PSV Eindhoven – Internazionale: Inter dominate the ball, but fail to impress against PSV’s young guns (1-2)

Despite a lot of possession and shots, Inter failed to create high quality offense and even fell behind. PSV were eventually outdone in crucial moments and Inter quite easily protected the lead.

Having somewhat surprisingly won the group opener against Tottenham Hotspur, Inter had the chance of getting six points from their first two Champions League matches. Seeing that their next two games are against FC Barcelona, Inter did not want to lose points against what is arguably the weakest side of the group, PSV Eindhoven.  

PSV had lost their first game, against Barcelona. The regular formation under Mark van Bommel is 4-2-3-1 and the matchup against Internazionale proved no exception to that rule. The Dutch champions have found a very viable double pivot in Jorrit Hendrix and Pablo Rosario, while young wingers Steven Bergwijn and Hirving Lozano are on the scouting list of every major European club.

Four wins in a row, a fourth place in the Serie A and winning the first group match against Tottenham Hotspur. If you would glance over Inter’s results, you would suspect that everything is perfectly fine for the black and blue part of Milan.

However, it is not. In most of the games played so far this season, Inter did not impress, but managed to eke out a win nonetheless. They have done so in Spalletti’s favoured 4-2-3-1 formation, with Radja Nainggolan deployed as a combative number ten just behind star striker Mauro Icardi and a strong preference for crossing.

Internazionale’s positioning and general movements against PSV’s 4-1-4-1.

Both teams initially manage to play through the press
PSV and Inter both tried to pass their way out of their own half and – in the opening phase – were successful in doing so. Because both teams lined up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, to stop the other from playing out from the back, one holding midfielder had to be committed higher up the field.

Because neither Marcelo Brozović nor Matías Vecino did so in the opening minutes, PSV had a spare man in the build-up and regularly progressed the ball into Inter’s half. Later on in the match, Internazionale decided to push one of these two midfielders up, so playing from the back became more troublesome for PSV.

PSV had an interesting pressing strategy that sometimes worked, and sometimes did not. When a ball was played from a full-back to one of Inter’s central defenders, the winger would keep tracking the ball, blocking the pass to the fullback in the process. If Inter’s fullback would get the ball, one of the midfielders would step out and make sure a vertical pass could not be played. At times, PSV managed to keep Inter off their half this way.

One of the ways PSV tried to press Inter in the opening phase. Ball displayed at the feet of Inter’s left central defender Milan Škriniar

Inter take a lot of shots, but PSV take the lead
After a while though, it was clear that PSV preferred to defend on their own half, to settle for the odd counterattack. They dropped back on their own half in a 4-1-4-1 that became a 4-4-1-1 at times. The exact positioning of the Dutch champions’ midfielders was reliant on the way Inter’s midfielders moved.

So, Inter had most of the ball. If you have the ball a lot and your best player is Mauro Icardi, crossing is a very reasonable offensive strategy to pursue. It mostly came from Inter’s wingers and fullbacks, while Icardi, Nainggolan, the winger on the weak side, and sometimes even one of the holding midfielders gave Inter a strong presence in the box.

Even though Inter saw more of the ball and got in into the box more often, PSV took the lead. It was telling that it came from a long range effort though. In the 27th minute, after what seemed like a failed counterattack, Rosario got on the ball, took a wonderful first touch into space and produced an even better finish in the top corner with the inside of his foot.

PSV feel outdone with 1-1 at half-time
After scoring, PSV did not change their strategy of sitting back. This meant that they had to deal with a lot of crossing, especially from right winger Matteo Politano. What followed was a host of headed opportunities for Icardi – some better than others – and some deflected crosses that did not amount to much real danger.

A key moment occurred in the 40th minute. Having already played the killer pass that eventually led to Rosario’s goal, PSV’s left-back Angeliño played a magnificent through ball onto Bergwijn. Inter’s goalkeeper Samir Handanovič was too late to stop PSV’s winger and touched the ball with his hand, preventing Bergwijn from dribbling towards on an empty net in the process. The referee awarded PSV a free kick, but was very friendly not to send off Handanovič.

The fact that Inter equalized only four minutes later, made things worse for PSV. A powerful but very long range effort by Kwadwo Asamoah was dealt with inadequately by PSV’s goalkeeper Jeroen Zoet. The rebound fell to Icardi, who – a poacher by heart – opted to shoot. The deflection fell for Nainggolan and the Belgian put the 1-1 on the scoresheet with a hard-drilled shot.

Icardi too much for PSV’s center-backs
All in all, Inter took 17 shots in the first half, but not a lot of them were actually very good. Most shots came from long range or consisted of awkward headers in a very crowded penalty area.

Inter’s captain Icardi was the most frequent shooter, taking a total of nine shots. The way he constantly managed to get open in the penalty area was going to cost PSV sooner or later.

Throughout the match, it became clear that PSV’s central defenders Nick Viergever and Daniel Schwaab had no idea how to properly mark Inter’s number nine. In the 60th minute, Inter managed to take the lead because of this.

Comfortably settling in a mid-block, PSV chose not to put pressure on the ball. Icardi escaped from attention once more and was found with a pass over fifty yards. Jeroen Zoet made the choice to leave his line, which was questionable in itself. To make things worse, he did not manage to stop Icardi from shooting, but stumbled on his own defender Schwaab. This meant an easy chance for the Argentinian scoring machine: 1-2.

After an hour, Inter were finally leading and immediately started to drop deeper, falling back in a 4-4-1-1 defensive shape. PSV had trouble creating chances against their compact defense, even though they did manage to play on Inter’s half for long spells of time.

In the 76th minute, Van Bommel brought on young attacking talent Donyell Malen, who came on for the capricious Gastón Pereiro. This made PSV’s shape resemble a sort of 4-2-4 at times.

Even though PSV changed formation, they did not alter their strategy. They kept cleanly passing the ball from one red-white shirt to another, hoping for gaps to exploit in Inter’s compact defense. Perhaps it was a missed chance to not play a bit more direct towards Luuk de Jong and try to win the second ball, as they had done in Camp Nou.

A rushed shot by the anonymously playing Lozano in the 85th minute turned out to be the last danger that PSV was able to create. With PSV not creating any substantial chances after Inter took the lead, the win seemed deserved.   

The end result of a football match is always one of many, many possible outcomes. In the articles published at this website, we try to account for random events and not lose the bigger overall (tactical) picture of the match.

In the case of PSV – Internazionale though, the cliché that football matches are decided on details especially seems to hold true. Inter scored twice off a mistake by PSV’s goalkeeper, while Inter’s goalkeeper took away a clear scoring chance without being punished for it with a send-off.

In contrast to some of his Dutch counterparts, Mark van Bommel is clearly a manager who is not afraid to position his team into a low block and take the game to the opponent that way. Whether this approach will be successful against Tottenham Hotspur remains to be seen. When put into the context of Europe’s top teams, PSV is a young and exciting side. The average age of their starting eleven against Inter was 23.6 years and players like Bergwijn, Lozano and Rosario make them a true addition to this year’s Champions League.

Internazionale now share the group lead along with Barcelona, with both clubs winning their first two games. The fact that Inter’s only strategy effectively is firing a bucket load of crosses into the box game after game, might prove troublesome in the long run.

Various match plots can be found in the slider below.

Erik Elias (29) is co-founder and chief editor of Between The Posts. Dutch, so admires Johan Cruijff and his football principles, but enjoys writing about other styles as well. Former youth coach. Videoscout at digital scouting consultancy 11tegen11 and FC Groningen. [ View all posts ]


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