***** NOTE *****
To everyone reading this:
If you are already familiar with the context around...
- Inter’s recent Champions League history...
- the general mood among us Inter supporters going into this season’s Champions League group stage...
- the “mission statement” of this “Defensive Breakdown” article series...
...then feel perfectly free to skip down to the section titled:
***** ACTUAL ANALYSIS part of this article *****
September 15, 2021
S.o.M. Articles for background context:
Official Match Highlights Video:
Fortunately, we’ve all had some time to calm down about this frustrating loss... so now we can look back on this with a fresh perspective.
In fact, we’ve even already secured advancement to the Champions League knockout round, after three straight years of being eliminated in the group stage!
That makes it significantly less painful now to try mentally going back a couple months to how most of us Inter supporters in general felt from the...
Perspective in the immediate aftermath of this match:
(I drafted the remainder of this section within a day or two after the loss)
It’s that time of year again.
Another new season...
Another new Champions League group stage...
Another not-so-new draw of our three group opponents...
For the fourth year in a row — under three different managers — yet ANOTHER (painfully close) loss to one of the two very historically dominant La Liga clubs...
Another significant goal conceded in a high-profile match... and specifically one that has widely divided opinions among Inter supporters and pundits alike as to which of our players deserve the blame.
You know what that means...
Unfortunately, it’s time for another “Defensive Breakdown” article!
“Nooooooooooooooooo anything but that!!!” — Inzaghi, probably
Of course, with Inter being Inter...
If you were already a regular here at S.o.M. during the particularly “pazza” first few months of last season, then you probably know the drill.
For those who have heretofore been spared that painful experience, here are links to my...
Two previous editions of this series:
Quick Recap of the Intent Behind Each Article in this Series:
In case any readers (inexplicably) might happen to NOT be interested (for some shockingly weird reason) in the (not even slightly inconvenient at all) time investment necessary to slog through the over 6000 total combined word counts of those two articles...
(mostly from the second one, with 5400 words plus 60 screenshots from the official highlight videos dissecting four significant goals)
...here’s the gist, recapped in some friendly ol’ bullet points:
(On a related note, I’m trying to keep this third installment in the series limited to a much more reasonable length — the fact that it only covers a single goal also helps in this case)
My “mission statement” for this article series as defined in the first installment:
- “...to diagnose exactly what went wrong in the build-up to conceding important goals in big matches”
- “...to identify precisely which of our players were at fault...”
- “...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”
- “...especially motivated by” my strong disagreement with how Perisic was being scapegoated for how we conceded S.M.S.’ equalizer in our 1-1 draw against Lazio
Significant elaborations on that “mission statement” from the introduction of the second installment:
- “Before diving into the analysis itself, I [emphasized] 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.”
END of the INTRODUCTORY BACKGROUND CONTEXT SECTIONS
Okay, so now that all of this background context
rambling summarizing is out of the way, it’s time for the...
***** ACTUAL ANALYSIS part of this article *****
After two years of being drilled in the 3-5-2 formation by none other than Antonio Conte himself, it is now incredibly difficult for opponents to break down Inter’s disciplined defensive structure when the entire team is fully set in their proper positions within the flexibly compact 5-3-2 shape.
Counterattacks are a different matter... but once all eleven players are fully set within Inter’s defensive third, the only reliable approach for opponents to break through this solid defense is to drag the individual pieces out of position via clever attacking movement.
More specifically, it requires runs into or around the box by midfielders and fullbacks/wingbacks — this causes confusion within the fully set defensive structure, as players overlapping throughout the different “zones” of the final third can result in overloads that expose gaps elsewhere for clever opponents to exploit.
Matias Vecino is my least favorite player in the current Inter squad.
Not to say that I actively dislike him of course — after all, he still has represented the Nerazzurri for several years now, for better or worse — merely that I’m convinced he’s overrated.
That being said... even I feel compelled to defend Vecino, in the interest of fairness, from how he was blamed on this occasion as the lone scapegoat for conceding this goal soon after he was substituted on late into a tense scoreless match
Tactical Reference: Zones of the Pitch
Freeze Frame “Moments” of this Goal Sequence:
- Nacho — who is playing as the Left Back in Real Madrid’s back four — carries the ball down the left (or, from an Inter perspective, the right) side flank into the final third (specifically “Zones” 10 and 13)
- Dzeko is the closest Inter player to Nacho, and nearby Dumfries is marking Vinicius out wide
- Vecino is halfway between Dzeko and Brozovic more centrally, so that the Uruguayan would be nearby to help either if needed
- Valverde receives Nacho’s pass in the left side channel, positioned at about the edge of the final third — in other words, relatively far away from our box
- Brozovic leaves the edge of our box to press Valverde
- Vecino moves up the pitch a bit to stay about halfway between Brozovic and Dzeko
Critical observation from Moment 2’s freeze frame directly above:
- Dzeko theoretically appears to be covering Nacho’s curving diagonal run from “Zone” 13 into the box...
- ...in reality, our striker — who had tracked back to help on the other end of the pitch defensively — had his back turned as the defender Nacho snuck behind to continue his attacking foray
- Valverde passes to Vinicius out wide
- Meanwhile Nacho — who was playing as a Left Back in Real Madrid’s formation — continues his run in behind the territory that Dzeko had tracked back to help cover
- Vinicius back passes to Camavinga in “Zone” 13
- Vecino starts moving to press Camavinga
- Nacho is now deep enough in the box that Skriniar is the one covering him
- Dzeko is now in no-man’s land, so he decides to start moving back to his nominal position as a striker at the top of the 3-5-2 shape
- Camavinga to Valverde, who is wide open at the edge of “Zone” 14 closest to “Zone” 13
- Vecino turns to chase as Camavinga starts running toward the box... specifically to the open space now being vacated by Dzeko
Moment 5 — overhead view:
- Valverde chips in a ball over the top to Camavinga
- Vecino starts accelerating to catch up with Camavinga, who is already a full step in behind him and has more momentum
- Skriniar moves to defend Camavinga’s path to goal, but is still a few steps away by the time the chipped pass has already reached Camavinga
- De Vrij also shifts toward Camavinga, but remains blocking Nacho’s path to the near post, while Bastoni covers Benzema at the far post
Moment 7 — overhead and alternate views:
Moment 7 — other key points:
- Rodrygo runs into the gap opened up between De Vrij and Bastoni, with nobody left between Rodrygo and the goal
- At the same exact moment, Camavinga uses his first touch to volley the chipped pass
- Camavinga’s chipped volley pass meets Rodrygo in stride, while all three of Inter’s Center Backs start to close down on the gap (roughly in line with the near post) left open for Rodrygo
- Notice how Nacho — the LEFT BACK — is still in the box
- Bastoni lunges in a last ditch attempt to block the shot, as Rodrygo connects with Camavinga’s chipped volley pass, then uses his first touch to do a volley of his own
- Whether intentional or not, Rodrygo’s volley bounces very early in the shot’s trajectory, and somehow sneaks perfectly through the gap underneath Bastoni’s outstretched leg
Moment 10 — alternate angle:
(with amazing facial expressions)
Facial Expression Analysis:
- Vecino — surprised Pikachu face
- De Vrij — stank face like he just smelled the nastiest fart of his entire life
- Rodrygo — half-smiling like he knows he just did something awesome, but is playing it cool
- Bastoni — shocked expression, like he’s about to get hit by a train
- Handanovic’s positioning after drifting toward Camavinga’s side leaves him with no chance at all of stopping Rodrygo’s bouncing volley shot to the back post
Aside from picking apart the defensive mistakes from an Inter perspective, it’s also important to acknowledge that this was a world class goal.
That being said, even for these top level players — the worst of whom are still in the top 1% of the top 1% of all players in the world at their respective positions — that specific goal would be extremely hard to replicate... even without any defenders present, “simply” just needing to replicate that perfect volley assist to that perfect bouncing finish.
Out of 10 attempts, how many times do you think these same Real Madrid players could replicate this goal exactly — including the volleyed assist AND volleyed bouncing shot through the same amount of space under the CB’s leg — even without live defenders?
This poll is closed
0 times out of 10
1 or 2
3 or 4
5 or 6
7 or 8
9 or 10
...and now, last but not least...
Percentage Breakdown of the Blame
For the first time out of the five goals that I’ve analyzed so far in this “Defensive Breakdown” series... I think I’ll just leave it entirely up to you readers to decide how much of the blame is deserved for each player involved.
The main point that I wanted to emphasize in this article is that this entire goal sequence was WAYYYYYYYY too multifaceted for it to be at all fair to blame only one or two scapegoats... even though that primary scapegoat on this occasion just so happened to be my least favorite player on the team.