Champions League Round Of 16 Recap: Inter v Bayern

A late Mario Gomez goal decided a highly entertaining match featuring two shaky defenses, a couple of world-class performances and an early tactical change with great effect.

Lineups after the Pranjic-Gustavo swap

First things first: Both teams started pretty much as expected. Bayern used the usual 4-2-3-1, Inter settled for a 4-3-2-1. However, one thing was not as expected. Wesley Sneijder played a more central position than Louis van Gaal thought he would. That forced him to make a change after just 2 minutes when he told Danijel Pranjic (who started as central midfielder) and Luiz Gustavo (left-back) to switch positions.

The simple reason was that van Gaal wanted Gustavo to mainly focus on Sneijder (no direct man marking, though). The effects were not only that Gustavo, the man of the match in his first-ever Champions League appearance, nullified the Dutch but also that Danijel Pranjic used the space created by a lack of width by the Nerazzurri to help Franck Ribery and play an outstanding game until he had to be replaced due to an injury that makes him doubtful for Saturday’s match v Dortmund.

Bayern controlled the first half and had some great scoring chances. Two Gustavo shots closely missed the goal, Franck Ribery’s header (!) hit the crossbar and Mario Gomez didn’t hit the ball correctly and so missed an almost open net. Inter couldn’t impress but their lone striker, Samuel Eto’o, made the FCB defense nervous every time he got the ball. His incredible ball control and accuracy led to a couple of huge chances, including one denied by world-class save by Oliver Kahn Thomas Kraft. It’s way too early to say that Kraft will be the goalkeeper for the next decade but for the first time since the retirement a goalie’s movement reminded me of Kahn. We can only hope that he continues to play like that.

As mentioned above, Pranjic’s injury forced him to leave the field. When Breno was getting ready to replace the Croatian, I expected Anatoliy Tymoshchuk to move forward to midfield so that Luiz Gustavo can return to the left-back position. But I was wrong, van Gaal didn’t want Gustavo to stop being near Sneijder so it was Holger Badstuber who moved to the left, just like in last year’s CL final. Unfortunately this meant that Franck Ribery from then on had to play against two or three opponents at the same time since Badstuber rarely supports the left winger. Many criticized Ribery after the match for what they thought was a disappointing performance but I strongly disagree. He certainly wasn’t among the best but in my opinion did a good job if you consider by how many Inter players he was surrounded.

The second half wasn’t that much different, both teams had some promising scoring chances but couldn’t capitalize. Müller’s header missed the goal, Robben’s shot hit the post and Inter’s tries were all stopped by Kraft. At that time, 3-3 would’ve been a fair result but it was still a scoreless match. The young Italian defender Andrea Ranocchia then had to be replaced because of what looked like a knee injury (fortunately his ligaments doesn’t seem to be damaged). Surprisingly, that was the only other substitution. Rarely do you ever see a match where the only two substitutions are caused by injuries. Without them, there probably wouldn’t have been any.

Just when everybody reluctantly accepted that this up-tempo match will end scoreless, Arjen Robben (not for the first time) couldn’t be stopped by the defense and got a shot on goal. Julio Cesar couldn’t handle the ordinary shot and Mario Gomez converted the rebound to make it 1-0. The valuable away goal, the important and slightly deserved win, it happened when nobody expected it anymore. Referee Viktor Kassai (who can’t be blamed for the often overly physical game) for some reason decided to end the match when Bayern earned themselves another corner, something that shouldn’t happen no matter what the result is. But in the end I couldn’t be mad, this match was just too entertaining. The second leg will be played in the Allianz Arena in three weeks. Based on all those scoring chances, nothing is decided yet.

Goals: 0-1 Gomez (90′)

Subs:

Inter: Houssine Kharja (Ranocchia, 73′)

FC Bayern: Breno (Pranjic, 38′)

Other Champions League matches:

AC Milan v Tottenham 0-1 (Crouch)

Valencia v Schalke 1-1 (Soldado; Raul)

AS Roma v Donetsk 2-3 (Perrotta, Menez; Jadson, Douglas Costa, Luiz Adriano)

Arsenal v Barcelona 2-1 (van Persie, Arshavin; Villa)

Lyon v Real Madrid 1-1 (Gomis; Benzema)

Copenhagen v Chelsea 0-2 (Anelka x2)

Marseillie v Man United 0-0

Next match: Saturday v Dortmund (Bundesliga), 6.30 pm local time

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