Inter vs. Bayern: The Champions League final hinges on flank play
Saturday's Champions League final between Internazionale and Bayern Munich has come to feel as though it's as much a clash between their respective managers,
The paradigm of the pupil overcoming the master was established long before it found its most popular modern incarnation in various Hollywood movies. Given how much has happened to each in the last 10 years, you might have wondered whether either still saw any significance in their meeting. But Mourinho's evident glee in seeing off Barcelona -- the charge across the pitch with finger raised, the subsequent insistence that he could never manage the club -- suggested that there is perhaps something Oedipal to be worked out.
Tactically, at least, both can be said to belong to the same family. Van Gaal followed the path from Ajax to Barcelona first beaten by
Mourinho was no slavish disciple, and has certainly not felt constrained by the classically Dutch demand for aesthetically pleasing football, but he, too, has used 4-3-3 as his basic model, both at Chelsea and now at Internazionale. His sides have usually been adept at pressing -- another characteristic of Total Football -- but Inter showed against Barcelona that they are equally good at sitting back and maintaining defensive shape, unconcerned by aspects such as possession that other sides might regard as basics.
There was something almost nihilistically beautiful about that performance in the Nou Camp in the second leg of the semifinal (10-man Inter lost 1-0 to Barcelona). Yes, once
The key now is whether Mourinho opts for similar containment against Bayern, or whether he prefers to take the initiative and press high up the pitch as Inter did against Chelsea, particularly in the second leg. My suspicion is that, without a lead to defend, and facing a team of far more limited attacking options than Barca, he will prefer the more aggressive approach, particularly in the absence of Bayern's
Inside-out wingers (players who play on the opposite flank of their natural foot and cut inside) such as Robben have become an increasingly prominent feature of modern soccer, but it is notable that all of those who have been successful from an attacking point of view have been coupled with an attacking fullback. Occupy the fullback, as England manager
Changing an effective right side would, frankly, seem a little odd, given that is an area where Bayern is perhaps vulnerable.
As so often in modern football, the key battles seem to be those between fullbacks and wide midfielders, but
In effect, it may come down to which right-sided forward has more of the ball in attacking positions. If it is Eto'o. then Inter can be confident; if it's Robben, then the game should be Bayern's.