Borussia Mönchengladbach (2): 45+1′ 75′ Alassane Plea
Inter (3): 17′ Darmian 64′ 73′ Lukaku
A successful day for Inter as they put the first three points on the board in the UCL group stage. They beat Borussia Mönchengladbach 3:2 away from home to keep their hopes alive for qualifying to the next round. The team will have to win their last game against Shakhtar Donetsk, while hoping that the game between Real Madrid against Borussia Mönchengladbach will not finish with a draw.
Inter played a good game overall with a great balance between offense and defense. They grabbed an early lead in the 17th minute through Darmian. The goal came after a brilliant passing move between the midfielders and the forwards ending with the right wingback slotting the ball between the goalkeeper’s legs from the right-hand side. The team kept their composure until the stoppage time of the first half when Mönchengladbach equalized through Alassane Plea’s header.
Conte’s team came out from the dressing room very determined on winning in the second half. They put Borussia Mönchengladbach under pressure from the first minute. The superstar Romelu Lukaku scored the second and the third goals for Inter in the 64th and the 73rd minutes. His first was a brilliant one on one with the defender where he was able to create his own space to take a right-footed shot to the right bottom corner of the goal. As for a second, it was a strong finish after receiving Hakimi’s cross by himself inside the Box.
Borussia Mönchengladbach grabbed one goal back through Plea again after Alexis Sanchez gave the ball away in the midfield. Var came to Inter’s side this game by disallowing what would have been Plea third for an offside call on Breel Embolo. He was in the line of vision of Handanovic when the shot was taken.
Inter kept their cool after that and succeeded to see the game out to go home with the three points.
Shots/on Target: Inter 15/4 (B. M.Gladbach 10/5)
Possession: (Inter 46%) B. M.Gladbach 54%
Total Passes/Success: (Inter 452/84%) B. M.Gladbach 536/88%
Starting Lineup and Formation
Antonio Conte stuck to his 3-5-2 formation this game. However, it looked more defensive on paper based on the personnel choice. The skipper Handanovic was in goal behind the three center backs de Vrij, Skriniar, and Bastoni.
The midfield welcomed back Marcelo Brozovic who was absent last three games due to a positive Covid-19 test. Next to him was Gagliardini and Barella, while Arturo Vidal had to sit out because of his red card last game.
The choice of the two wing-backs was defensive on paper but effective on the pitch. Darmian -who score Inter’s first goal- started on the right and Ashley Young on the left. The two wing-backs were most of the time in line with the three defenders to form a five-man wall in the back.
Upfront, Inter went with their first choice striking pair Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez. The two were playing on the same line most of the game trying to pin the Borussia defenders back in their half.
Inter made only three substitutions in this game. It started in the 60th minute by taking off the goal scorer Darmian while replacing him with Hakimi. In the 71st minute, the Chilean Sanchez replaced Martinez in a like to like substitution. Lastly, Ivan Perisic replaced Ashley Young in the left wing-back position in the 87th minute.
Conte clearly arrived at the game with two different defending systems. There was a plan for each half.
During the first half, Conte knew that leaving lots of spaces to the Borussia Mönchengladbach team might allow them to have the spaces to cross the ball. In the meantime, pressing from the first minute might exhaust his team while leaving the team exposed in the counter-attacks. Inter opted to have compact lines and hold the first point of contact as the halfway line. The two forwards forced the opposition’s center-backs and midfielders to pass to the side. Barella and Gagliardini were instructed to press the sides once the ball reaches the halfway line. This plan limited Mönchengladbach to the individual dribbling attempts, which were often stopped by Inter defenders.
As for the second half, the plan was to press the opponent from the first minute. Inter limited Borussia Mönchengladbach to hopeless passing from their defense to well-marked midfielders and forwards. Inter second goal came from that press when Gagliardini and Brozovic dispossessed Thuram in the midfield before Brozovic assisted Lukaku.
What was different in this game in which Conte takes the credit for, is the fact that Inter kept pressing even after taking the lead. This was always the Achilles heel in most of the previous games as the team tends to drop back after grabbing the lead. The team didn’t repeat the same mistake this game which proved to be fatal before.
When it came to attacking, Inter went back to what made them successful last year. Three aspects which Inter used the last term to end the season as one of the strong attacking forces in Italy and Europe.
Using Lukaku as a focal point is the first thing that every Inter opponent is basing their defending plan on. However, stopping it is another matter. Lukaku had one of his best games this season. The Belgian was fundamental in every attacking move that Inter made. He was not only driving to the goal with the ball, but he was also a distributor of the ball whenever he had the chance. He had 48 touches, 5 successful dribbles, and 3 key passes, apart from his two goals.
Inter used the quick long pass switch many times during this game. The team was always looking for the experienced Darmian on the right side before he was replaced by Hakimi. Darmian was always quick on the counter-attacks to occupy the space that is left by the advancing defenders. He had many chances to cross or play a through pass to the forward whenever he had the time on that side.
During the second half, stretching the field when playing from the back was another key element in Conte’s plan. The license was given to a Skriniar and Bastoni to push up and wing-backs to be wide in the opposition half whenever Inter was trying to play the ball from the back. That stretch pushed the opponent back to their half while gave Inter the space to work with the ball from side to side.
Antonio Conte deserves some praise in this game. He had a good plan, and the players executed it very well.
Sticking to the basics and going back to what made Inter successful last year proved to be the best way to move forward.
Can this be a turning point to this season? Can inter finally qualify for the round of 16 of the UCL?
Real Madrid losing against Shakhtar gave Inter even more hope that they can qualify. But first, they have to win their final game against the Ukrainian side.
Conte is still under pressure, but at least he can avert the storm by winning his last game in the group next week.