“The coaches who can outline plays on a black board are a dime a dozen. The coaches who win are the ones who can motivate their players.” – Vince Lombardi, Legendary American Football coach during the 1960s.
Though the addition of the term ‘American’ changes the entire definition of the sport itself, it would not have hurt Internazionale manager Leonardo’s cause, had he chosen to take a leaf out of Lombardi’s book before approaching the second leg against Schalke 04, after the unimaginable abasement, the reigning champions were treated with, at the San Siro only a week ago by the German underdogs. Overturning a three goal deficit in the oppositions’ territory was never going to be a walk in the park. But at the same time, by no means it was akin to asking Sania Mirza to outclass Maria Sharapova – on the court, or even off it.
Where Was The Hunger?
Europe has for some years now, remained unforgiving to the defending champions and even the toughest of the outfits have been unable to break the jinx. The Italian champions from the very start of their campaign were in no mood to play the iconoclasts to what has become a resounding folklore and their results against the lesser teams like Tottenham Hotspur, FC Twente and Werder Bremen very much elaborate this.
In Germany the other night, the Nerazzurri had their task cut out and it had all boiled down to their way or the highway. They required to ‘score goals’ and could have made a cracker of a match out of it with an enormous vigour and a rampant zeal to fight for a place in the last four. Ever since Leonardo has assumed the managerial cloak, post the fateful Rafa-months of the season, he has been known for reinforcing the belief in the champion side. The ex-Rossoneri scout had been appreciated for his efforts in making the players realize their mettle all over again and the team’s revamp in the league is nothing short of fairytale.
Whatever happened to the rediscovered stimulus but none of the Inter players appeared to be wanting enough to deny the impossible and earn a result out of the game. Wesley Sneijder, club’s key source of creativity was clearly out of ideas and what was worse to see was he was too indifferent to infuse any spark into the attack by trying something else. Even the skipper, the timeless and ageless wonder – Javier Zanetti, who is known to inspire a team even from giant slumber, was far from his usual self and could not build a tempo around his players, who had in all likelihood forgotten the value of the shirt they were playing for.
Against Bayern Munich, it was the influx of self-belief and injection of ardour in the second half that stuffed them with the energy to take the game to the German champions but against Schalke, it more seemed like they were compensating for having already broken many German hearts.
Listlessness in their play promptly reminds one of the days they were dealing with the Benitez school of thoughts and calling their performance even languid would be an understatement to make.
Madrid Or No Madrid, Raul Remains A Hero
Few men have what it takes to consistently deliver on the occasions when it matters the most. Raul Gonzalez is one such man. Despite having already won all the possible honours in the Real Madrid colours, he seems no short of steam and determination and once again led the Schalke attack from front.
With a staggering lead captured during the San Siro leg of the tie, The Miners were not particularly desperate to add anymore goals to their tally and their tactics for the day majorly remained focused on not raising unnecessary troubles for the defence. But it did not take them long in realizing Inter’s lack of intent on the field and on the very first opportunity presented their way, they capitalized on a moment of lapse in Inter’s concentration. Raul’s impeccable sense of positioning once again proved vital as he escaped Lucio, outran Ranocchia and successfully dribbled past Julio Cesar’s reach to aptly let the ball kiss the net.
The goal strengthened Raul’s position, as Europe’s all time top goal-scorer but the Spanish legend was not going to raise any complacency. He maintained a continued threat from the flanks when long balls were played at him and also managed to penetrate through the tight looking centre defense of Inter on multiple occasions though Schalke could seldom create a potent chance out of his movements; however, they could not have cared less about it.
Leonardo Out-thought, Inter Outplayed
After the humiliation in the first leg, Inter needed to score a minimum four goals to stay into contention, which required a formation that fielded more number of personnel in the attacking third but Leonardo chose to field his customary 4-3-1-2. The chief marksman, Samuel Eto’o almost played a left winger, pretty wide and pretty deep than his regular position, while Milito remained for the most of the time near the centre in close range to the Schalke centre backs. The Argentine has so far had a dreadful season mainly ruined by injuries and it was clear to see that he was not up to the mark. His efforts were easily nullified by Metzelder on most occasions.
Leonardo’s tactical diagram offered a loose joint between the two layers of the midfield which was certainly not the ideal plan for a team trailing by three goals. Wesley Sneijder for most part of the match remained one-dimensional and despite being choked of space every single time he ran forward, he chose not to divert the attack to the flanks; out of options on more instances than out of choice.
While Maicon has only been a shadow of his own self lately, his Japanese counterpart Yuto Nagatomo’s lack of experience was much on show. The on-loan Cesena full back was instrumental in running past the Schalke midfield on the left flank with an intention to provide width to the Inter attack but with Samuel Eto’o himself operating wide enough, Nagatomo was expected to make overlapping runs to free the Cameroonian off his markers and allow him the space and time to unleash his magic. Nagatomo could never time his runs to perfection to form a clinical partnership with Eto’o and with both Sneijder and Milito in the centre having a collective off day, the African himself preferred to cut in but that not being his natural forte since moving to Inter, he was easily dispossessed by the disciplined Schalke defense.
Wesley Sneijder’s ambitious attempt, Dejan Stankovic’s ferocious strike that forced a diving save from Neuer and the Serbian’s chip over the defense at which Maicon should have done better, remained the only highlights from Inter during the first half while Raul’s heroics put the home team in front and well in command.
The introduction of Goran Pandev, replacing Dejan Stankovic, added the muscle in the final third and provided Sneijder a pretty clear set of three attacking players to direct play towards. Given his credentials, the Dutch would usually dictate play in such a formation but after being put behind by a signature Raul goal at the stroke of half time, Inter could never refurbish the damage done. A goal from Thiago Motta, as early as in fourth minute of the second half too could prove to be a mere consolation, as it failed to open any floodgates. No motivation was restored among the champions and there was no fluidity to be seen whatsoever.
For most of the match, the Inter defense was able to mark the movement of the Schalke forwards. Though none of them were having an extra-ordinary game, Lucio’s presence certainly made the defense look organised. The German side defended deep, denied any space to the likes of Eto’o and Milito and focused on redirecting the possession to the immediately adjacent midfielder rather than playing a mindless long ball. The two full backs – Hans Sarpei and the Japanese Atsuto Uchida – had an excellent game and balanced themselves between the attacking and defensive duties pretty ideally.
Ralf Rangnick Scores A Huge Point
Post the surprising sacking of Felix Magath after the triumph over Valencia in the knock-out round, the ex-Hoffenheim manager was employed by the club. In his incumbency, Schalke have registered four consecutive victories – two of which saw the former champions being flustered. During the latest win over Inter, he did not really require to deliver a tactical brilliance and he knew just exactly about it. His plan completely countervailed Leonardo’s, as his players were fundamentally clear about their individual roles, as well as team’s collective mission. They did not let Inter start on a promising note by blocking most channels of supply and once they became aware of Inter’s shortcomings they did not refrain from taking charge of the game and dominated the proceedings in patches.
Rangnick’s scored a huge point over his counterpart in terms of effective substitutions too. He primarily focused on working on the same structure through the entire course of the game and each of his substitutions exactly carried the same role of the men they replaced. Leonardo on the other hand, could do no wonders after missing the trick initially. The introduction of Coutinho, removing Sneijder, from the action made little sense and sent across a submissive signal.
Sir Alex Ferguson was amongst the spectators in the stands, and the discerning customer that he is, would definitely warn his boys to write Rangnick’s men off at their own peril after what he saw at Veltins Arena.