For Italian champions Inter, their UEFA Champions League adventure ended on a bittersweet note at Anfield on 8 March. In beating Liverpool 1-0 they inflicted a first home defeat on Jürgen Klopp’s men since March last year yet returned to Milan counting the cost of their 2-0 first-leg loss at San Siro.
In this article presented by FedEx, the UEFA Technical Observer panel pinpoints the pressing strategy that brought the game’s only goal.
0-1: Lautaro Martínez (61)
The Argentinian’s first goal in this season’s UEFA Champions League was a magnificent angled strike from the edge of the box. With Inter pressing high to win the ball from a Liverpool goal kick, Ivan Perišić intercepted Joel Matip’s pass up the right touchline. Hakan Çalhanoğlu and Alexis Sánchez swiftly combined to work the ball to the feet of Martínez, who let it run across his body and, as Van Dijk sat off, whipped a shot across Alisson Becker and into the keeper’s top-left corner.
The Slovakian was dominant in the air and made nine clearances – more than any other player in last week’s UEFA Champions League matches. UEFA’s technical observer at the match added of him: “He showed excellent composure, building from the back and contributing to a rare clean sheet for the visitors at Anfield.”
Klopp’s men lined up in their customary 1-4-3-3 formation, with Curtis Jones (No17) coming in for Harvey Elliott and Matip (No32) replacing Ibrahima Konaté from the first leg. Jones was the most advanced of Liverpool’s three midfielders and played in the right-half space as Mohamed Salah (No11) provided width on the right wing. With Trent-Alexander Arnold (No66) looking to come inside, there was a clear fluidity when it came to the positioning of these three players.
Inter set up in a 1-3-5-2 formation in possession which shifted to a 1-5-3-2 out of possession. They looked to defend from the mid-block but would press high where possible, including at restarts from goal kicks as seen in the video above. Inter were prepared to go man-v-man at the back versus Liverpool’s front three, pushing their two wing-backs, Denzel Dumfries (No2) and Perišić (No14), on to Liverpool’s full-backs. This ploy led to the only goal following the above-mentioned interception by Perišić as Matip tried to play out from the back.
As already noted, a significant feature of Inter’s approach was the high pressure they applied when Liverpool looked to play out. In the first example in the video at the top of the page, their two centre-forwards are stationed on the edge of Liverpool’s penalty box with two midfielder ten metres behind them and the full-backs also pushing high up.
There were some strong individual performances from Simone Inzaghi’s side, including from Perišić, who had the most touches of any Inter player (70) with the majority of play coming down their left side. Meanwhile, midfielder Arturo Vidal worked tirelessly and even in added time summoned the energy to throw himself into the path of Luis Díaz’s shot and deflect it over the bar.
If the sending-off of Sánchez just a minute after their goal allowed Liverpool to take the sting out of the game, perhaps the biggest factor in their overall defeat was Inter’s lack of a cutting edge. They had missed chances in the first leg and at Anfield, for all their excellent phases of possession, building through the thirds, they managed only two shots inside the penalty box (from a total of six) and ended the game with an xG of 0.31 compared with Liverpool’s 1.65.
For Liverpool this was the third time in their European history that, defending a 2-0 lead back at Anfield, they had slipped to a single-goal defeat. When Klopp said afterwards that they “didn’t get the momentum”, their first-leg advantage – subconsciously or otherwise – may well have been a factor.
That said, they did have more passes (720 to Inter’s 433), and more possession (62%) than Inter – notably after Inter were reduced to ten men. Moreover, Liverpool had better chances. As in the first leg, they carried a threat from set pieces, creating four chances from Alexander-Arnold’s deliveries – one of which brought a Matip header against the frame of the goal, one of three attempts against post or crossbar for the Premier League side.
Jürgen Klopp, Liverpool manager
“You have to move a lot against teams like Inter, and pass a lot. We did, but maybe not enough. We were not smart enough. Then in the challenges we were not strong enough. We lost a lot of simple balls, which can happen. The counter-press was not really there. We were around challenges but not in challenges and we didn’t get the momentum. That’s what we were lacking tonight.”
Simone Inzaghi, Inter coach
“Over the two legs it was balanced, but those two goals in the final 15 minutes of the first leg were decisive. We deserved more in the first 75 minutes of the first leg, then we conceded twice. We did our best at Anfield tonight, and we come out of these two games as a better side, strengthened.”
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