Inter 4 Spurs 1: Advanced full backs and Defoe not the way to go

After going to the San Siro with a comfortable lead in our last 16 Europa League tie, who would have thought we’d see extra time? Who else would’ve thought we’d be saying thank goodness for Emmanuel Adebayor? His toe poke sending Tottenham fans into scenes of jubilant celebration, putting us through on away goals as it finished Inter 4 Spurs 1.

Despite the score line, Tottenham played quite well in large phases of the match, controlling possession and dictating the flow of the game, but just succumbed to a number of fundamental errors. These were committed in both full back zones and by the selection of both Jermain Defoe and Emmanuel Adebayor.

Spurs set up and tactics

Andre Villas-Boas wanted the side to play as a 4-3-3 here with Jermain Defoe taking Gareth Bale’s role operating as a number ten. However, Defoe played far too high up the pitch, making the formation more 4-4-2 and unbalanced with Gylfi Sigurdsson working higher up on the left and Moussa Dembele deeper on the right.


Spurs average positions.

Going forward we had numbers and could move the ball around inside the Inter half. When possession was lost, Defoe was supposed to be dropping back to pick up Mateo Kovacic, making an additional man in midfield.

Instead the Croatian was allowed time and space to move the ball out to both sides of Inter’s diamond, completing 60 of his 64 passes in the match. This allowed them to get Antonio Cassano and Esteban Cambiasso on the ball, who had time to pick out Rodrigo Palacio and Fredy Guarin running in behind our high line.

Coupled with Jermain Defoe not dropping in to midfield, our full backs were also pushing on too high for a side that were effectively playing with two out-and-out strikers. This allowed Inter to play diagonal through balls to get in-behind and all four of their goals were created from the full back zones.

Inter setup and tactics

Inter played a 4-1-2-1-2 diamond, but the two strikers up front caused us problems, as we’ll look at in a minute.

The Italians started out playing on the counter, very much expecting us to come on to them. Once they won possession back, they were very quick to move it forward, looking to get in behind our high line. As a result, they were able to spring our offside trap, but also were caught a number of times.


Inter were caught offside often.

Once they had the second goal, they naturally could smell an upset and pressed us further up the pitch. When the third went in, they suddenly had something to lose and dropped off again. This was maybe Stramaccioni’s mistake to not go for the jugular when Inter were in the ascedency.

Spurs struggle to get it wide

Against a diamond midfield, we really needed to shift the ball wide to stretch it and then put in crosses which Inter struggle to defend. As outlined in the Tottenham tactics before the first leg, the Italians are vulnerable to balls in to the box and we capitalised on this at the Lane with all three of our goals.

The problem we had here was that Gylfi Sigurdsson and Moussa Dembele were continually cutting inside from the wide areas. By doing this, they kept on coming back in to the strong point of the diamond and so were unable to create much throughout the 90 minutes.

It wasn’t until extra time when we forced several corners that we exposed Inter’s vulnerability in the air from crosses. Jan Vertonghen had his effort clawed off the line by Goalkeeper Samir Handanovic; then William Gallas saw his header whistle past the post.

Cassano and Palacio

The two strikers were a problem for our defence. Antonio Cassano was continually dropping off in to midfield, particularly out to the left flank, looking to play balls through and over our high line for Rodrigo Palacio. The Argentinean was charging down the channels, looking for the Italian to find him with measured passing.


Inter 4 Spurs 1: Antonio Cassano passes played and Rodrigo Palacio passes received.

We’d seen Cassano do plenty of this in Spurs 3 Inter 0 at the Lane and so it was surprising that he wasn’t being picked up after he dropped off the front. Although the problem of Jermain Defoe not moving in to midfield when the Italians had possession was allowing Cassano to create overloads.

The Italian was directly involved in three of Inter’s four goals and was a general thorn in our side all evening.

Inter score four through the full back zones

With both full backs jumping up to join the play, Inter took advantage of this to create through the wide areas.

Their first on the night was scored from a quick transition to catch out Kyle Walker. Our right back was caught up field having been involved in an attack and denied a corner.

Inter were swift to shift the ball down our end from the goal-kick through Cambiasso and Jonathan to Rodrigo Palacio. The Argentinean was running the channel in behind our other full back, Kyle Naughton.

Antonio Cassano headed home Palacio’s cross after he had got himself in to the zone vacated by Kyle Walker, with Moussa Dembele also failing to fill in for his full back.


Inter’s first goal.

Palacio then made it 2-0 after a through ball from Esteban Cambiasso found him running the inside channels once more. Kyle Walker had been sucked in by the presence of Antonio Cassano, leaving Palacio to get in behind him and inside the labouring William Gallas.


Inter’s second goal.

Inter’s third came from Kyle Walker fouling Cassano in the right back zone. The resulting free-kick deflected off the wall, then William Gallas sliced it in to our net.

Just prior to the free-kick there were four men in the wall, but Lewis Holtby exited it to cover an Inter player on the edge of the area. Had four men been in the wall, then the ball would have surely struck in to him and back out to a safer location, rather than off of Dembele’s hip and in to the path of Gallas.

After scoring there times through the full back zones, Inter notched their fourth once again through here, as Cassano was once more the creator.

Kyle Walker was again in the area, but forced to choose whether to cover Cassano or Palacio without too much help from Moussa Dembele in front of him. Ideally Walker would have been on Palacio, Dembele on Cassano and William Gallas wouldn’t have been in no man’s land. As it was Cassano used the yard of space caused by Walker’s indecision and crossed for Ricky Alvarez to score.


Cassano creates Inter’s fourth.

Inter’s fourth only served to set up a tense last ten minutes after another piece of Moussa magic grabbed us a vital away goal.

Moussa magic

Moussa Dembele has one move and two goals have been scored by him from it so far this season. However, the Dembele shake was responsible for getting us through another Europa League tie.

We’ve seen it against Norwich and Lyon, but Moussa Dembele’s trademark dribble-drive to his left and shot across the keeper saved us once more. Samir Handanovic may have palmed away the Belgian’s effort, but Emmanuel Adebayor stretched out one of his extra long legs to poke home the rebound.

Andre Villas-Boas had the away goal he’d craved, prompting scenes of jubilation and wild celebration amongst Tottenham fans.

Inter 4 Spurs 1 conclusions

The approach to this game was a difficult one with such a decisive 3-0 aggregate lead.

It would have been easy to sit back looking to defend, but Andre Villas-Boas said beforehand that we’d ‘show Inter no mercy’ and that was our downfall here.

We were too aggressive with the selection of Defoe and Adebayor. We were also overly aggressive with our full backs bombing on as a result of Sigurdsson and Dembele playing so narrow, allowing Inter to counter punch through their zones.

If we’d grabbed an early goal, which it seems that AVB was looking for, then his plan would have been heralded as a success. However, we’ve seen before that the Defoe/Adebayor combination just doesn’t work and it proved to be the same here with Jermain playing too high and not helping his midfield.

Lewis Holtby entered the game for Defoe after the second Inter goal, but he really should have been the selection from the start. If he had been, then maybe the aggregate score wouldn’t have been so close.

Final score: Inter 4 Spurs 1

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