We continue our Classic Calcio analysis with Thanos Chelas taking a look at the 2011 Coppa Italia final between Internazionale and Palermo.
Occasion: 2011 Coppa Italia Final
Date: 29 May 2011
Venue: Stadio Olimpico
Leonardo chose an Inter side with Dejan Stankovic and Thiago Motta playing in front of a four-man defence. Javier Zanetti played to the right of them, following the runs of Fabio Balzaretti and becoming, in some situations, the fifth member of the defensive line.
Samuel Eto’o played near the left touchline as the only winger, with Wesley Sneijder playing behind lone striker Giampaolo Pazzini. The Dutchman primarily stayed central in attack but roamed around when on the defensive, searching for open spaces in order to receive the ball and counter-attack.
Initially, Inter played with a high defensive line, especially during the first half, looking to trap the opponent offside when possible. However, in the second half they conceded space and gave more of the ball to Palermo.
Delio Rossi chose to field his Palermo side in a 4-3-1-2 formation, with Afriyie Acquah staying in front of the two central defenders. Giulio Migliaccio and Antonio Nocerino played next to him, positioning themselves on their side’s half-space when needed to fill the space between the centre-backs and the full-backs, who were playing very high up the pitch.
(NB – the half-spaces are the areas between each wing and the centre of the pitch)
Balzaretti was the more attacking Palermo full-back, making runs towards the opponent’s second post area when the ball was played from the right and creating many problems for Yuto Nagatomo and Zanetti.
Josip Ilicic had a more free role compared to Abel Hernandez, moving laterally, vertically and in-between the lines, exchanging positions with Javier Pastore and moving lower when on the defensive, creating a 4-3-2-1 shape for his team.
Palermo’s defensive strategy
Palermo’s midfielders formed a diamond shape in the centre of the field, forcing Inter to play wide, where there was no attacking threat from Sneijder, Stankovic and Motta who could have either shot from distance or passed behind the defence for the waiting Pazzini.
Palermo also tried to force Inter into long balls. Inter responded to this by having Nagatomo and Christian Chivu move closer to Julio Cesar while the rest of the team stayed higher like in the image above.
Inter’s pressing scheme and defensive problems
Inter pressed mostly in Palermo’s defensive third with Sneijder or Pazzini initiating the movement, usually when the ball was returning back to one of the defenders or the goalkeeper. It’s intention didn’t seem to be the immediate stealing of the ball, but to instead force Palermo into long balls.
Inter’s defensive line utilized man-oriented marking, which meant the Nerazzurri, following Palermo players, destroyed their own shape and as a result occasions like in the above image arose.
Inter’s response to Palermo stretching the game with their two full-backs hid a lot of danger as well. In order to not leave large spaces on the side of the field or between the defenders, a six-man defence was created. However, with Pazzini staying high up the field and Sneijder not contributing defensively on most occasions, problems like in the image below arose.
Palermo never managed to take their chances though, and Inter scored twice through Eto’o running in behind their defence. A defensive mistake from a corner kick allowed Palermo to get one back through Ezequiel Munoz, before Diego Milito – who had replaced Sneijder – scored the third.
This was a game that, some might say, could have gone either way. Inter’s win came about through an incredible day for their whole defensive line in which every player won their individual battles while protecting Julio Cesar, and because Palermo could not transition well enough to protect their defence from a very efficient Inter attack.