Inter Milan and Bayern Munich square off on Wednesday in perhaps the most intense of all the Champions League groups. Here we’ll spotlight some of the key tactical and matchup elements that will be in play — featuring our resident aficionado and serial astute watcher of Serie A football, CCyler!
Oh, and if you haven’t yet — check out our Q&A with the Inter SBNation blog, as well as give the Bavarian Podcast Works game preview. Let’s hope Bayern don’t drop points once again. Now, on with the show:
The battle for the middle
It’s Bayern coach Julian Nagelsmann’s first choice thus far of Marcel Sabitzer and Joshua Kimmich against his Inter counterpart Simone Inzaghi’s formidable trio of Nicolo Barella, Marcelo Brozović and Hakan Çalhanoglu.
Sabitzer — or whoever mans the #6, in case Nagelsmann switches things up — could get overrun because both Çalhanoglu and Barella like to roam in the space between the lines. Kimmich will need to be disciplined.
Similarly Inter don’t have a proper defensive midfielder in the squad, leaving a gap in front of their defensive line too. This could be ripe for the picking for Nagelsmann’s half-space warriors — any two of Jamal Musiala, Leroy Sané, and Thomas Müller, say.
Wings: advantage, Bayern
Inter play a 3-5-2, with no players really pushing wide except for the wing backs. This creates an interesting dynamic where there will always be space in behind the wing back should Bayern recover the ball in their own half — something Bayern might exploit with vertical runs across the width of the field and a pass over the top from long ball maestro Joshua Kimmich.
Nagelsmann could also opt to give Noussair Mazraoui his first start at right-back, as the agile arrival from AFC Ajax could strip Inter’s 32-year-old Matteo Darmian for pace on Inter’s left side.
On the opposite flank, Alphonso Davies should be heavily favored against Dutch international Denzel Dumfries. This would be a great game for Leroy Sané, who combines excellently with Davies on the left. Bayern can both work tight combinations down the touchline through them, or use Sané to tuck inside and occupy the right central defender, isolating Dumfries. Here, again, is where Inter’s lack of a true No. 6 may come to bite them, as they have no player to move into the gap and assist the wing back.
Inzaghi may attempt to pre-empt this by starting Roberto Gagliardini in midfield, but the Italian veteran has failed to impress in his last couple of seasons. On paper, at least, Inter look to have their hands full against any attacking look or adjustment Bayern throw at them.
Inter’s two up top against Bayern’s CB duo
Bayern’s tendency this season has been to operate out of the back four — along with their usual practice of deploying a high line and pressing and counter-pressing aggressively, rather than holding their shape. With only two at the back, this could prove fatal should the midfield be able to be bypassed.
Inter employ a striker pair. Lautaro Martinez and Edin Džeko have both shown excellent hold up abilities time and time again (see also: Brozović’s goal against AC Milan the other day). Inter’s midfielders also love a late run through the middle — which could get opened up if the strike team manage to drag the back line to one side of the field.
Bayern will hope to control the game and win back possession quickly. But they may also have to score quickly to heap the pressure on Inter to play a more expansive game, because a single lost possession could put everything on the line for an individual Bayern defender, whether that’s recent Serie A transfer Matthijs de Ligt (from Juventus), or squad veterans Lucas Hernández or Dayot Upamecano. Which leads to our penultimate point:
Mistakes, mistakes, mistakes
Both defenses this season so far have struggled with individual mistakes rather than outright tactical failures leading to goal concession. The most notable mistakes being those from Dayot Upamecano and Stefan de Vrij of late. A talented defender who does everything right can see it all melt away and his team 0-1 down in the blink of an eye.
And as different as 0-1 plays out compared to 0-0, it may come down to individual moments of nerves or heroism. Who blinks first? Who keeps their cool?
Bonus: Set piece threat
Bayern have in particular struggled to defend set pieces in recent months despite the system changes (see also: the goal by Union Berlin a few days ago), and Inter have one of the best set piece takers on the planet in Çalhanoglu. The Turkish international has spent a number of years in the Bundesliga with Hamburger SV and Bayer 04 Leverkusen, so Bundesliga watchers should be very familiar with his exploits.
On the other hand, Joshua Kimmich delivers a mean free kick himself, Leroy Sané has a wand of a left foot, and assistant coach Dino Toppmöller’s on the ball in the film room, having already delivered one set piece goal this season through his keen observations about Eintracht keeper Kevin Trapp’s tendencies.
There’s the subtle, slightly dark art of buying set pieces at the right times, too. As both teams are a threat in delivery, it could be might against might, as well as that kind of game — as if we haven’t had enough of a foul-fest after Union Berlin. Let’s see who can make the most of working the pitch, and the ref.
Interested in more analysis of the game? Why not check out our podcast? In our latest episode, we previewed the upcoming clash vs Inter Milan and also talked about Bayern’s recent struggles in attack. Listen to it below or at this link.
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