This weekend saw another cup clash as Internazionale took on Palermo in the Coppa Italia final. It was a lively encounter in which the Rosanero put up a very good fight but could ultimately not do enough to lift the trophy. Palermo coach, Delio Rossi, and his men will feel hard done by the defeat given the match’s proceedings.
Indeed the 3-1 score-line tells a very different story from what exactly happened on Sunday. In fact it was a bit of a smash-and-grab from the Nerazzurri, but by no means am I saying that they were not deserving of the victory. What
Palermo were most guilty of was a lack of a clinical touch in front of goal. In fact it has often been an issue for the Rosanero this season. The Sicilian outfit is always capable of creating a host of chances against any opposition but they lack the type of clinical threat of upfront to fire the ammunition. It was not the case with Inter however who created very little throughout the game. They showed much more experience and composure in front of goal, putting away the three chances they fashioned on the counter-attack. Samuel Eto’o played a starring role in Inter’s victory, bagging a brace, with both goals coming very much against the run of play.
The game, started a little sluggishly, with Palermo very much on top of Inter. Actually, the Inter midfield really struggled to come to grips with the game and were – almost throughout the 90 minutes – consistently on the back-foot. The movement
of Javier Pastore and energy of Giulio Migliaccio and Antonio Nocerino caused all sorts of trouble to Inter’s midfield trio. Thiago Motta and Javier Zanetti particularly struggled, especially when it came to their distribution, cheaply gifting possession away. In fact the whole of the Inter team seemed to suffer from an imbalance created by Leonardo’s tactical setup, and it showed in the midfield’s inability to perform. This imbalance came from the fact that Cristian Chivu played at left-back and Yuto Nagatomo was the designated right-back. The problem originated from the fact that Chivu does not bring much attacking support, almost sitting in as a third center-back and allowing Nagatomo to bomb forward without leaving too many gaps at the back. A viable tactic indeed, but it becomes an issue when Dejan Stankovic plays immediately ahead of Chivu. The Serbian was never going to give much width to the formation and thus operated very centrally. As a result it isolated Eto’o on the left and we often saw him as the only Inter player down that side. Migliaccio would thus push up and overload the left side [along with Josep Ilicic]of Inter’s penalty box, where indeed many of Palermo’s better moves originated from. On many occasions Eto’o would often drop back to aid Chivu in defending from this
As mentioned before though, Inter took their chances well as Eto’o showed the kind of killer instinct worthy of champions. With Inter’s midfield being pressured, Mattia Cassani was the only [necessary]player keeping an eye on the Cameroonian. It all broke down at the 26th minute however when young Afriyie Acquah lunged in on a tackle. The referee played the advantage and Wesley Sneijder pounced on the Palermo players’ momentary lapse of concentration to play in the through-ball. Eto’o latched onto the pass and raced in behind the Palermo defense. On the face of it Ezequiel Munoz should have been covering but the majority of the blame should fall to Cassani, who was simply caught ball-watching and thus too flat-footed to react properly. Alone and in on goal, Eto’o coolly slotted past Slavatore Sirigu and into the opposite corner.
The goal was a real sucker-punch for Palermo, and their play suffered from it. It’s not so much that Inter pressured them more, but more so that the Nerazzurri managed to retain possession more effectively than they had been until then. In effect, the threat of Inter on the counter-attack had made Palermo more tentative and cautious about pressing them high up the pitch. In the second half however, Palermo pushed more and more in search of the equalizer. Cassani marauded farther up his flank and Inter were completely pegged back to the edge of their penalty area. Unfortunately misfortune and poor finishing all contributed in Palermo’s inability to find the net. Abel Hernandez was particularly wasteful, snatching at many of his shots after getting into good positions. Ilicic was another one who often failed to deliver the final ball when in the last third of the pitch. Federico Balzaretti also seemed off his game with many of his crosses unable to find any of his teammates. The lack of a real prima punta (center forward) once again came to haunt the Rosanero, and the presence of Mauricio Pinilla on the bench is something Delio Rossi will have to look back at as a mistake. Fabrizio Miccoli came off the bench, and had an immediate impact in offering a focal point for Palermo. Pastore also responded well to the switch, looking much livelier and combining well with the Palermo captain. It would all prove pointless however as Sneijder – in an almost carbon copy of the first goal – played in Eto’o in the 76th minute, who sprinted past Morris Carrozzieri [who had come on for the injured Dorin Goain]and fired past Sirigu. Munoz restored some hope for the Rosanero with two minutes to go, when he headed in from a corner. But Inter immediately responded when the two substitutes, Goran Pandev and Diego Milito, combined as the Argentine’s tap-in killed-off the tie.
Despite a somewhat sluggish pace to the game where midfield play seemed particularly laborious, it was a truly cracking tie. Regardless of the statistics, it would also be unfair to say that Inter were not worth their win. Palermo will be kicking themselves after having made so many chances and failing to capitalize on any of them. The Rosanero certainly paid for their lack of experience and on their chance of putting a first piece of silverware in the trophy cabinet. As for Eto’o, he very much remains Inter’s man of the season, ending with 37 goals in all competitions following his brace. The Cameroonian’s influence is often unfairly understated, especially when he was at Barcelona. But his detractors – who often argue that he’s the recipient of a great supporting cast – would do well to remember that Eto’o has won no less than nine trophies since his 2008-09 season with Barcelona, and the Cameroonian has had a hand in all of them. But despite a very Jekyll-and-Hyde season, Inter have nonetheless ended this season with three trophies this year. That alone is should be cause for praise, regardless of the public’s perceptions on the importance of those trophies.