Internazionale – Tottenham Hotspur: Tottenham target space behind Perišić but Inter come out on top (2-1)
In a tale of two teams inviting the other to do what they do best, Internazionale came out on top only because of bits of individual brilliance and some slices of luck in a frantic finale.
Tottenham Hotspur travelled to Stadio Giuseppe Meazza to face Inter Milan in this opening Champions League Group B fixture with both sides having experienced very different transfer windows, but similarly inconsistent starts to their domestic seasons.
Inter were widely congratulated for a successful summer transfer window, bringing in the likes of Radja Nainggolan, Kwando Asamoah and Stefan de Vrij among others. Tottenham, on the other hand, with a £850 million stadium currently under construction, did not sign any players over the summer – but claimed a successful window due to keeping hold of star players such as Harry Kane, Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli.
Both sides came into this match looking to kick-start their seasons after a series of mixed results. Inter have managed only one win and one draw in their opening four domestic fixtures. Tottenham started with a one hundred percent record in their opening three games, but came into this game on the back of consecutive defeats either side of the international break.
Following similar starts to the season each team made five changes from their starting eleven at the weekend and lined up in matching 4-2-3-1 formations. Inter started with Matías Vecino and Marcelo Brozović ahead of a back four. Asamoah provided an attacking threat from left back allowing Ivan Perišić, who lined up on the left wing, to drift more centrally. Nainggolan played in an advanced midfield position behind Inter captain Mauro Icardi.
With Hugo Lloris and Dele Alli on the injury list, Mauricio Pochettino could only explain the absence of Toby Alderweireld and Kieran Trippier from the trip as “technical reasons”. This led to a return to the side for Serge Aurier and Ben Davies as fullbacks, while Son Heung-min made his first start after returning from the Asian Games.
Inter’s press resulted in Aurier having space if Tottenham could work the ball out.
Spurs invite pressure with a clear target of attack
Tottenham began the game with a clear plan to play out from the back with the intention of pulling the Inter central midfielders into a high press. It worked, as on occasion all three of the Inter central midfielders were pressing in advanced positions, leaving large areas of space behind them.
However, for most of the first half Tottenham did not look comfortable building out of from the back, and therefore struggled to take advantage of this space. They more often than not lost possession of the ball in their own half and were fortunate that Inter could not create anything from these situations.
The risk-reward balance of this strategy looked to be tipped heavily in favour of Inter, but Tottenham continued with this approach, which seemed to be helping their opponents more than themselves.
On the few occasions Tottenham did break this press successfully, there was a clear strategy of attack. Always building out from the left flank, they would quickly switch the ball to the right wing where Aurier would be pushed on, and find space because Perisic had moved inside to be part of Inter’s press.
When the ball advanced into their own half, Inter would drop back drastically and sit in a low block. This allowed Tottenham to play a game they are more suited to with Eriksen and Lamela showing intelligent movement and passing ability to threaten Samir Handanovič’s goal.
The best chance of the first half fell to the feet of the man Tottenham would have dreamed it would: World Cup 2018 Golden Boot winner Harry Kane. Eriksen had the ball around 35 yards from goal, looked up and chipped a delightful ball into the box for Kane to run onto. Kane’s first touch was perfect, but instead of getting the shot off, he attempted to go round the goalkeeper. In doing so, he miscontrolled the ball and it went out for a goal kick.
This chance for Kane appeared to spook Inter into completely backing off the high press for the rest of the first half, which seemed odd as the chance was not created by Tottenham breaking this press. The deeper line also allowed Tottenham to grow in confidence on the ball, where they had previously looked shaky. Inter had returned the favour of playing the game in a style to suit their opponents.
Burst into action
As the second half progressed Tottenham started to have more success building out from the back. It only took until the 52nd minute for them to break the deadlock. Eriksen gained possession of the ball around thirty yards from goal. This time, instead of playing the ball wide to Aurier, he was more direct and advanced with the ball to have a shot on goal. The shot was saved by Handanovič, but the goalkeeper could only parry the ball straight out. The rebound arrived back at the feet of Eriksen, who got a second bite at the cherry. His strike was deflected off Miranda, and went spinning over the head of the Inter goalkeeper to put Tottenham ahead.
While making no tactical changes, Inter did muster a reaction in their tempo. The game became frantic for a spell, as the Italians went looking for a way back into the match. Manager Luciano Spalletti sprang into action with half an hour to go. Perišić made way for Antonio Candreva and ten minutes later Matteo Politano was replaced by Keita Baldé.
Initially starting on the left, Candreva soon switched to the right, with Keita playing centrally. This resulted in Asamoah being pushed further forward down the left flank to give Inter extra numbers going forward.
Despite Inter placing more emphasis on attack, Tottenham continued to look in control and appeared set to take all three points from this game. But the tide would take a dramatic change with only five minutes to go. Asamoah, in his now advanced position on the left, picked out Icardi with a cross to the edge of the box. Having not had a sniff of goal all night, Icardi showed his true class as a striker and volleyed the ball from 20 yards out past Michel Vorm to send the San Siro into raptures.
Tottenham and Pochettino entered full panic mode and in an attempt to stifle an imminent-looking Inter comeback, Danny Rose came on for Kane – a ploy to shore up Tottenham’s defense as much as it was to allow his side a moment to collect themselves.
The flow of the match was unaffected by this change and Inter were the only side looking for a winner. After one frantic corner that resulted in a round of pinball in the box, Inter won another corner. This time the cross was deep to Stefan de Vrij. The Dutchman nodded the ball back across goal where Vecino had been abandoned by Lucas Moura. This left Vecino free to score a game-winning free header from five yards, two minutes into injury time.
There were striking similarities in the fortunes of the season so far and the strategy employed in this match from both sides. Both invited the opponents into their own half and attempted to break the press and take advantage of the space behind. Only Tottenham had a clear idea of what to do once the press was broken – play the ball right where Aurier had escaped the attention of Perišić.
However, despite these similarities, the match can be summed up by the tale of the two star strikers. Neither was provided with an abundance of chances, but when the opportunity fell to Icardi, the Argentinian provided what his team needed.
Inter take a step towards qualification from Group B and will look to kick-start their domestic season off the back of this late win. Tottenham have now lost three games in a row for the first time under Pochettino, and must now asses how to move forward with their season.
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