FC Barcelona coach Radomir Antic denied that his team had adopted Italian-style tactics to stifle Internazionale FC in Wednesday's UEFA Champions League Group A game at the San Siro. Asked if his side, still undefeated in the competition after this 0-0 draw, had set out to frustrate the opposition, he replied: "It wasn't an Italian performance by us - you cannot say we played like an Italian team when we defended so far from our goal."
Barcelona did, however, have a plan to keep Christian Vieri as far from Roberto Bonano's goal, and as close to his marker, Carlos Puyol, as possible. "We knew how to stop them," he said. "They have the best goalscorer in Italy but we caught them offside countless times."
Cause and effect
Inter coach Héctor Cúper admitted: "It was an intelligent ploy to catch us offside as they did. We played too many long balls, looking for Vieri, and were offside about seven times, and that was a mistake." Inter, however, were not helped by the injuries which deprived them of Vieri's partner, Mohamed Kallon, in the first half, and then Stéphane Dalmat, who had subsequently pushed up front, in the second.
Antic described the display as compact. "
We played with authority, and our defence was so firm that I never thought we would lose the match." With Cristiano Zanetti contesting midfield supremacy with Phillip Cocu and Xavi Hernández, it was the wide areas of a pitch Antic condemned as a "potato field", that proved most fruitful. "What we did well was to play down the wings and put Barcelona in difficulty that way, particularly Javier Zanetti," Cúper said. The Inter captain and his fellow full-back, Giovanni Pasquale, were arguably their best attackers, especially after Dalmat's withdrawal on the hour.
However, with Cúper's three changes - Guly also limped off - disrupting the hosts, it was Barcelona who threatened the winning goal. The positive mindset Antic has brought to Camp Nou was evident in his substitution, in the 67th minute, of Fabio Rochemback for Juan Riquelme. The introduction of a natural attacker in the Argentinian stated Barcelona's intent. "We were always looking for a way to win the game," Antic said. Riquelme allowed them "to defend in a different way", meaning even further up the pitch.
Change of emphasis
Under Louis van Gaal, the Blaugrana had been criticised for being too predictable. The emphasis had been on retaining possession, whatever the cost. It would take the perfect goal for them to score. Antic's side, however, were happy to mix the shorter ball with the long one; and when you have an outlet like Kluivert, who combined to effect with the excellent Javier Saviola, why not use it?
"We have a different philosophy of playing [now]," Antic said. "We have done a lot of work on the training ground in the last three or four weeks, and the reaction of the players has meant we have improved as we have gone along. Now we know how to get forward and attack."
Strengths and weaknesses
Antic, it seems, is also happy to cut his cloth according to the materials available. Against Inter, that meant deploying natural midfield players on the flanks, Rochemback and compatriot Thiago Motta, who more than once found space to exploit down the left. And with full-back Gabri García raiding down the right whenever possible, the injured Marc Overmars was hardly missed. "The players we were without may have given us more options," the trainer said. "But I don't want to talk about absent players. I just want those that do play to play to their strengths, and forget their weaknesses."
|Shots on target||3||4|
|Shots hitting post/crossbar||0||0|
|Passing success (%)||71.3||77.0|
|Tackling success (%)||55.3||69.7|
|Attacking passes success (%)||57.1||60.4|
|Passing share (%)||44.6||55.4|
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