UEFA's Technical Observer panel analyse Liverpool's smash-and-grab win away to Inter.
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Liverpool's ability to devastate defences with the speed of their attacks has been integral to their success under Jürgen Klopp. At the San Siro on Wednesday night, though, they highlighted another weapon in their armoury.
In this piece presented by FedEx, the UEFA Technical Observer panel assesses the set-piece threat which earned them a hard-fought win over Inter in the first leg of their last-16 tie.As it happened: Inter 0-2 Liverpool
0-1: Roberto Firmino (75)
Firmino's goal – his 11th after coming off the bench for Liverpool – came from a set play which looked to have come straight off the club's Kirkby training ground. It was an inswinging near-post ball by Andy Robertson from the right which Firmino got his head to and, from a difficult angle, diverted into the far corner. The UEFA observer noted that Liverpool's big men were all gathered together in the middle of the box yet instead the delivery went to the front post where Firmino beat Alessandro Bastoni to the ball.
0-2: Mohamed Salah (83)
Liverpool owed their second goal to their ability to recycle the danger in set-play situations. Though Robertson's free-kick into the box was headed away, they worked another crossing opportunity for Trent Alexander-Arnold from a similar position on the right. Given time and space, he sent over a deep ball that was won by Virgil van Dijk and headed towards the penalty spot. There Stefan de Vrij failed to get more than a faint touch and Salah duly picked up the loose ball and his low shot, through a thicket of legs, beat the stationary Handanović.
Best player: Virgil van Dijk
UEFA's technical observer offered the following assessment of the Liverpool skipper: "He was a real leader of his team. He was very solid in defence, being in the right place with some great – and vital – interceptions. He rarely misplaced a pass and was a constant threat from set pieces."
Inter lined up in a 3-5-2 though, as this graphic shows, their formation was fluid. De Vrij (6) would drop behind his two fellow centre-backs, the powerful Milan Škriniar (37) and Bastoni (95). Marcelo Brozović (77) was the deep midfielder of the hosts' central trio. Meanwhile, wing-backs Denzel Dumfries (2) and Ivan Perišić (14) pushed up the pitch, often as high as the forwards.
They were strong and disciplined and their hard work right across the pitch was reflected by their 70 recoveries on the night – more than any other team this week – with Arturo Vidal (22) making ten of them along with seven tackles. As right-back Dumfries said afterwards: "We fought hard, kept the lines tight; it was difficult for them to play under pressure."
Klopp's side set up in their usual 4-3-3 with a narrow midfield and Fabinho (3) in the pivot role. Given the pressure exerted by Inter, UEFA's technical observer highlighted the work of the visitors' strong centre-back pairing formed by the above-mentioned Van Dijk (4) and Ibrahima Konaté (5).
Signed last summer from Leipzig, Konaté has been eased gradually into the Reds team. He has not played in the Premier League since 2 January yet after waiting until late November for his European debut for the club, he has now made three consecutive UEFA Champions League outings and he caught the eye in Milan with his strength in duels, both in the air and on the ground, recording four interceptions and two blocked shots.
Penalties aside, Liverpool are the most prolific team in this season's Premier League with 14 goals from set pieces. Their efforts this week mean they now occupy top spot in the Champions League set-piece rankings too with five goals – which is five more than they managed in last season's campaign.
Against Inter, they looked like a team with a plan from every dead-ball opportunity and were strong and aggressive in winning most of the second and third balls, which was the source of their second goal.
Their first corner in the ninth minute highlighted their threat. After Fabinho had won the first header, an attempted scissor-kick from Sadio Mané almost inadvertently teed up the Brazilian, who had scored from a set play against Burnley three days earlier. With Liverpool quicker to the loose balls they ended up working the ball back into the middle, where it fell for Thiago Alcántara to send a volley spinning over. Soon after, from Robertson's first free-kick into the box, Mané headed just over. The tone was set.
When it came to facing corners, Liverpool's defending was zonal with a couple of blockers. They had every man in the penalty area with Salah guarding the edge of the box. Inter had actually entered the contest with the most goals scored from corners in the group stage (three, along with Chelsea) but Liverpool's well-organised defence held the upper hand.
That said, the Italian champions did threaten twice from their seven corners. In the 40th minute an outswinging delivery by Hakan Çalhanoğlu was met by Škriniar in a central position outside the five-metre box but he headed wide. Then, in the 72nd minute from another Çalhanoğlu delivery, Dumfries flashed an effort just over at the near post.
Instead, the home side's best effort came from open play when Hakan Çalhanoğlu struck the underside of the crossbar during a tight first half. Inter's best spell came at the start of the second period, when they passed the ball well and at a high tempo. Yet Liverpool's three changes after 59 minutes – the introductions of Luís Díaz, Jordan Henderson and Naby Keïta – helped change the dynamic. Their set pieces did the rest.
Jürgen Klopp, Liverpool manager
"I think we started really well, but after that our full-backs were alone in the one-on-one situations too often. That doesn't work. We can't come here and hope we have a brilliant day. We didn't have a brilliant day, but a good enough day to get a result. Bobby put in an unbelievable header and then we managed to grab a second."
Simone Inzaghi, Inter coach
"Football is decided by small details and that Firmino header made all the difference tonight. This performance, however, should give us plenty of confidence because we played a great game. We did not deserve to lose but that's football."