Liverpool walked away from the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza (or San Siro if you will) victorious for the second time this season on Wednesday, with Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah delivering heavy blows for Inter Milan in the first leg of their Champions League round-of-16 encounter.
It was not a very pretty (in a technical sense) contest perhaps, but it was certainly interesting from the first to the final whistle, with plenty of notable aspects.
Virgil van Dijk
Many believe Virgil van Dijk to be the best defender in the world of football right now. The way his arrival from Southampton in January 2018, questioned a lot for its hefty £75 million fee, transformed Liverpool’s defence remains simply incredible to this day. Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe, Robert Lewandowski and Erling Haaland, they’ve all faced the big Dutchman in recent years in various competitions, and not one of them can be said to have got the better of him.
There were concerns about the level Van Dijk would be able to reach again following his ACL tear last season, but if the match against Inter was anything to go by, those concerns were completely needless. Van Dijk absolutely dominated any player that moved into his domain, and the likes of Edin Dzeko and Lautaro Martinez joined the long list of class attackers that have learned that there is no way past Liverpool’s colossus when he’s on top of his game.
Van Dijk was rightly named the Man of the Match and is a contender for the Champions League Player of the Week award as well. A flawless defensive performance, worthy of many great defensive names of the past.
Italian press in the their match ratings of Van Dijk:
‘Ruler of the defence. He does everything with disarming ease, never giving the impression of being in trouble.’
‘A giant closes, anticipates and the headed balls are all his.’
— Josh Williams (@DistanceCovered) February 17, 2022
Inter didn’t deserve to lose
The Nerazzurri contributed to the overall quality of the match as much as Liverpool did, there can be no questions about that. As a team, they were never inferior, not allowing the visitors to stamp their authority on the proceedings in their own home.
Aligned in Simone Inzaghi’s preferred 3-5-2 shape, they were a good match for Liverpool in many aspects. Milan Skriniar, Stefan de Vrij and Alessandro Bastoni kept things tight at the back, defending rather aggressively with the help of Marcelo Brozovic and Arturo Vidal from midfield, as well as Denzel Dumfries and Ivan Perisic out wide. They closed spaces close to their goal efficiently, which is of fundamental importance against the level of players Liverpool boast in attack.
Inter frequently attacked on their left, where Perisic was often joined by Bastoni far up the pitch, as well as Dzeko or Martinez who came in as well to help overload Trent Alexander-Arnold on that side. Hakan Calhanoglu also made some brilliant runs on that side, hitting the bar from Inter’s greatest chance in the match. Moreover, when they went that way, the home team mostly managed to avoid facing Van Dijk.
Dumfries consequently had a more difficult time on the other side, where he was up against Andy Robertson, and his clash with the Scotland captain was great for the neutrals to enjoy. The two wide players managed to limit each other’s attacking input as much as possible, but in the end, there was nothing Dumfries could do to prevent Robertson from delivering a perfect corner for Firmino to use in the 75th minute.
Inter were particularly good in the third quarter of the match, when the ball spent a lot of time deep in Liverpool’s half. They looked far more likely to score in that period, but as it turned out in the end, they failed to deliver a single shot on target, and the first sign of concentration dropping proved costly at the other end. The shock of going down so unexpectedly obviously took it’s toll, and a team like Liverpool usually doesn’t forgive that.
It’s not very often that Liverpool have their full squad ready to play, but that was the case this time and it showed. Jurgen Klopp was able to replace Diogo Jota (twisted ankle) with Firmino at halftime, and introduce Jordan Henderson, Luis Diaz and Naby Keita on the hour-mark, as well as James Milner with five minutes to go. Those are some options to have, on top of a very formidable starting XI.
On the other hand, Inzaghi was without Nicolo Barella, Joaquin Correa and Robin Gosens, and while there were excellent alternatives for the latter two at his disposal, Barella’s absence was keenly felt. Vidal was the one who stepped in, but the 34-year-old Chile international simply doesn’t bring the same level of creativity to the table. A lot, therefore, fell on the shoulders of Calhanoglu and Martinez, and that perhaps kept them further from Alisson Becker’s goal that they would’ve liked to be.
It’s not over yet
A two-goal advantage is often described as a dangerous result in football, and Inter have certainly showed that they have what it takes to hurt Liverpool, even though they’re mostly seen as the underdogs in this encounter from the start. Taking a lead at Anfield at any point would blow the contest wide open, and Klopp and his players were right in taking the job-not-yet-done stance in their interviews after the match.
Nonetheless, Liverpool are now huge favourites to progress to the quarterfinals, there’s no hiding from that fact for Inter. The Serie A champions face an extremely difficult task at an iconic stadium where the atmosphere often makes breathing difficult for the opposition.
And yet, the Nerazzurri will travel to the North-West of England with very little pressure on their shoulders, which can be a helping factor. They certainly haven’t and will not embarrass themselves, even if they lose again; they’re too good for that and the world knows it. They’ll still be fired up and give it their best to overturn the deficit.
Liverpool need to be careful.
- Soccer News Like
- Be the first of your friends!