Inter Milan were the opponents when Gareth Bale burst onto the European stage two seasons ago. A second half hat-trick at the San Siro was ultimately futile, as Inter had led 4-0 at half-time, but the return performance saw Bale tear apart Inter’s backline for a second time, with Maicon simply unable to keep up with the Welshman’s incredible bursts down the left.
Inter have changed managers multiple times since then – Rafael Benitez gave way to Leonardo, then came Gian Piero Gasperini, Claudio Ranieri and now Andrea Stramaccioni. For Inter, it seems a long time since their previous meeting with Spurs – but Stramaccioni will be determined to stop a repeat performance. Here are five ways he might go about stopping Spurs.
Swapping the full-backs
Inter’s first-choice full-back duo can play on either side – Javier Zanetti generally starts at right-back but is comfortable on the left, Yuto Nagatomo seems better on the left, but is actually right-footed. In the Milan derby the weekend before last, Stramaccioni made the curious decision of switching them around – Nagatomo on the right, Zanetti on the left – but the Japan international was dominated by Stephan El Shaaraway, and swapping them again at half-time allowed Inter back into the game.
With Bale likely to start in a central role rather than out wide, this might be not crucial in stopping the Welshman – but Stramaccioni’s decision will still be interesting. It makes sense to play Zanetti right, moving inside to track Gylfi Sigurdsson, Clint Dempsey or Lewis Holtby’s runs, and using Nagatomo against Aaron Lennon – but if things go badly, the two can be flipped.
It’s not often you see anyone play ‘the Phil Jones role’ in Italy, but man-marking amongst defenders in open play is common – centre-backs often stick very tight to opposition strikers, denying them space to turn.
This could be useful against Bale, if he replicates the advanced, central role he played in the weekend win over Arsenal. Esteban Cambiasso, the experienced holding midfielder that has occasionally filled in at centre-back this season, would be an obvious candidate for the role.
Play a 3-4-1-2
Stramaccioni has generally fielded a back four in recent weeks, but earlier in the season he regularly fielded a back three, along with a very cautious midfield four – it was essentially seven players to defend, two to attack, and one – Fredy Guarin – to link the two sections.
A back three of Andrea Ranocchia, Cristian Chivu and Jesus could stay in position, while Zanetti, Nagatomo patrol the flanks, with Cambiasso and Walter Gargano inside. This would mean Inter always having a covering defender, and the opportunity for the outside centre-backs to get out wide and double up against Spurs’ wingers.
Park the bus
With a backline short on mobility, don’t expect Inter to replicate Arsenal’s mistake on Sunday, when the Gunners played a high defensive line with little pressure in midfield. Inter don’t press particularly aggressively in midfield, which means they’ll be forced to defend deep, so runs in behind the defence will be much trickier.
Previously, Inter could get away with this because they possessed arguably Serie A’s best attacking partnership – Antonio Cassano just behind Diego Milito. They could be left to their own devices, and relied upon for goals. But with the Argentine out for the season, and Cassano involved in a furious bust-up with Stramaccioni last weekend and a doubt for this game, if Inter defend very deep, it will probably be a low-scoring game.
Make the game scrappy
Inter’s win at Catania on Sunday – when they came back from 2-0 down to win 3-2 with a stoppage time goal from Rodrigo Palacio (who sports Serie A’s most bonkers haircut – a ‘rat’s tail’ in conjunction with an otherwise shaven head) was their first away Serie A win since October. Their previous seven away games had produced just one win, and six defeats.
And while the likes of Milan and Juventus have rejuvenated their squad with younger, fresher players, Inter still feel a little pedestrian. In a good open game of football, Tottenham would triumph at home – expect Inter to make the match stop-start.
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