03 June 2023
Dubbed 'The Battle of Old Trafford', Ángel Bastardo's Inter Milan side fought hard but ultimately lost their way in the 2023 Champions League final. Losing 2-1 to the riches of Arsène Wenger's Paris Saint Germain (PSG). It's time to painstaking review this bastard match, in what was Ángel Bastardo's 1st European Cup Final...vamos!
So the team pretty much picked itself on the day. The front three of Pavón-Colidio-Ivan (who I wrote about in my previous blog post) had been a dream together all season with a combined total of 59 goals and 38 assists (all comps). I also didn't want to disrupt the midfield engine room of Cataldi, Ascacíbar and Newgen Fabio Faccin:
I was confident Wenger would play his preferred 4-2-3-1 wide formation, which he had played in every previous game of the 2022/23 Champions League campaign. A creature of habit as every Arsenal fan can testify!
Recently I was asked for my advice in countering a 4-2-3-1 formation. In short, it's pretty hard to deal with if your opponent has a vastly superior team...but the vital thing is nullifying the threat of their AML/AMR and AMC. In my case, I was up against: Coman (AML) - Coric (AMC) - Dybala (AMR)...that's an incredible €184.5m of transfer fees!
As a team we went deep and put both Full Backs on Defend duty. The deeper natural positions also meant Ascacíbar was now on top of Ante Coric, suffocating him whenever he was on the ball. Our average positions in the 1st half:
The game started well, Inter dominating early possession but neither side could find that clear cut chance. Until the 22nd minute that is, when Golden Boy Facundo Colidio finished off a great move:
'Colidigol', as he is now popularly known in Milano, has come of age this season. The goal on the big occasion was his 28th in all comps this season and the 60th goal from the prolific front three mentioned earlier. There's a long way to go until it can ever be considered a Messi-Suarez-Neymar trio, but this is their first season together...the signs are good!
There was only ever meant to be 1 minute of 1st half injury time, but that didn't stop my Newgen CB Abubakar Abubakar (Abu for short) going in hard on Ante Coric. A straight red card and a menacing stare from Bastardo across the pitch:
So the half time adjustments I had planned were ripped up and we now had to find a way to keep the lead. Coping with the 4-2-3-1 was working well with 11 players, but with 10 men we had to once again revisit tactical plans. With a man down, I decided that we would have less of the ball...so we went even deeper as a defensive unit. This also meant I had to do away with players in the AML/AMR positions. The game was to be won (or lost) on the flanks...so I dropped Pavón deeper to ML but Ivan had to be replaced, as he couldn't play MR. The dream trio was ripped apart, which ultimately ended any chance of an attacking masterclass from Inter.
On came Antonio Candreva as an Wide Playmaker at MR. All I wanted from him was one last piece of magic in his final professional game of football. We were now a 4-4-1, by necessity...not by choice! I told the boys to channel their inner-fibra...we would have to fight our way through this final.
My tactical plans couldn't have started any worse, two quick fire goals from Kelechi Iheanacho, the World's most highly valued player at €78m on 47 min and 50 mins:
Kelechi's first goal was a great turn and finish, but the 2nd is a truly disgusting deflection from a Marco Verratti freekick. I was gutted...and we were sinking fast. I brought Kanté on to add more energy into the midfield, but Colidio was still isolated for much of the game. We had no real threat, just the one Candreva through ball...which gave a half chance to Colidio. But PSG's kepper, Gerónimo Rulli, was up to the task.
We lost 1-2, and I had a bizarre mix of frustration and pride with my players. We were very good for 44 minutes, but the sending off changed things. The 4-4-1 switch up worked well...apart from that disastrous 3 minute spell! Did I make the right changes? I will never know, that's the glory of Football Manager: the pain and suffering, the learning and reflection.
Despite the Champions League final loss, we can look back on another successful Serie A season. We defended the Scudetto and bettered our points total by 9 from the following season:
Unfortunately we went out at the Quarter Final stage of the Coppa Italia, losing 2-1 away to Serie B side Vicenza (who actually went on to the final before losing to Torino in extra time). Nevertheless, a Serie A win and an epic Champions League run concludes a good season of progress and rewards.
I've now got the task of spending Inter's riches, €70m transfer kitty to be precise. A central midfielder, full back and winger are on Bastardo's shopping list...whilst I may also look to move on some players to boost that transfer kitty. Kasper Dolberg, Jeison Murillo & Marcus Coco could all be available for the right price.
Stay updated via my Twitter feed or on Slack (just search #fmgrasshopper).
Thanks for reading/sharing,
Ángel Bastardo/FM Grasshopper