Columnists, Soccer, Sports

Full-Time Focus: The clash of the defensive titans

“Offense wins games, defense wins championships.” 

Annika Morris | Senior Graphic Artist

One of the most famous phrases in the sports world. Many team’s identities are based on that phrase. 

Throughout history, soccer has evolved and spread around the world. Every decade was marked by a visionary who changed the way spectators understood the game. 

In general, the Union of European Football Associations Champions League always grants fans the opportunity to witness great games. At the end of the day, it is a competition where only the best are allowed to be. 

The most interesting matchup of this first round of knockout games will happen Feb. 20: Inter Milan vs. Atlético de Madrid.

Both are staple teams with deep squads. 

Inter comes from reaching the Champions League final last year, while leading the Serie A table. Atlético is the only team to defeat the stout Real Madrid last year, and are being led by an astonishing Antoine Griezmann. 

However, what makes this duel interesting is not their ability to compete. All teams can compete. But what makes them interesting is how similar in nature their playing styles are. 

Italian soccer is known for their strong emphasis on defense. 

Many people believe this stems from the fact that some of the best defenders in history have been Italian. Paolo Maldini, Alessandro Nesta, Fabio Cannavaro, Franco Baresi … the list goes on. 

The case is that the art of defending is so engraved into Italian philosophy that it has allowed for defenders to take more protagonism. 

One of the biggest traditional Italian tactics is mainly based on a strong defensive foundation. “Catenaccio,” which is believed to have come from “door-bolt,” is a way of playing that mainly surfaced in 1960s Italy based on a highly organized and deeply defensive structure. 

Inter has always fallen into this category of defensive Italian teams. Just from a line-up perspective, Simone Inzaghi’s system mainly consists of a 3-5-2. Which means that, throughout the game, at least two midfielders are dropping down to play defense. 

This style of play has been fruitful for Inter, especially in domestic competitions. Serie A is a very defensive league and Inter thrives playing against a similar style of play. 

Atlético’s boss Diego Simeone is the highest paid soccer manager in the world, as of 2023, and for good reason. When Simeone, also known as “El Cholo,” stepped in as the manager back in 2011, he transformed a souless club into a competitive monster. 

This change came with the implementation of a defensive system that focused on physicality and resistance. 

With one of his most famous quotes being: “The war is won by the man who best uses his soldiers,” he for sure knows how to use his players. 

Even as a coach with a defensive philosophy, he is also responsible for Griezmann’s evolution, as well as other offensive players. 

This does not take away from the fact that his style of play has been criticized much, especially by the media who believe his time at Atlético has come to an end. 

When he arrived in Madrid, the team improved immensely — but for some years now, it seems that Simeone’s vision has plateaued. 

In order for him to gain back full confidence, he has to achieve something he has never done before: win a Champions League with Atlético de Madrid. 

Inter and Atlético both share many similarities, especially when it comes to their defensive style. Both teams can be considered two different sides of the same coin. In order to defeat one another, they must show a side to their style never seen before. 



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