Inter Milan Schools Barcelona In The Art Of Defending


Football is all about goals. That’s the cliché anyway, and it’s obviously true. Goals win games. But while this remains true, football is also about the art of defending. Defending is the less glamorous brother of attacking; the more dour, less flash relation. Some fans don’t really appreciate defending, but last night, Inter Milan gave one of the finest displays of the art form as you are ever likely to see. If you didn’t dig it, then maybe football is not your game.

Those addicted to open play and high-scoring games may have found it dull. However, those of us who draw as much pleasure from a well-organized defence as we do from a prolific striker totally loved it.

Going down to 10 men was actually the best thing that could have happened to Inter. It gave them a clear, unwavering game plan to stick to. Defend. Defend at all costs. And then defend again.

With 78% & 74% possession in the 1st and 2nd halves, Barcelona dominated in a manner that we have never seen before at this stage of the tournament. At times it looked like a training exercise of attack v defence.

Against any side this would have been a tough job, against the finest attacking club on earth, it looked to be impossible. However, inspired by Mourinho’s epic tactical nous and self-belief, they constantly denied Barcelona space in the centre, pushing them wide and away from goal, all the while breaking up the game by drawing fouls.

Lucio was imperious in the centre, the man looks like a beast and makes England’s supposed hard man, John Terry, look positively girlish by comparison. Walter Samuel was no less imposing as they harried and intercepted everything Barcelona threw at them. Even when they got a shot at goal, Cesar pulled off at least one world class save.

When Pique scored with six minutes to go, less stern, gritty souls would have panicked and collapsed at the final Barce onslaught, but their will and determination didn’t break. The mental strength they showed was off the scale.

Any England players watching should learn their lesson from this game. Even without possession, discipline, cohesion and organisation can still win the day. Their ‘they will not pass’ attitude was both inspiration and somehow noble.

Purists may bemoan the elimination of a side with Barcelona’s flair but over the two legs, Milan controlled the game better and played to their strengths while preventing their opponents from being able to play their natural expansive game. Milan was never going to out-football the Spanish, so didn’t even try to.

Mourinho emerged from this game with his reputation even further enhanced, if that were possible. He beat the best team in the world and he beat them by pure football intelligence applied perfectly by his players.

For me, it’s one of the most satisfying things in football to see a defence repeatedly close the door on an attack. Not so much poetry in motion as like watching a fine piece of machinery working, all gears and positions and cogs in perfect harmony. It will live long in the memory and that’s pretty much how Mourinho likes it as he continues to build his own astonishing legend.

16 thoughts on “Inter Milan Schools Barcelona In The Art Of Defending”

  1. John..a very good article and well put together. I totally agree with the comments made. It was an exceptional performance by Inter given the fact they faced the world’s greatest attacking side with 10 men for an hour of the match. It’s ironic how losing a player can actually focus the team to the degree where the 10 play like an 11. Hopefully, fans can admire a great defence as they do a great attack. Inter deservedly go through to the final.

  2. I think we watched the greatest attacking side in the world against the greatest defensive side in the world, Inter definetley deserve to go through over the two legs

    Inter did exactly what they needed to do and it was amazing to just watch them keep out a load of great players. Cambiasso was particularly great, hes the best defensive midfielder in the world in my opinion (its a shame Maradonna probably hasnt realised that yet!)

  3. It did get rather silly at some points with the ball not leaving 30 yards of the Inter goal (save the occasional long clearance that was immediate brought right back up), however, you have to give them some credit. Even on the goal that Barca scored there were two Inter defenders barely missing the clearance by throwing themselves at the ball.

    If you were to make up a team you probably couldn’t go too wrong with Italian defenders, English midfield players, and a Spanish attack.

  4. Well said —- Sergio is a disgraceful sportsman, he has tried to send a player off the last 3 CL matches with his dubious playacting. He fell like a ton of bricks, clutching his face when Eboue inadvertently touched his chest, resulting in the Arsenal player being cautioned.

    This time, his trickery backfired. It forced Mourinhio’s hand into defending his team’s lead. A lesser manger like Wenger may have fallen for the bait but the special one kept his team in shape, organized, and disciplined in defence.

    Barcelona further showed their lack of class with Valdes’s bizarre attack on the Special One at the end of the match and by turning on the sprinklers while the Inter players were on the pitch – inexcusable at a Semi-Final of the CL, UEFA must send the Catalans a warning.

  5. I found most of the second half tedious, up until Pique’s goal lead to a tense final few minutes. I do appreciate good defending, but a key element in Inter’s “master class “, was instruction in the art of time wasting. They were successful, not just in eating minutes off the clock, but killing any sort of flow the game might have. I felt like I spent half the 45 minutes waiting for throw-ins and free kicks to be taken.

    Inter deserved to win the tie, and I don’t begrudge them some time wasting — especially after Busquets disgraceful play-acting put them on 10 men. Entertaining football though? Not in my book.

  6. This is an ugly extreme possibility for football tactics. Would you be so complimentary had Mourinho simply sent out 10 defenders and a keeper, and literally camped in and around their penalty area for the entire 90 minutes? What Inter (Mourinho) did was half-way towards a situation like that. Maybe in the future football will become like the NFL, where a team sets out a specialist defending team and then attacking team, a farce really. I hope I’m wrong, but is this result a precedent or inspiration for something along those lines?

    If this is what football becomes (what Inter have done today/yesterday, let alone my scary prediction of the future), then I don’t want to watch it. Hell, if I knew the game would have been as ridiculously defensive as this, I wouldn’t have gotten up at 5am to watch it, nor would I even have watched the replay. This match simply wasn’t football.

    For the record, I don’t support any Spanish or Italian teams.

    1. I don’t think anyone wants to watch games like this but that doesn’t take away the fact that it was a fantastic defensive display, especially when you consider inter was down to 10 men.
      I don’t think we’ll see this type of game in the final where it will be a winner take all contest.

    2. I would say yes to that. Inter had a 1 goal lead from the 1st leg, they did what they had to do in the first tie. Mourinho was definately going for the away goal until his team was down to 10 men – unfairly so.

      He had no choice but to defend for the other 70 odd minutes. If it were 11 X 11, Barca probably would have won. Cheating doesn’t always bring reward.

    3. I’m pretty sure every team with a 2 goal advantage would of attempted to stop barca defensively if they were in Inter’s position, the fact Arsenal started out attack in their game was because they were practically losing on away goals.

      Inter went to defend like most teams would against the most feared attacking side in the world and did it brilliantly. Sure it wasn’t spectacular but you have to appreciate and admire how well Inter defended and that in itself IS football.

      And no. Never. Football will never be like the NFL with different teams, they’re two completley different games.

  7. Im not a soccer fundi but the game must once and for all address the theatrical behaviour of players–feigning injury or enticing a penalty from the referee.Learn a bit from rugby there please.
    Fascinating contest though and I was amazed by the lack of real penetration from the Barca attack

    1. “….the game must once and for all address the theatrical behaviour of players–feigning injury or enticing a penalty from the referee.Learn a bit from rugby there please.”

      If only.

  8. I will tell you something for nothing, this Mourinho is an amazing manager and a much missed character in the premiership. Lets get him back where he belongs and liven things up again. Good luck Internazionale….never ever thought i would say that.

  9. Inter Milan are a fantastic team watching them over the two legs I was very impressed by how they played.

    Inter Milan are a very good defensive team but they have a very interesting style of playing. During the first game at the San Siro Inter Milan did a very good job of defending as well but they don’t exactly sit in their box for 90 minutes they sit deep in the midfield and cut out passing and then use miscued balls to set up counter attacks.

    Last week during the first leg they really took it to Barcelona outclassing them completely and utterly. If you look back at last weeks scoreline what they did to beat Barcelona was very elaborate. For one they sat very very deep in the midfield to stop Barcelonas flow of play. Another thing is Barcelona take a lot of shots but if they are 30 yards away from the box things are less likely to go in. The position of the Inter defense was simply perfect to break down the offense, hold the midfield AND counter attack from an advanced position.

    Speaking of counter attack what I found amazing during the first leg was the ease at which Inter Milan would counter attack. I think the third goal is especially testament to this. Barcelona were on the attack when Inter Milan got a stray ball. It made its way down the field so freaking fast the Barcelona players seemed like they were asleep or on another planet even after that goal had gone in. Their counter attacking play was simply sublime.

    Mourinho is an amazing manager if you rewatch the first leg you can pick up tiny little details here and there and its nearly like a play that has been written with every detail being shown on the stage. Pin-point details here and there.. just an incredible piece of play by Inter Milan.

    I just hope Inter Milan don’t underestimate Bayern Munich. Louis Van Gaal is an incredible coach and a very astute student of the game he will have his own tailored tactics not to mention even with Ribery out Olic is probably one of the top 5 strikers in the world right now and Arjen Robben… well I can’t really think of a player who has proven his worth more than Robben. The man is by far and away the best deal that went down over the summer transfer window, I bet hes worth at least twice what Bayern Munich paid for him now.

    1. BTW this is what lead to the sending off:

      As you can see he peeks between his hands to see if the referee is coming over towards him before rolling over.

      There was a video on Youtube of the Barcelona pitch management turning on the sprinklers when Mourinho was celebrating but its taken off. This in addition to the fact that Messi dived in the box during the first game without any contact and than Alves also dived in the box.

      Anybody that follows Spanish football will tell you Barcelona is perhaps the dirtiest team in the world and the amount they roll over and fall down or the amount of times they have the referee in their back pocket giving them decisions wins them big games.

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