Tactical Analysis: Lethargic Display Cost Inter Europa League Final

The Nerazzurri lost to Sevilla in the final of the Europa League after a brace from Luuk de Jong and a Diego Carlos goal canceled out a Romelu Lukaku penalty and Diego Godin’s equalizer.

During the Semi-Final clobbering of Shakhtar Donetsk, it was clear that Antonio Conte had his men set up to press the Ukrainian giants. The plan was executed to perfection and the Italians were able to score five goals past them.

It was clear that this was the right way to go about things but the game against Sevilla saw Inter simply fall to bad habits, unable to really make any notable use of the ball and allowing the Andalusians to play the game to their rhythm.

It was a risky move on Conte’s part and Inter were duly punished not once or twice but three times.

Calling this encounter a tale of two halves would not do justice to the game at all. Inter were slow, lethargic, unimaginative, and did not look like a team that had so easily dismantled Shakhtar the other night.

The Italians took a quick lead when Diego Carlos bundled Romelu Lukaku in the 4th minute. The resulting penalty was easily dispatched by the Belgium international who equaled Ronaldo Nazario’s record of 34 goals in one single season.

In the first few minutes, Inter seemed like they had a plan. The players were pressing Sevilla, preventing the Spaniards from settling down and playing from the back or even seeking out passes from between the lines.

This initial game plan was a great sign of what to expect from the Nerazzurri. Quick pressing forced Sevilla into making mistakes. Julen Lopetegui’s men were too quick to let go of the ball, thumping it further up the pitch once the Inter attackers started closing them down. Inter, on the other hand, showed a lot of composure and were passing the ball with great confidence.

However, once Sevilla started seeing more of the ball and settled into the rhythm of the game, Inter went back into the shell and waited for the Spaniards to make a mistake. This wait-and-watch policy would be their eventual downfall.

Once they started passing from the back and Inter put a stop to their high pressing, Sevilla started seeing more of the ball and took the game to Conte’s men.

Sevilla equalized due to sustained possession, something they did against Manchester United with Luuk de Jong applying the finishing touch. Ashley Young did not close down Jesus Navas on time and allowed him too much space to drill in a cross. Similarly, Diego Godin should have been more aware of his surroundings as he gave the Dutchman a few inches too many.

It was clear that Sevilla had identified Inter’s left side as the weak area and continued exploiting it as most of their attacks came from that side of the pitch.

Inter’s defensive line stayed very deep in the buildup to the first goal. Ever Banega was able to receive the ball right in front of the center backs and Marcelo Brozovic was too late to react.

Once again, the fact that the defensive line stayed too deep allowed Jesus Navas to carry the ball from the midfield. The blame must go to Alessandro Bastoni who could have been more alert at that time.

But the attack doesn’t go without blame either. Romelu Lukaku probably should have positioned himself in the same line as Lautaro Martinez and that could have forced Sevilla to look for another channel.

As we can see from this image, Inter had enough bodies inside the penalty area to snuff out Navas’ cross. Stefan De Vrij and Diego Godin were perfectly placed to intercept the ball but the Uruguayan somehow got himself lost and dropped his marker who would go on to score the equalizer.

In short, the fact that Inter stopped pressing gave Sevilla enough time to orchestrate an attacking move that restored parity.

While Inter did press well on the left side, Sevilla were able to switch play constantly.

The Spaniards, on the other hand, were keeping their shape in a tight 4-4-1-1 formation that made it difficult for Inter to create chances at regular intervals. Any gaps that may have appeared between the lines were quickly closed off by Sevilla.

The transition from defense to midfield became difficult thanks to Banega who made sure that Godin was unable to pass the ball to Brozovic. The Croat was unable to receive the ball from defense since Banega was always around to force Godin to pass the ball to someone else. In this case, Roberto Gagliardini became the primary option in the buildup.

And that is where Suso comes in, with the Spaniard making sure that the midfielder didn’t have enough space around him to instigate any attacking move.

Similarly, the likes of Fernando and Joan Jordan cut off all supply lines to Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez. With direct balls non-existent, Inter were forced into playing sideways which did not help their cause.

Banega vs Brozovic Influence

The game was going to be a battle between two men who are normally very good at setting the pace of the game. This time around, however, it was the Argentine who was clearly relishing the prospect of playing against his former employers.

Banega was up for the battle and made 64 passes throughout the game, the most number of passes in the encounter, and also made 13 challenges – which gives you an idea of his industriousness. Banega was a calming influence in the middle of the pitch and thanks to his excellent close control, the experienced midfielder was able to take on two or even three men at the same time and still came out on top.

Brozovic, on the other hand, wasn’t really on song. The Croatian made 59 passes but was unable to really stamp his authority on the pitch like his opposite number. The 27-year-old was forced to go deeper in his own half in order to see more of the ball and this affected his ability to instigate attacking moves. However, he was still able to make two key passes and provided an assist for Diego Godin’s goal.

Inability To Deal With Set-Pieces

While they were unable to assert their authority on the pitch and their off the ball movement was lacking any intent or purpose, Inter’s poor set-piece defending let them down.

While set-pieces are a common occurrence, in games like these the smallest details are important. And, as it turned out, Inter lost the encounter because of their inability to properly deal with set-pieces. When defending free-kicks, Inter were using zonal marking. Though this should not be considered a poor tactic, when playing against a team like Seville it can be calamitous.

In one of the set-pieces, Banega whipped in a cross towards the back post and Seville players overloaded that area of the pitch with Jules Koundé, Luuk De Jong, and Lucas Ocampos. This meant that Inter defenders were too late to realize the danger and De Jong was able to rise above Gagliardini to score from his head.

As you can see, Luuk de Jong had a lot of space to time his header to perfection. At least one of the defenders in the box could have shown more awareness.

This continued to be a problem as Sevilla’s third goal was borne out of Inter’s proclivity to continue defending deep. Four Sevilla players had a chance to attack the ball and Diego Carlos was given a lot of space to go for the spectacular.

While Lukaku’s touch diverted the ball into the net, the attack could have been snuffed out quickly when the first header was cleared. Inter players chose to defend inside the six-yard box rather than finally closing down space.

As we can see, there are four Seville players anticipating the headed clearance while the Inter defenders are staying inside the six-yard box. This much space was all the Spaniards needed. Not taking anything away from Diego Carlos’ ability, Inter should have done better here.

Missing Chances

While they were not given many chances, when opportunities did present themselves Inter did not take them. Lukaku missed a great one-on-one chance against Yassine Bounou and on any other day would have drilled the ball in.

Antonio Candreva was given a chance to tie the game but he mistimed the ball completely – something that had become a hallmark of the team’s attacking capabilities on the night.

Late Substitutions

It was very surprising to see Antonio Conte not introduce Christian Eriksen early on in the second half when it had become clear that the team needed more creativity and imagination.

The Dane was introduced very late in the game alongside Alexis Sanchez and, by that time, Sevilla were defending in a deep block and had stopped pressing Inter high up the pitch.


While Inter may have been the stronger side on paper, their overall execution was average. It seemed as if Antonio Conte wanted his players to initially find a quick opener and then defend deep while relying on the pace and guile of Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martinez on the counter.

However, counter-attacking moves were few and far between due to the compact shape Julen Lopetegui had set up. This tactic constricted space between the lines and Inter were unable to make full use of their attacking players.

Moreover, the introduction of Eriksen so late in the game didn’t help matters either as by the time the Dane took to the field, Sevilla had already constricted all the space in the final third and Conte had no answer to that.