Inter’s long-awaited return to the Champions League knockout stages is at last upon us. It’s been ten years since the Nerazzurri fell to Marseille in the 2011/12 Round of 16 and after a decade of trial and error, Inter is back to the final sixteen. Their stay in the tournament isn’t likely to last much longer, however, with the monumental challenge of Liverpool on the very near horizon. To prepare, we spoke with Mark Kastner of The Liverpool Offside who gave us everything we could want to know about the Reds. A big thanks to Mark for his time!
Q: Let’s say I’ve never watched Liverpool play before. What are Jurgen Klopp’s main tactical tenets? Any key things to watch out for in Liverpool’s style?
A: I would assume in this hypothetical, you may have heard rumors about Klopp and Liverpool. Those rumors would tell you that Liverpool are a high intensity, high pressing team that thrives on chaos. That’s somewhat of an earned reputation, but not necessarily the truth MOST of the time now. That was Klopp’s style to get Liverpool to the top of the English and European game, but once you’re at the top, you must adapt. Klopp’s done a really good job of that. Liverpool’s style now is all about control. From the goalkeeper, to the high defensive line, to the midfield structure, and all the way to the forwards, Liverpool wants to constrict the pitch and have the game played on their terms. That means they want the game to happen in your defensive third. Klopp wants his opponents to make mistakes and for his superstars to capitalize on them.
Q: Man City has a healthy lead over Liverpool in the EPL but the Reds are still alive in the FA Cup and Carabao Cup, along with the UCL. What does a successful end to the season look like in Merseyside?
A: Entering this season Man City were the title favorites, and now with a healthy lead (even though Liverpool have some games in hand) it seems like it is theirs to lose. A by-product of that has meant Liverpool has taken domestic cup competitions more seriously than they have in previous seasons. The Reds face off in a couple weeks against Chelsea in the final for the Cowabunga Cup, and it would be really great to add a domestic cup or two to Klopp’s trophy haul. He deserves it.
With that said, I’d still say the primary focus this season is a split focus on the Champions League and the Premier League. There’s this assumption in world football that if a team can just focus on one competition, they have a better shot at winning it. That may be true for some, but for Liverpool it’s not. This team thrives off pressure and needs it to succeed. When Liverpool won their sixth European Cup in 2019, their Premier League campaign went down to the final day of the season — just losing out on the title to City by one point. That scenario was also true when Liverpool made a run to the final in 2018, they needed to win on the last day to secure a top 4 finish.
So, if Liverpool has hopes of winning the Champions League, I think they need to put in an honest campaign and keep City in touching distance. Finishing the season with just a domestic trophy would be kind of a lackluster season and I’m hoping for some sort of romantic end to the season — either in Europe or the League.
Q: What players on Inter worry you the most? Does Liverpool have any weaknesses the Nerazzurri could exploit?
A: I cannot say I’m an expert on Serie A or Inter, which I suppose is why you and I are having this conversation! However, I did watch the Milan Derby to try to get an idea of what Inter does well. The midfield of Hakan Calhanoglu, Nicolo Barella, and Marcelo Brozovic has an incredible balance to it and that kind of thing can worry Liverpool.
I must say that I’m just a blogger on the internet and not a tactical genius. Much smarter footballing brains have tried to exploit Liverpool and have failed. With that said, the most frustrating Liverpool matches this season have come playing teams that play a variation of the 3-5-2 — the way Inter sets up. Having a controlling midfield and 3 centerbacks to deal with Liverpool’s front line worries me, as well as the strike partnership of a Big Striker (Edin Dzeko) and a Classic Center Forward (Lautaro Martinez).
Q: On the flip side, who should Inter be most concerned about? What are the Reds’ strongsuits?
A: The obvious answer to what should worry you and everyone is a heartbroken Mo Salah. One penalty away from winning the AFCON and he had to see his friend Sadio Mane lift the trophy.
But that doesn’t make much fun reading, so I’ll give you another player to watch out for, Diogo Jota. The player signed to be the “backup” to Liverpool’s famous front three is quietly the second-leading goal scorer in the Premier League (Salah is first) and has 15 goals in all comps. It’s only February. His fluidity and nose for goal has given Liverpool’s attack a completely different dimension.
The attack gets all the praise for Liverpool with the likes of Salah, Mane, and Roberto Firmino leading the line — but a fully fit Joel Matip and Virgil van Dijk have been the difference makers for Liverpool this season. It turns out having fully fit elite centerbacks helps you defend better!
Q: And lastly, what’s your prediction for Wednesday?
A: Klopp typically takes a more conservative approach to the first leg of CL knockout ties. With two league games happening this weekend (Thursday and Sunday), I suspect we’ll see a lot of rotation. I’ll go with a score draw in Milan.
A big thanks to Mark for stopping by!