By Jonathan Wilson
May 22, 2010

Sometimes the best tactics can be the simplest. After all the talk about pupils overcoming masters, of the wily veteran against the protégé he developed over three years at Barcelona, there was no sense here that Jose Mourinho had outwitted the Bayern Munich coach, Louis van Gaal. Internazionale won the Champions League final because it has better players, and exploited Bayern's weaknesses.

Put in its simplest terms, Bayern has two glaring flaws: going forward it is over-reliant on Arjen Robben, while defensively it has in Martin Demichelis a center back who struggles under high balls.

Despite all the pregame speculation, Mourinho's selection ended up being predictable, with Javier Zanetti switched into a holding midfield role to replace the suspended Thiago Motta, and Cristian Chivu, the experienced Romanian, coming in to take the Argentine's position at left back. That meant Chivu was up against Robben, which had looked like being a crucial job. He struggled to handle the Dutchman, who skipped by him again and again, drawing a yellow card and creating all but one of the chances Bayern had.

To that extent, the selection failed, but Mourinho's gamble had been that it wouldn't matter. There had been some suggestion that Mario Balotelli's pace might be deployed on the left flank to try to occupy Bayern's right back, Phillip Lahm, and prevent him getting forward to support Robben, but Goran Pandev retained his place, and did enough to force Lahm back. Mourinho seemingly reasoned that it was better to risk Robben running riot than disrupt the flow of the rest of his team, and he was proved right.

As in the Camp Nou in the second leg of the semifinal, Inter had by far the lesser share of possession (only 33 per cent, although that is more than twice as much as it had against Barcelona), but its organization was again excellent, and this time it retained a penetrative threat on the break. "It was a provocation in a football sense when before the match [Van Gaal] said Inter is a defensive team, not playing with the same attacking spirit, and I wanted to play with counters," Mourinho said. He responded with the football of the fencer, partying and parrying and parrying and riposting only when it was safe to do so. "It's not new," Van Gaal said. "If you watch Inter every weekend, and you see also Bayern, and you can also see the stats of the Champions League. It's a choice of the playing style."

The opening goal could hardly have been more straightforward, and it came from a calculated exploitation of a Bayern weakness. Demichelis is a converted midfielder, and he never betrays his roots more than when wobbling under a high ball. There was something classy in the simplicity of the goal, as Diego Milito knocked down Inter goalkeeper Julio Cesar's long clearance for Wesley Sneijder, and when slipped through a return-pass, the Argentine had the space, composure and awareness to sidefoot his finish past Bayern goalkeeper Hans Jorg Butt. It was all admirably clinical, but the chance had only materialized because of Demichelis's half-hearted challenge on Milito. Not only did he not win the header, but he also took himself out of position; if he felt Milito was going to beat him in the air, he'd have been better off making no challenge and trying to win the second ball.

Once ahead, Inter could settle back, allow Bayern to have the ball, and wait to pick them off on the break. Sneijder and Pandev ought to have doubled Inter's lead after being laid in by the excellent Milito, but in the end it was the Argentine himself who made the game safe with 20 minutes remaining, accepting Samuel Eto'o's pass, isolating Daniel Van Buyten, and twisting until he'd created the space to drive a low shot across Jorg Butt and into the bottom corner.

The final shot count showed Bayern had 21 efforts to Inter's 11, but all that tells us is how deceptive statistics can be. Once Inter had taken the lead, there was never any sense it would squander it, and many of the shots that Bayern had were speculative and from distance. Notably at halftime, the shot count was only 10-7 in Inter's favour; Bayern's advantage in that regard came largely because Inter allowed it to dominate. "With Bayern attacking with so many players it was easier for us to control the middle of the pitch," Mourinho said.

However, for Bayern only Robben offered real menace, and it was testament to how well Inter closed down his teammates -- and perhaps also to the lack of finesse and imagination of Ivica Olic and Thomas Muller, Bayern's two center forwards -- that he so often ended up attempting long-range efforts almost in desperation after meandering runs in from the left flank. Only once, in the opening minute of the second half, did left winger Hamit Altintop create an opportunity, and that was wasted by Muller, whose shot was so mishit it almost deceived Cesar. On the right flank, the battle was comfortably won by Inter's right back Maicon, and the second-half introduction of Miroslav Klose for Altintop, and Muller's move to the left, made little difference.

The sense of a repeating pattern is also a result of Inter's willingness to defend deep. "We are a very compact team; we have little distance between the players, and we managed to play and win with counters, and this is typical for our team," Mourinho said. When Bayern attacked, the defense tended to be set, ready to force it into predictable channels; Inter, by contrast, could attack against a retreating defense, which was precisely how Milito was able to work the opening for the second goal against Van Buyten. "You must be in top shape to beat a team like Inter and today we were not in top shape," Van Gaal said. "To attack is harder than to defend, and we had to attack in a reduced space. Some German teams also do this, but Inter are rather better and have players who can make the difference."

There was nothing complicated about Inter's win, nothing to signal Mourinho's tactical genius. That showed itself in the quarterfinal against Chelsea and in the semifinal against Barcelona; here it was enough simply to play its usual game. Recognizing that, of course, is itself part of Mourinho's talent.

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