Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A few thoughts on Inter Milan versus Schalke

If you haven’t yet seen a video of Dejan Stankovic’s goal against Schalke, you must. Both the technique and the execution of the volley from the half-way line were quite sublime. This is of course not the first time that Stankovic has scored from such a distance, having done so against Genoa in October, 2009. In both instances, it was a piece of instantaneous thinking coupled with extraordinary execution. There are few moments from this season that match his goal against Schalke yesterday for sheer exhilaration – I’ve already seen the video a hundred times and I still can’t stop watching it.


Stankovic’s goal which came in the first minute of play at the San Siro was followed by a line of goals that ultimately saw Schalke run out, miraculously, as 5-2 winners. Amongst these goals, one was scored by the Champions League’s all-time top scorer, Raul Gonzalez – this was his seventieth in the competition. The only player likely to overtake him in the list is Lionel Messi, who stands at 33 goals from 52 games, unless Super Pippo – Filippo Inzaghi – decides to carry on playing into his fifties. Anyway, the goal itself was typical Raul – taking Jefferson Farfan’s ball in his stride on the half-turn before slotting it past the goalkeeper with remarkable nonchalance even when under acute pressure from a defender.

In his last few seasons at Real Madrid, Raul had found goals hard to come by and his influence at the club that regards him as a talisman was on the wane. The move to Schalke was an odd choice – away from the limelight of Madrid to a club in Germany that won its last league title in 1958 – but in scoring 17 goals this season, Raul has showed that he continues to retain an appetite for the game and more importantly the class to perform at the highest level. But with Schalke languishing in the middle of the Bundesliga, unless he moves elsewhere, an unlikely event, this may well be the last season that the great man plays in the competition in which he has repeatedly stamped his signature.


Also apparent in Schalke’s play yesterday, not merely due to the scoreline, was the imprint of Ralf Rangnick’s methods within weeks of his managerial takeover. Rangnick, famous for his time at Hoffenheim, in which he took the village club from the lower echelons of the German leagues to the Bundesliga, all the while adhering to a dynamic, attacking philosophy, is a coach of eccentric virtues. A key part of his coaching methods is a drill called ‘bananas’ in which he schools his team to get the ball forward as swiftly as possible – a method akin to Graham Taylor’s sans, though, an adherence to the long ball and aesthetically far more pleasing, which makes the play as a spectacle remarkably thrilling. Against Inter Milan, Schalke dazzled with their attacking play – lightning quick counter attacks, laying bare the severe frailties in Inter’s defence. If Schalke do qualify, which barring a wonder of wonders they will, expect the winner of the tie between Chelsea and Manchester United to face a similar, quite astounding threat to their core.

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