By David Rodich
A 90th minute Mario Gomez goal vindicated Bayern’s offensive approach, earning the German side a revenge victory over Inter in the first leg of this round-of-16 Champion’s League match-up.
Leonardo lined up his Inter side in a Christmas tree formation featuring Eto’o at the top supported by Sneijder and Stankovic. This choice was surely driven by the unavailability of strikers as Milito was still injured, and Pazinni was ineligible due to his previous UEFA performances this season with Sampdoria. It was clear from the opening minutes that (whether driven by choice, characteristics of the formation, or a reaction to Bayern grabbing the early momentum), Inter would be dropped back quite deep, conceding the bulk of possession to Bayern, who asserted their weight and dominated the opening half an hour. But, a 33rd minute Eto’o chance marked a shift in momentum, which sent Inter surging until the break. Despite this push forward, which was spearheaded by the quick passing of Eto’o, Sneijder and the forward marauding Maicon, Inter could not capitalize and went to halftime locked in a nil-nil tie.
The second half transpired in a similar trajectory of the first, except that the last quarter of an hour saw both sides pushing forward in search of the winning goal. At that point either could have gotten it, but it was Bayern that snatched it up as Robben, who’d predictably been their main attacking threat all night, took a powerful shot that was mishandled by the usually sure-handed Cesar, leaving an offering to Mario Gomez who graciously accepted, giving his side the 90th minute winner.
The Inter camp will have you believe that they got edged out of an even match with a 90th minute goal. While this is true on paper and in the minds of the tactic-driven Italians, Bayern deserved a goal for all their pressure. And yes, maybe Inter deserved one too for their attacking efforts (they did produce a handful of quality chances), but on balance Bayern played more positively with the ball. Inter, on the other hand, set out to play cautiously – to primarily defend while relying on Eto’o and Sneijder to produce a goal without consistent support from the midfield.
Successful defending is a fine balance. Push up too much and you get beat with a through-ball – sit too far back and you give opposing attackers time and space to find their rhythm. I believe Inter was guilty of the latter on Wednesday. The modern Bayern team under Van Gaal is a high-powered attacking side – Robben and Ribery on either wing, Schweinsteiger, Gomez, Muller – there’s simply too much talent there to concede the midfield.
Nevertheless, it is only a 1-0 lead to Bayern, and Inter have hopes of finding success in Munich on the return leg.
Leonardo had this to say, “It’s a shame to concede a goal like that, right at the end,” said the coach, “but this defeat has only changed our mood, not the way we’ll approach the second leg. We’ll go to Munich without fear.”