Inter ended the game with less than 40% possession and scored 5 goals. Conte’s team usually dominates possession in Serie A, but over the past two games, we’ve seen how pragmatic he can be. Against Leverkusen’s Bosz ball, and Shakhtar Donetsk today, we didn’t have much off the ball, but we did a lot with what we had.
Conte is criticised (wink wink Bielsa) for building a rigid system with only certain types of players. He does always build 3-5-2s, he usually likes having a target man and a faster aggressive striker. But the reality is that his teams are as pragmatic or flexible as teams get. They are capable of building out from the back, and regularly do that, even against teams like Leverkusen who have a strong pressing system. They are comfortable with and without the ball. Their transition from offence to defence is fast and efficient.
Going into this match, we knew Shakhtar would have the lion’s share of possession. We knew that their biggest threats were Taison catching Godin out for pace or Marlos finding space behind Ashley Young. Despite having two thirds of the possession, they were extremely static and failed to create good chances bar the sitter Moraes missed. This was due to Inter being extremely aggressive defensively. Godin and Bastoni stepped up high, often times in the opposition half, to catch Shakhtar by surprise. I lost count of the number of times Gagliardini would aggressively push their players and not let them get to the ball. 21 fouls were committed by Inter and not a single yellow card. This is something to be wary off, as referees may have a tendency to hand out more yellows at finals.
With Danilo D’Ambrosio having to spend a bit more time in deeper positions, we needed someone to take advantage of the right side of the pitch during transitions. We needed that one goal to open the floodgates. And in the 19th minute, Barella got us that. His motor and decision making led to the first goal.
Lautaro was undoubtedly the man of the match and he seems to be ending his bad streak just at the right time. Lukaku’s two goals in the previous ties were all about creating space using his strength. Today’s two goals were more about getting into the right positions and his burst of acceleration. D’Ambrosio continues to come up big in these games.
With this win, we’re finally back in the big stage. This is Inter’s first major final in 9 years and the first European final since that night in Madrid 10 years ago. Lopetegui is a manager who talks about the need for pragmatism in football and why it’s not always necessary to dominate possession. But, we already know this next game is going to be tough, Sevilla will have a lot of possession, they are serial winners of this competition. Winning against them will be a major boost to the morale’s of Inter’s players. it could be the start of something special.
At the start of the 2009 season, Inter brought in Sneijder(25), Motta(25) along with Eto’o, Lucio and Milito, all players who would be crucial in winning us the treble. However, we all knew then that this was an extremely ageing squad. Hernan Crespo and Luis Figo had just retired, but players like Materazzi and Vieira were still in the squad. Even the players brought in were rather old. This season would probably be one last hurrah, before we would enter the rebuilding project. Mourinho understandably left after we did the treble.
After winning the treble, and five league titles in a row, you would expect the club to have enough in the bank to smoothly transition, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case.The Calciopoli scandal in the mid 2000s was followed by the Italian financial crisis. Most Italian clubs were in economic shambles and letting their best players go. AC Milan let Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimović move to PSG, the season before, they had led Pirlo walk for free.
It’s well documented that Inter under Massimo Moratti had extremely poor finances, making a loss of close to 750 million euros during this 5 year stretch. The poor finances meant no big transfers and no new contracts and this soon caught up to Inter. Leonardo followed the next season to PSG. When it comes to players, Balotelli, arguably the only promising young player in the squad had already left for City to play under Mancini. Milito and Sneijder spent much of the 12/13 season injured. The appointment of Stramaccioni didn’t help. After winning the Coppa Italia in 2010/11 mostly on the back of Samuel Eto’o, we finished 6th the next season followed by a devastating 9th place in the league. With no European football, the financial situation got worse. Motta left, Sneijder left, Eto’o left. There was a time when our best player was Nagatomo. The Thohir group weren’t any great either (sure, they’re the reason we have so many Indonesian Inter fans), they weren’t patient with Mazzari or Mancini and they didn’t manage the finances well either.
Eventually, UEFA and FFP came knocking and that was the final nail in the coffin, which led to those dark years. Juventus on the other hand had Agnelli and Beppe in charge. They appointed Nedved, a club legend to the board and they gave Conte charge of the team. This promising project led to one title, two titles, three titles and that has snowballed into the run that has continued until today. They even got Cristiano Ronaldo to join them.
Except Inter now are eerily similar to Juventus then. We have a young team with world-class players in every position except left-back. We have Conte, Beppe, Zanetti instead of Pavel and Suning instead of Agnelli. The financial issues are history. We have served our time with FFP. And we have the chance to make history against Sevilla. Even if we fall short to the team that is considered a serial winner of this competition, it’s a fact that we have never been this good. And Conte is the man who should take us forward into what might possibly be the the start of an era.