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Inter v Milan – what did we learn?

Watching the Milan derby is always a pleasant experience; it is an important match to both sets of fans and more so this year as a win for Milan would put them with touching distance of Inter going into the end of the season. This year, however, the game took on extra significance as both teams would be playing English opposition in the Champions League. Inter will face Chelsea and Milan will play Man Utd. With Sir Alex Ferguson watching on what will he and Carlo Ancelotti make of their opposition.

Milan

Leonardo started with a 4-3-3 and it become evident early on that the middle three of Gattuso, Ambrosini and Pirlo were being overran. Sneijder, before being sent off, was finding too much space. There is an imbalance in those three players as all three are naturally deep players but all three seemed to compensate for the others by going forward. This left too bigger gap between the defence and midfield and Inter exploited it.

Going forward the two full backs did not offer any quality but could easily get up and down for overlapping runs. Pirlo was disappointing as the creative player in the midfield. Beckham, when he had the ball on the far right provided some trademark crosses but Borriello was too isolated and easily picked up by the Inter defence. Ronaldinho will cause Ferguson the most problems. Although not on top form tonight it was clear that he was a handful for Maicon. Man Utd have problems at right back and these could be exploited by Leonardo.

Overall it should be an easy win for Man Utd but with a note of caution. An orthodox 4-4-2, giving support to Borriello could see a tougher game.

Inter

Inter played a 4-3-1-2 system, a change for Mourinho which I think has been made with one eye on the Chelsea game. He knows that they don’t play with a lot of width so is getting used to packing the centre channel of the pitch. The three central midfielders were all very defensively minded and this enabled not only Sneijder, Militio and Pandev to play without fear but either full back could go forward and have suitable cover. I am particularly looking forward to seeing Maicon against Ashley Cole. There is also a solid centre to Inter’s defence; Julio Cesar (best goalkeeper in the world in my opinion), Lucio, Samuel and Materazzi.

Inter certainly have the better team and with Eto’o to return from duty in Africa Chelsea should be concerned about their chances. Mourinho will be spot on with his tactics against them and who knows Chelsea’s weaknesses better than him.

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Season so far – Part Three; Liverpool, Man City, Man Utd, Portsmouth, Stoke

Liverpool 

The start of Liverpool’s season has been the most talked of. Questions concerning the defence, midfield and the attack have yet to be properly answered and Rafa Benitez has come under criticism for the poor start in the league and Europe.

 

But where has it all gone wrong? At the beginning of the season Liverpool were many people’s tip for the title; continuing the good form shown at the back of last season into this. Firstly it is important to recognise where the title was lost last season. The home draws against West Ham, Hull, Stoke and Fulham were the reason cited for Liverpool failing to win the league. Converting two of those into wins would have given enough points to be level with Man Utd.

 

This season Liverpool has beaten Stoke and Hull at Anfield, thereby rectifying the mistakes of last year. At this point it is worth noting that the draws come with Alonso in the team and the wins this season obviously did not.

 

However, this season there have been defeats to Fulham, Sunderland, Aston Villa, Spurs and Chelsea. Against Villa, Sunderland and Chelsea Liverpool did not take their chances; against Fulham Liverpool had plenty of possession but did not create enough. The Spurs game was a poor performance and a justified defeat.

 

The argument that Liverpool needs Gerrard and Torres is justified to an extent. The remainder of the attacking players could not command a place in most teams first XI. Kuyt is an average right winger; Benayoun is tricky but wasteful and can try too hard in certain situations, Riera likewise. The third man in the Gerrard, Torres triumvirate, Aquilani, has been injured so judgement cannot be passed. However, Benitez’s wisdom needs to be questioned – was spending 20m on an injury prone player (who was injured at the time) a good idea?

 

Defensively the team is at sea. The players seem to have no confidence in each other and are almost waiting for one of them to make an individual mistake. Furthermore, it is very difficult to join a back four that defend zonally from set pieces. This is found out when Arbelloa replaced Finnan, goals from corners were being leaked with regularity. Johnson and Insua joining Carragher and either Skrtel or Agger has not helped. Particularly Insua who is looking a worse player as each week goes by. For a 20 year old he looks far too slow.

 

The answer is not to sack Benitez. However, he should not be allowed to purchase players. Mourinho said during this time at Chelsea that he wanted a squad of 25; three goalkeepers and two players in every other position. Liverpool have three left backs, three right backs, four central defenders, four central midfielders (I don’t include Spearing), four wide players and three strikers. The lack of quality in some of those positions is the reason Liverpool did not convert the defeats this season into positive results.

 

Manchester City

 

A good start to the season which has tailed away after the succession of draws. City certainly has the quality to challenge for the league and the Champions League places. Alan Hansen explained the difficulty City have right now is the defence. It’d be too easy to pick on Bridge after what we saw on MOTD.

 

I feel that City need to play with more strength in the middle of midfield. Currently the side is playing an orthodox 4-4-2 which I don’t think affords enough protection to Lescott and Toure; particularly if either full back goes on a run up field. Playing a Christmas tree or 4-5-1 and having De Jong, Barry and Ireland in the middle would give more balance to the side. This unfortunately means dropping Wright-Phillips but giving Bellemy and Tevez the license to roam behind Adeybor will cause enough problems to any defence so the attacking potency will not be lacking.

 

Manchester Utd

 

I might be speaking too soon, given the very important match coming up, but this is how I am viewing the season so far. It has been a good start, minor blips against Liverpool, Burnley and CSKA but nothing aside from that.

 

However, a theme of Utd’s season has been the late goals scored, most notably against Man City and Sunderland. This points to the fact that Man Utd need late goals to secure or rescue results. Neither the defence nor the attack has been firing on all cylinders but yet both have been at full strength, player-wise.

 

The reason for the success so far has been Rooney’s form. He has been far and away the best player. Only Berbatov looks like coming close to matching Rooney for the quality he brings to the side. Unfortunately for Utd Rooney is a form player, when on form he scores goals for fun but they a tendency to dry up in patches. The success of the season depends on keeping Rooney fit and others filling his boots when he is not scoring as freely as he could.

 

In January there has been a lot of talk of Villa or Silva and I think at least one needs to be purchased in order to remain on course to challenge.

 

Portsmouth

 

I still maintain that this is what needs to happen on the pitch in order to fix Pompey this season https://thoughtsonfootball.wordpress.com/2009/09/28/portsmouth-fixed/

 

However, off the pitch needs as much attention. Players need to be assured that they are at a club for the foreseeable future and that they will only leave if their performances are so good someone buys them or so bad Pompey sell them.

 

Survival is paramount for the future of the club and Hull’s victory against Stoke will not help Pompey.

 

Stoke

 

Tony Pullis deserves so much credit for what he has done at Stoke. He has developed a squad which has enough quality in each position. There is nothing I would change if given the chance.

 

One potential addition in January which could start the side nicking a few more goals could be a true goal poacher. At the Brittania Stoke are going to have more of the ball than they did last season. Having someone like Michael Owen (obviously not actually Michael Owen) in the side could open up defences which come to Stoke and sit in for a draw.

 

Actual names to consider could be Chopra from Cardiff (if they need to sell) or Leeds’ Jermaine Beckford.

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The psychology of taking the lead against Man Utd

One aspect of Burnley’s victory over Man Utd which has not, to my mind, been discussed is the psychological boost it could give other teams.

Man Utd, if behind in a football match, would simply attack, attack and attack. The opposition’s defence would get deeper, ultimately concede and defeats which were on the cards would be turned into draw or victories. There was almost a belief that the equalising goal would inevitably happen. As a viewer I feel the same way; I expected Man Utd to score at least once. The game against Aston Villa last season is prime example of how this mentality can also affect teams which should have more self belief. 

Burnley, having hung on under immense pressure might have gone some way to shatter the defeatest mentality which all teams have when playing Man Utd. However, one other aspect will come into play when teams find themselves in a similar situation. Man Utd are not the same Man Utd that created the fear – they a without two very important creative players. Whilst they have replaced Ronaldo and Tevez the aura has not be replicated.

Andrew Strauss, Englands cricket captain, mentioned that the Australians, minus McGrath, Warne et al did not carry with them the same aura. The feeling of inevitability often contributes more to the actual result that the performance of either side. If both teams expect one result then that result will happen. One expects that Man Utd will need to be defeated in a similar way once again before the image finally falls but Burnley have shown to the rest of the Premier League that the inevitable result is not so inevitable.

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