in the first place. To quote Jürgen Klopp, “no playmaker in the world can be as good as a good gegenpressing situation.” Using that analogy, if counter-pressing is the equivalent of Messi (or Eriksen), then De Vrij was the deep-lying playmaker equivalent of Pirlo in this situation... except in this case his pre-assist was for the other team. 40% might seem harsh, but the fact that De Vrij had such an obviously easier alternative for the placement and weight of his pass to Vidal means that the 28 year old ball-playing CB fully deserves such a high percentage of the blame for the ensuing penalty sequence
  • D’Ambrosio and Barella — 2.5% of the blame each, for not communicating to Vidal to slide back towards the near post to help cover behind D’Ambrosio — this should have been conveyed before Vidal had even started moving into his initial rash challenge
FC Internazionale v ACF Fiorentina - Serie A
Unlike this picture from the Fiorentina win, Arturo Vidal, Danilo D’Ambrosio, and Alessandro Bastoni did not have much to celebrate after the 2-2 draw against Borussia Monchengladbach, since all three of them deserved significant portions of the blame for conceding both goals — particularly the second goal, in D’Ambrosio and especially Bastoni’s case
Photo by Claudio Villa - Inter via Getty Images

Goal #2 — Hofmann finishes a counterattack:

  • Bastoni — 50% of the blame, for getting caught out in Gladbach’s half after being intercepted on a pointlessly risky headed pass, which the 21 year old should have known not to attempt while tied 1-1 late in a big match. Even after that dumb turnover, Bastoni actually had a chance to redeem himself as Neuhaus’ pass was still moving through midfield. However, Bastoni failed to reach Pléa in time to disrupt what ended up being the assist for Hofmann’s goal
  • De Vrij — 20% of the blame, for failing to anticipate that Vidal would need help against Gladbach’s winger. Bastoni again deserves some blame here, as De Vrij was distracted by the possible threat from Pléa in the middle. That being said, De Vrij should’ve recognized that Hofmann was the bigger threat here and positioned himself slightly closer to Vidal. As a result of staying more central instead, the experienced Dutch CB was unable to cover the angle and get back quite in time to prevent Hofmann’s ridiculously easy one-on-one chance against poor Handanovic (who deserves NONE of the blame)
  • D’Ambrosio — 10% of the blame, for being caught way out of position in midfield like Bastoni, but without being guilty of the careless turnover. The main reason why this percentage isn’t higher is because D’Ambrosio at RCB was on the opposite side from Vidal covering at LCB, so even positioned properly within the Back Three, D’Ambrosio still probably would have been too far away to help against Hofmann anyway
  • Brozovic — 10% of the blame, for being caught too high up the pitch, even though it’s obvious that our Back Three is far too slow to play such a suicidally high line with no help from the midfield (again, except for Vidal, who was at least attempting to cover for Bastoni and Kolarov)
  • Vidal — 10% of the blame, primarily because he is simply too slow to be covering a quality top flight winger by himself, and failed to account for that fact — the 33 year old should’ve called De Vrij closer for help against such a mismatch, or else he should’ve been more careful about timing the offside trap perfectly... however, the fact that Vidal was the ONLY midfielder back at all somewhat redeems his performance in this sequence, even though that commendable effort is ironically also the main reason why Conte’s new signing was initially scapegoated (just like Perisic against Lazio on the S.M.S. header)
It’s easy for viewers to point fingers at scapegoats from their armchairs... but instead of just a single individual, Inter’s entire TEAM clearly needs more pointers from Conte about defensive positioning
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