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Written by Daniel & Arjit

OFellow Liverpudlians ! Let’s Discuss Liverpool ! Let’s Talk Some Reds !

IT’S THE UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE !! TIME FOR THE CHAAAAMPIONS !! 🔊🎶🎶🎵🎵🔊🎶🎶🎵🎵

LIVERPOOL

UCL & quadruple HUNT

The classic Liverpool-Man City Title race is back on track. The 2021-22 Premier League title race was thought to be over just 8 weeks ago when Liverpool went 14 points behind champions Manchester City after dropping much needed points against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. However, the race has come back alive again as Liverpool have roared back and have found the much-needed momentum coupled with 9 straight wins and some Man City mis-haps. As often it is in the past, Jurgen Klopp, inspired the team to find their defensive steeliness and solidity, conceding just 2 goals in 9 games. The whole team stepped up in the absence of leading Premier League scorers Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane. Their representation at the African Cup for their respective countries in Egypt and Senegal would have proven fatal to Liverpool as they were indispensable to the side. In their absence, the leadership of Virgil Van Dijk was clear for all to see. However, the main man was Diogo Jota, who produced world-class performances with crucial winning goals to his name in both the Premier League and the League Cup. Liverpool progressed in the League Cup as well, lifting a record 9th League cup over Thomas Tuchel’s UCL winners Chelsea at Wembley.

FIRST LEG

san siro double

A win at the San Siro is no easy feat. Liverpool can be proud of a rare San Siro double this season against European heavyweights and Champions League stalwarts Internazionale and AC Milan. In fact, they have beaten the famous football clubs from Milan 3 times, taking account of the victory against AC Milan at Anfield. However, the win against Inter was never a foregone conclusion contrary to the prediction of football pundits. Inter matched Liverpool on all areas of the pitch with pretty much ease. A defensive masterclass was put on show by the former Manchester United target Milan Skriniar until Liverpool put their noses in front. This is something to ponder for Klopp which he will have to put his teeth into in the second leg at Anfield on March 9th. It took Liverpool more than an hour of fine grinding, 75 minutes to be specific to topple Inter Milan. Liverpool’s bench strength was put to test on the night as the players from both the sides were visibly tiring after an exhaustive weekend of football.

EMERGENCE OF LUIS DIAZ

The transfer saga of the 2022 January Window which captured the minds of Liverpool and Spurs fans together was put into the firing line at the San Siro. Diaz had already produced exceptional cameos in his previous matches against Cardiff and Leicester. When he arrived onto the pitch at the Giuseppe Meazza, the game was at the balance, with Inter threatening for an opener. However, Diaz took over the responsibility of leading the Liverpool attack into his own hands and delivered a promising performance which ultimately resulted in a 2-0 lead over Milan. His pace proved to be the difference over the tiring Inter defenders. Jordan Henderson straight away showed his technical excellence and experience after an appearance from the substitute bench. The biggest impact was however made by Roberto Firmino, whose flicked header from a Trent-Alexander corner resulted in the opening goal. Later, Salah pounced on a rare mistake by Inter defense to double the advantage which could prove pivotal at Anfield.      

SECOND LEG

Rare Anfield No show

Liverpool’s 2 goal advantage going into the second leg at Anfield proved to be a winning margin at the end. The game was nothing short of a snooze fest. Players and fans of Liverpool together had a false sense of security which affected the intensity of the match. Inter Milan came with something to prove and was nearly rewarded themselves an unprecedented shot at extra-time against Liverpool at Anfield. However, the red card brandished to Alexis Sanchez came at a time when Milan had pulled a goal back and was sensing an equalizer. Ten men of Inter was nearly not enough against a European heavyweight at their home and it proved something too far for this Inter team to overcome.

misfiring Liverpool attack

Liverpool’s fearsome attack has somewhat lost its bite in the past weeks. In a rather fruitless 90 minutes of action at Anfield, Liverpool could only muster a meager 2 out of 9 attempts on target without resulting in a goal. Salah goalless minutes at Anfield is a rare commodity and it took two posts to deny him. He shoots more often if he is not in his mojo. In this recent goalless spree from open play, which spans 6 games, he has attempted 28 shots (incl. blocked shots) in which only 6 was only on target. With the arrival of Luis Diaz, Mane continues to be shifted to the center forward position and his lack of playing time at that position added to his own and Liverpool’s lack of threat from the forward area of the field. Moreover, Diogo Jota, showed rustiness after a small injury layoff. His touches was not his best and did put up a weary performance. Luiz Diaz had to be introduced from the bench and he missed an easy opportunity in front of goal from less than 6 yards.

INTER MILAN

UCL & SCUDETTO RACE

Inter Milan qualified for the R16 via a nervous second place finish behind Real Madrid in group D, their first knockouts appearance since the 2011/12 season. Inzaghi’s men came into the game on the back of a hard-earned point against fellow Scudetto rivals Napoli in Serie A. The Nerazzurri are in a three-horse race for the title with AC Milan and Napoli, while also holding out aspirations of an upset against one of the bookies’ favorites Liverpool. Simone Inzaghi sent out his team in the familiar 3-5-2 formation, with Arturo Vidal partnering Marcelo Brozovic due to the suspension of Nicolo Barella for the first leg. A huge blow for Inter given Barella’s great performances this season.

FIRST LEG

EARLY ENCOURAGEMENT

Despite early possession from the visitors, Inter almost struck the first blow with Lautaro Martinez fizzing a shot just wide of Alisson’s post, a gentle reminder of what Simone Inzaghi’s men could do on quick transitions. Liverpool continued to dominate proceedings but Inter almost found themselves with a lead around 16th minute when Hakan Calhanoglu struck the bar from close range via an Ivan Perisic low cross down the left flank. The Nerazzurri wouldn’t muster any more chances after this point, as they were pegged down in their own half for the remaining first half, with Liverpool asking all the questions. Inter failed to capitalize on their early chances and seemed content defending in their 5-3-2 setup. The San Siro crowd would’ve expected more courage from their team, but perhaps Simone Inzaghi was mindful of the second leg.

LACK OF INTENSITY & PRESSING

Liverpool is perhaps the best pressing team in Europe, with an intense ‘man-to-man’ approach of suffocating the opposition and forcing errors high up the pitch, a method also called ‘gegenpressing’. As Jurgen Klopp says “counter-pressing is the best no.10 in modern football”, as you win the ball as close to opposition goal as possible, which increases the chances to score. Liverpool attempt more pressures (1086) in attacking third than Inter (912), while also making more recoveries (2636) compared to Inter’s (2097). Liverpool is simply the fitter team, and this clearly showed in the first leg as Inter struggled to cope with their intensity. Klopp’s men forced countless errors from Inter on the night, while Inter’s press was slow and lethargic, easily bypassed by the brilliant passing of Fabinho and Thiago Alcantara. The difference between a Premier League side and a Serie A side was clear to see, with the former emerging victorious.

DEFENSIVE WEAKNESSES EXPOSED

Inter had a problem dealing with deliveries into the box throughout the entire game. Liverpool’s first goal came via a corner which wasn’t dealt with properly at the near post, which allowed Roberto Firmino a free glancing header. The second goal came via a long ball from TAA which wasn’t headed clear and the ball fell perfectly for Mo Salah to shoot inside the penalty box. Stefan De Vrij has been the weak link in Inter’s backline this season, and this was evident in this game. Inter has allowed more errors leading to goals (6) this season compared to Liverpool (4). In Serie A, teams sit back against Inter, not testing their defensive acumen enough in games, something which isn’t the case in UEFA Champions League. Even though Inter’s defense boasts enough height and physicality, perhaps TAA and Robertson’s angled balls were too much for the ‘Bastoni-De Vrij-Skriniar’ trio to handle. Again, the difference in quality evident.

SHOOTING BLANKS IN FRONT OF GOAL

Inter had 0 shots on target in the entire game, which summed up their performance in front of goal. Liverpool had more attacks (42) than Inter, more attempts (12) than Inter (9), and more runs into the attacking third (9) than Inter. Understandably, Inter lost the game simply because they didn’t commit enough in the attacking third. Inter are not a particularly pro-active team under Inzaghi, they are a transition team, and the difference was evident as Liverpool out-created and out-shot them on the night. This season, Liverpool boast more league goals (70) than Inter (55), while also having more xG (66.7) than the Nerazzurri (52.8). The Reds come out on top in shot-creating actions (759) compared to Inter (698), while also participating in more goal-creating actions (115) than Inter (85). Liverpool prefer to take charge, while Inter like to feel their way into games, and this cost them dearly in the first leg. They didn’t capitalize on their early momentum, opting to adopt a more cautious approach, while Liverpool applied the pressure and deservedly got their reward, claiming a precious away win.

SECOND LEG

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE

There aren’t many more daunting things in football than digging out a win at Anfield. Inter had the impossible task of inflicting first defeat to Liverpool in 2022. Inter were on the wrong side of history as well, registering a defeat in each of the last 3 matches against Liverpool, failing to score a single goal in the process. This would also be the third trip to Anfield, with the Nerazzurri beaten in the previous two meetings as well (1-3 in 1965 and 0-2 in 2008). Past is the past but the players do feel the tension and pressure, especially when facing a quality team that has had your number previously. The contrasting recent forms of both sides meant the Nerazzurri didn’t exactly have a head start in the second leg, slim chances but Inzaghi’s men had to try nonetheless.

EARLY PUSH & PRESSURE

One thing was certain and Inzaghi acknowledged this too, in his pre-match interview, Inter had to get an early goal if they were to pull off an Anfield miracle. They started well, applied pressure, and played a higher line than usual. Marcelo Brozovic looked dangerous with his passing and Ivan Perisic stretched the Liverpool backline with his powerful running down the wing. Danzel Dumfries had the first chance, but his timid header was easily saved by Alisson. Perisic was regularly testing TAA, clearly a tactic given the Englishman’s defensive struggles in the first leg. In possession, Inter looked a 3-3-4, committing men forward to create overload in the final third. Despite Inter’s early running, Liverpool came closest to opening the score via a thumping Joel Matip header which struck the bar. Shortly after round the half hour mark, Inter were lucky to be level again as Virgil Van Dijk’s header was blocked by Milan Skriniar. As in the first leg, Inter started brightly but couldn’t capitalize, conceding possession and very happy to play on the transition. Perhaps, going for the jugular would’ve been better.

LIMITED ATTACKING THREAT

Over the two legs, Inter had a meagre 3 shots on target. Although, its understandable chances would be far and few between against a ferocious Klopp side, managing only 3 shots on target doesn’t reflect well for the Milanese team. Inzaghi’s men had their backs against the wall from the start, drawing an in-form Liverpool team, but its fair to say they didn’t show enough threat and ambition to progress to the quarter-finals. In both legs, Inter started with intensity and pressure, but that didn’t materialize to clear-cut chances. The early enthusiasm was swiftly replaced by the typical cautious approach that Italian teams are known for. Inter’s game was typified by surrendering possession, playing on transition, and remaining compact to stay in the tie. And even though they tried in the end, the Nerazzurri paid a heavy price for their overall lack of ambition and courage over the two legs. One could hope, a valuable lesson learnt.

HUGE GULF IN QUALITY & CLASS

On paper, Liverpool edged out Inter Milan (2-1) over two legs. Upon close reflection, Liverpool ran out comfortable winners. Inter tried but never really threatened, there was an evident gulf in quality between the two sides and one could say between the leagues as well, with Serie A falling short of the mighty Premier League. The data is evident in this regard. Despite chasing the game, Inter only managed 39% possession, fewer attacks (24 compared to Liverpool’s 65), fewer completed passes (355 to 627), fewer goal attempts (7 to 12), fewer runs into key areas (7 to 22), fewer passes into key areas (15 to 50), and fewer passes into the attacking third (20 to 60). In addition, Liverpool hit the frame of the goal on 3 separate occasions, on any other night, Salah could’ve walked away with a hattrick. The average player positions of the Nerazzurri were much deeper than Liverpool, indicating that Klopp’s team played a higher line and committed more men forward. The difference in terms of pressing was also clear to see as Inter struggled to play a fluid game, with Liverpool deploying smart pressing traps across the pitch. All in all, Liverpool were deserved winners over the two legs, kudos to Inter for staying in the tie, but that’s all Inzaghi’s men could really manage.

Rating: 0.5 out of 5.

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