clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Defensive Breakdowns — late goal in 1-0 loss to Real Madrid — September 15th, 2021 (flashback)

FC Internazionale v AS Roma - Serie A
It turns out that apparently there IS in fact something more painful to look at than Inter’s atrociously clashing mosaic “fourth jersey” that was introduced late last season
Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

***** 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 *****


Real Madrid


September 15, 2021


1-0 loss

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 rowunder three different managersyet 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!

Inter v Real Madrid: Group D - UEFA Champions League
MILAN, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 15: FC Internazionale coach Simone Inzaghi reacts during the UEFA Champions League group D match between Inter and Real Madrid at Giuseppe Meazza Stadium...(presumably upon realizing that now his team has forced me to write another one of these depressing/frustrating articles)
Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

“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)’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)

Kolarov was widely scapegoated when Ibrahimovic was left wide open at the back post for his second goal in the Oct. 17th, 2020 Derby della Madonnina. However, “breaking down” the replay reveals that this was almost certainly the result of Kolarov actually being distracted by Calhanoglu’s dangerous run past Vidal — that would have resulted in Milan’s #10 being wide open in the middle of Inter’s box, which suddenly makes Kolarov’s seemingly inexcusable decision start to actually be pretty understandable

My “mission statement” for this article series as defined in the first installment:

  • “ diagnose exactly what went wrong in the build-up to conceding important goals in big matches”
  • “ identify precisely which of our players were at fault...”
  • “ assign a percentage for how much of the blame each responsible defender deserves...”
  • “ 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

6’1” (1.87 m) Perisic at Left Wing-Back was positioned CORRECTLY to cover Lazio’s Right Wing-Back (Lazzari) in case of a cross to that far post... meanwhile, 6’2” (1.88 m) Gagliardini at Left Central MIDFIELD and 6’3” (1.90 m) Bastoni at Left CENTER-BACK somehow managed to BOTH be caught ball-watching... as a direct result, 6’3” (1.91 m) Right Central MIDFIELDER Sergej Milinkovic-Savic was left absolutely wide open to make a run to the back post — the replay clearly shows how easily S.M.S. was able to sneak from where Gagliardini was supposed to be covering him... straight into the area where Bastoni was supposed to be prepared for exactly that type of attacking threat. Perisic got scapegoated very unfairly despite the context — he at least made an effort to cover for Gagliardini and Bastoni’s mistakes, and got blamed for coming up just a bit short while going out of his way just trying to be a great teammate

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.”


Inter players celebrate at the end of the Serie A match between AS Roma and FC Internazionale on December 4th, 2021. The visitors Inter Milan won 3-0 over AS Roma
Inter players *** CELEBRATE at the END *** of an important match
Photo by Antonietta Baldassarre/Insidefoto/LightRocket via Getty Images

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.

Inter Milan’s Italian coach Antonio Conte (L) and Lazio’s Italian coach Simone Inzaghi congratulate each other at the end of the Italian Serie A football match Lazio vs Inter on October 4, 2020 at the Olympic stadium in Rome
Photo by FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP via Getty Images

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

Image Source Link ~

Freeze Frame “Moments” of this Goal Sequence:

Moment 1:

  • 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

Moment 2:

  • 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...
  • 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

Moment 3:

  • 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

Moment 4:

  • 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

Moment 5:

  • 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:

Moment 6:

  • 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

Moment 7:

  • 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

Moment 8:

  • 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

Moment 9:

  • 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

Moment 10:

  • 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

Moment 11:

  • 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

Final Thoughts:

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

  • 7%
    0 times out of 10
    (2 votes)
  • 46%
    1 or 2
    (12 votes)
  • 34%
    3 or 4
    (9 votes)
  • 7%
    5 or 6
    (2 votes)
  • 0%
    7 or 8
    (0 votes)
  • 3%
    9 or 10
    (1 vote)
26 votes total Vote Now

FC Inter v Bologna FC - Serie A
Edin Dzeko celebrates his goal with Matias Vecino (Inter) during the Italian football Serie A match between FC Internazionale and Bologna FC — September 18, 2021 — San Siro stadium — Milan, Italy
Photo by Luca Rossini/LiveMedia/NurPhoto via Getty Images

...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.