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Not since Roma's 7-1 defeat at the hands of Manchester United has the UEFA Champions League seen a big team collapse so thoroughly and in such an embarrassing fashion as Inter Milan did today against Schalke. After an entertaining first half where Inter's defense was fairly poor, but the team as a whole was better than Schalke, the home side didn't even show up for the second and was torn limb from limb. Throughout the second half, Inter did absolutely nothing to show that they were a team that deserved to be in this competition, as Schalke scored three goals while Christian Chivu was sent off, allowing Schalke to notch a 5-2 win.
There's almost certainly no way back for the Nerazzurri after this drubbing, as poor as Schalke have been at times this season. The chances of them giving up four goals at home seem next to non-existent, and it wouldn't be shocking to see this loss negatively affect Inter in ways that extend beyond getting knocked out of this competition. This is now Inter's second consecutive embarrassing defeat in four days, and pressure could be mounting on Leonardo and the rest of the side. Udinese and Lazio are not lurking far behind in Serie A, and Inter could soon be out of next year's Champions League as well.
As bad as Inter were in the second half, nothing should be taken away from the men who made things go in attack for Schalke: Edu, Raul, and Jefferson Farfan. All three were absolutely stunning, and they made Inter look like amateurs. Jose Jurado and Alexander Baumjohann also put in very good performances, while the work rate of 18 year old Kyriakos Papadopoulos in the center of the pitch was fantastic.
Schalke have been to the quarterfinals of the Champions League once before, and they now look set to get to the semifinals for the first time in their history.
Schalke now have five goals. Five. Yes, the number when you hold up your hand and count your fingers. They have scored that many goals at the San Siro against Inter Milan. A team who is starting a fourth choice striker and who sold their most creative player in January has scored five goals on the road against the defending UEFA Champions League champions. I cannot even count the ways that this is absolutely ridiculous and absurd.
Nevermind, yes I can. It's ridiculous in five ways. This goal came via the aforementioned fourth choice striker, Edu, assisted by Alexander Baumjohann. It was a fantastic finish from 20 yards out, but it followed a sequence in which Edu previously hit the post after Inter were absolutely torn apart by a Schalke team that, once again, didn't actually do anything that stunning. Inter just haven't shown up for the second half. They look like a youth team. It's been an absolutely embarrassing performance, and they deserve to lose.
Unbelievably, the back and forth between the two teams has stopped, and it's all Schalke in the second half. Inter Milan are absolutely falling apart, and the visitors now have a 4-2 lead thanks to an own goal by young defender Andrea Ranocchia, who is having an absolute nightmare of a game. To be fair, he's not alone, as the entire Inter back line has been absolutely terrible, and Schalke have been made to look spectacular while turning in what is probably just a slightly above average performance.
The own goal came just four minutes after Raul's goal that put Schalke ahead, in the 57th minute. Jefferson Farfan does not have a goal in this game, but he was influential yet again, as he whipped in a low cross from the right hand side. It was possible that Edu or Raul would have reached the ball, but Ranocchia certainly didn't have to make the desperate lunge that he did. There's no taking it back now, and Schalke are up by two goals and still dominating. Inter have been unbelievably poor in the second half and seriously need to sort themselves out.
From dead to equal to in trouble to equal again to in the lead, Schalke are riding the roller coaster tonight at the San Siro against Inter Milan. Somehow, thanks to some brilliant combination play in the final third, the Königsblauen have a 3-2 lead early in the second half thanks to a goal by Raul, the Real Madrid legend who joined Schalke on a free this summer. It would be stunning to see this result hold, but whatever happens going forward, three away goals is something massive for Schalke to put up.
In the 53rd minute, Raul and Jefferson Farfan, who has been Schalke's best player all season, played an absolutely brilliant bit of combination play just outside the area, using one-touch exchanges and showing an absolutely incredible understanding. Inter had no chance of getting the ball off of their feet, and Farfan eventually played Raul through into the box. The legendary striker rarely misses open opportunities inside of 18 yards, and this was no different, as he scored past Julio Cesar to put Schalke ahead.
If you say that you predicted a crazy goal-fest between Inter Milan and Schalke, you're a liar. Sure, both teams have depleted defenses, but teams don't usually throw caution to the wind and attack like mad men in these situations. Usually, in a knockout tournament when a team's defense is depleted, that team will play a deep midfield and rigid tactics in order to protect the back line and prevent goals. Conventional wisdom says that's the best course of action. Tonight, in this Champions League fixture, Schalke and Inter threw conventional wisdom out the window.
Honestly, it's possible that both teams could have shown up to defend, but 20 seconds into the game Dejan Stankovic turned the game on its head and forced everyone's hand with a trump card, in the form of a 40 yard bomb. His brilliant volley forced Schalke to attack, and they did just that. The game then went back and forth for the rest of the half, with Joel Matip equalizing on a corner kick in the 17th minute, Diego Milito giving his team the lead again after 33 minutes, and Edu equalizing again on the 40th minute.
My money's on more goals in the second half. Inter have every incentive to push forward, and if they take a lead, Schalke have every incentive to push back.
What did I say about the scoring not being over? The scoring wasn't over, and I'd bet money that it still isn't over. For a second time, Schalke have improbably equalized, drawing themselves level and scoring a second away goal, something that could prove to be incredibly important in the second leg of this tie. Of course, before anyone starts thinking about that, they'll have to make sure they stay focused on this crazy game. Or, in the case of each defense, start getting focused.
Edu scored the goal on the counter, and he had to do plenty of work to do it. His first shot was deflected, then saved in absolutely magnificent fashion by Julio Cesar. Unfortunately for Cesar and the rest of his team, the ball fell right to Edu's feet again, and he did better with his finish the second time, scoring when he wasn't given a whole lot of room to do so. Schalke are level, and I will say it once again: The scoring is not over.
The inevitable has happened, and Inter Milan are back ahead on Schalke after 33 minutes. Ever since Joel Matip's 17th minute equalizer, Inter have been pushing and putting Schalke's back line, as well as Manuel Neuer, under a ton of pressure. It seemed like it was only a matter of time before someone had a lapse of judgment, and that's exactly what happened. Inter have a deserved second goal, and Schalke would do very, very well to keep this scoreline the way it is or improve on it. As of right now, it doesn't look good for them.
Diego Milito scored the goal, a great site to see for Inter fans and neutrals. Milito was brilliant all of last year, but he's been ravaged by injuries this year that have left him as a shell of the Milito of last season. The goal was a tap-in off a ball across the box by Esteban Cambiasso, and Schalke's poor marking made both the cross and goal very easy.
I said it in the last goal update, and I'll say it again: The scoring here is not done.
As we discussed earlier, Dejan Stankovic scored an absolutely ridiculous goal just 20 seconds into the 2011 UEFA Champions League match between Inter Milan and Schalke. Lucky for you, we have the video! Usually, when something like this happens, there's a seriously stupid error made by the defense. In that case, that's hardly the case. Sure, someone should have closed down Stankovic and Farfan shouldn't have lost the ball in the first place, but there's no one to really blame this goal on. It's just absolutely brilliant. Check it out:
Schalke have since pulled a goal back, while Stankovic has picked up a knock and left the game, but it was still an absolutely unbelievable way to open the match. It was probably the main catalyst for the pace of the game as well, as Schalke likely would not have been as ambitious going forward, and would have instead sat back and defended. Thanks to the goal, the game is an absolute cracker.
Schalke appeared to have it all to do when Dejan Stankovic scored a cracking goal in the first minute of the game, but the Königsblauen are now level with Inter Milan thanks to a scrappy set piece goal, poked in by Joel Matip. With their back line depleted, it's no surprise that Inter look vulnerable on set pieces, and the visitors have capitalized on an opportunity, notching an all-important away goal and drawing level with their opponents.
The visitors had been pushing forward to create chances since right after the opening goal, and they could have had one from open play. However, a set piece was always going to be their best chance to score. In the 17th minute, after a scramble in the box, the ball eventually fell to Matip in a huge stroke of luck, and he poked it into the back of the net to bring his team back from serious despair to a slight advantage.
It's been an open game so far, and it would be stunning to see the score end 1-1. Since Schalke's goal, Inter have been the team pushing the pace and they look very capable of scoring.
It's all gone wrong for Schalke 04, and it only took one minute. There are no tactics that could have changed the goal that Dejan Stankovic has scored in the first minute for Inter Milan, and his team now have an absolutely crippling lead over their rivals. It came on an unbelievable 40 yard volley that caught Manuel Neuer off of his line, and now the Königsblauen have an absolute mountain to climb.
After Jefferson Farfan gave the ball away for Schalke, Esteban Cambiasso picked it up and played a great long ball up towards Diego Milito. Manuel Neuer came out to contest it, and cleared the ball away with a header. Incredibly, his header went 20 yards, then fell right to Dejan Stankovic, the absolute last man Neuer would want the ball to fall to. Stankovic is well known for his ability to score long-range chips and volleys, and today he lived up to that reputation, as he sent an unbelievable 40 yard lofted volley over Neuer and into the back of the net. Inter lead 1-0, and it's a long way back for Schalke.
Schalke 04 have been a bit ravaged by injuries, while their first choice defensive midfielder is cup tied, but they have still selected a relatively strong (although makeshift) lineup to face Inter Milan. Peer Kluge suffered an injury in the team's last league match that keeps him out of this one, along with Mario Gavranović. Klass-Jan Huntelaar is still out, so Gavranovic's injury could hurt Schalke considerably. Edu will start in place of those two players up top.
With some concerns in defense, either Joel Matip or Kyriakos Papadopoulos will have to fill in as a defender. Both are defensive midfielders by trade who have spent time at central defense. It's not 100% clear who will make the move back.
Whoever plays left midfield, whether it's Jose Jurado or Alexander Baumjohann, will be playing slightly out of position. Both have played that position on many occasions and are capable, but against a side like Inter, Schalke would probably prefer to have a true wide player to exploit their deficiencies. Here is the full lineup.
Schalke 04 lineup (projected 4-4-2): Neuer; Sarpei, Popadopoulos, Höwedes, Uchida; Jurado, Baumjohann, Matip, Farfan; Raul, Edu
Thanks to injuries, it looks like Inter Milan have been forced into moving Javier Zanetti back to the back four, despite the fact that he's played so well in midfield over the last couple of years. Inter have been devastated by injuries at the back this season, and their makeshift selection could give Schalke hope. Ivan Cordoba is not totally fit and Marco Materazzi is a bit past it at this point, but both are on the bench in case of an emergency.
In the middle, Leonardo has selected what would appear to be a four man diamond midfield with Wesley Sneijder at the tip, supporting strikers Samuel Eto'o and the finally fit Diego Milito. Goran Pandev has been left on the bench. Here's the full lineup.
Inter Milan lineup (Projected 4-4-2 narrow diamond): Julio Cesar; Zanetti, Chivu, Ranocchia, Maicon; Thiago Motta, Cambiasso, Stankovic, Sneijder; Eto'o, Milito.
This lineup should match up favorably with Schalke in the middle and unfavorably out wide, as the German side are expected to play a flat 4-4-2.
Diego Milito, who scored both goals in the 2-0 win over Bayern Munich last season, is set to return to the Inter Milan lineup tonight to face Schalke in the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League. Milito has spent much of the Serie A season on the bench, a reoccurring injury limiting him to just 13 starts. The nerazzurri have managed to score freely without him in the league, in part thanks to Samuel Eto'o, Giampaolo Pazzini, and Wesley Sneijder. But with Pazzini cup-tied, and Goren Pandev having a shocker of a match against AC Milan last weekend, Inter will be thrilled to welcome back Milito, who has scored six times in his twelve Champions League starts for the club.
Milito came on as a substitute in the 3-0 defeat to Milan, and it wasn't certain whether he'd be fit enough to start against Schalke. But it appears that Inter are hitting the ground running, determined to claim the trophy once again, and to do that they want all their best attacking options available.
While Inter Milan are the clear favorites to beat Schalke and move into the Champions League semi-finals, coach Leonardo isn't prepared to let down his guard, saying, "They haven't got into the Quarter-Finals by chance." Well, Mister, there is always an element of luck to football, and Schalke's weak group and then Round of 16 draw against Valencia certainly hasn't hurt their chances. The German side's home form doesn't offer any hint of a club that could win the competition. Although Ralf Ragnick's team held a 2-0 lead until the 88th minute in the coach's first game in charge, the match against St. Paulii was called off when a linesman was hit with a cup of beer. The result of the game is yet to be decided, and for the moment Schalke remain in 11th in the Bundesliga, just a season after finishing in second place.
Inter, of course, have been "Revitalized" (yes, that's with a capital R) under their own new coach, Leonardo, having moved into second place and mounting a serious scudetto challenge. After losing 3-0 to Serie A leaders AC Milan at the weekend, however, the nerazzurri may have lost their comeback sparkle, the shine that has been clinging to Inter since their last-minute win against Bayern Munich in the Round of 16. Despite the over-used stereotype marking Inter out as a defensive team, the side were easily exposed in the weekend's derby, constantly allowing Milan to get behind the defense.
Chance, at least, has more of an effect on this match than history does. Many point to the fact that Schalke beat Inter - on penalties - in the 1997 UEFA Cup. Which, it must be pointed out, was 14 years ago. Pretty sure that nothing about that penalty shootout will affect the way Tuesday's match is played. The fact that Schalke have only been to the quarter -finals of the Champions League one before might have a bit more bearing, but with Raúl, the tournament's all - time leading goal scorer, on their side, beating last year's champs should be no trouble at all.
In seriousness, Schalke may need to rely on Inter's mental stumbling block, their loss to AC Milan, to get past the Italian side. The nerazzurri have been fielding an immensely strong attacking lineup, with Samuel Eto'o, Giampaolo Pazzini, and Goran Pandev in front, Wesley Sneijder just behind. Pazzini is cup-tied after his move from Sampdoria, but expect the attack to continue to thrive, with the other three the scorers against Bayern. Fortunately for Schalke, they have Manuel Neuer in front of net, a man who can save the game single-handedly. Jefferson Farfán can trouble the defense at the other end. With Lucio suspended for this match, there's a weakness in central defense. Andrea Ranocchia is still coming into his own, and Iván Córdoba is much less adept at covering for his mistakes than is Lucio.
Still, it will likely take more than a little luck or chance for Schalke to overcome the reigning champions on Tuesday. Then again, that's why we play the games, as they say in the business.
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