Cards as a physical object arrived in football thanks to the intuition of one of the most creative and controversial referees in history, England’s Ken Aston (who is remembered by Italians as the match director of the “Battle of Santiago”, Chile-Italy in the 1962 World Cup). Now retired, Aston is on the sidelines during a legendary Argentina-England match played in the 1966 World Cup when referee Rudolf Kreitlin chases after the South American captain, but refuses to leave the field. A stalemate is created lasting several minutes, and eventually Aston himself must step in, trying to act as peacemaker and make sure the match can go on.
The next day, in the newspapers, the results of the English success also indicated the warnings of Charlton, Bobby and Jack. Alf Ramsey, England coach, asked for clarification from FIFA, because these actions were not reported. Then Aston realizes that a way is needed to ensure that misunderstandings of this kind no longer exist. He’s driving on Kensington High Street when he has to brake hard. The traffic light just turned red. His brain makes two and two: yellow as a warning, and red to expel.
There are those who, for several years, have experienced this warning sign as personal truth: Simone Inzaghi. It’s always been talked about, but the changes to Bastoni and Mkhitaryan because they were booked just half an hour after losing the match against Udinese made the problem explode. Gazzetta dello Sport analyzed the numbers: since he was on the bench at Inter, in 45 matches Inzaghi did not use all five substitutions only three times, and of the 221 substitutions made, 43 players were booked.
These are the cool numbers, but managing change in my Inzag does not stem from mathematics, but rather from fear. Fear of the remaining ten.
Two events in his coaching career have caused shock and both date back to 2019. On January 20, in San Paolo not yet dedicated to Diego Armando Maradona, Lazio cut the distance with Immobile after finding themselves under two goals. He believes in a comeback, but after a few minutes of shortening the gap comes Acerbi’s ejection, for the double yellow. The Lazio defender ran an open streak of 149 consecutive appearances without getting suspended or injured and aimed to top Javier Zanetti at 162, which, however, wouldn’t reach that second yellow card very often. If not even a cabbage master like Acerbi was immune to a double yellow card, who would have been able to do so?
This leads to the second event. On October 6, Lazio was on stage in Dalara. The first half is imaginary, resting at 2-2. A quarter of an hour before the second half, Inzaghi prepares two changes: he wants to replace Luiz Felipe and Lucas Leiva, both booked but not in time. The Brazilian tackles the second yellow while Barolo is ready to take over and Lazio stays at 10. At that exact moment, Inzaghi swears it will never happen again. The trend that already in the early years of Lazio appeared more clearly from his colleagues – with a quick Google search it is possible to find many later Inzaghi games in which he openly declares that he has replaced this or that player because of a yellow card – is almost becoming an obsession.
At a time when football decided to partially revolutionize its rules to mitigate the impact of Covid, it created a crazy calendar for the second part of the 2019-20 tournaments, with the introduction of the five changes that everyone thought about a great additional resource. difference. But for Lazio fans, the revolution meant only one thing: Inzaghi would be able to remove more yellow cards.
Over the years Inzaghi has become a “predictable” coach. Caveats aside, in some situations it is as if he has already decided which move to make in a particular game, without following its development. As if there was an alarm going off at a certain point in the game reminding him to make changes. In December 2020, after suffering a weakness in Milan, he removed Immobile and Milinkovic-Savic in the 75th minute to enter Andreas Pereira and Akpa-Akbro: Lazio disappears from the field and 3-2 reach a full recovery thanks to Theo Hernandez.
Inter fans tried something similar last year, this time also against Milan: from Perisic and Calhanoglu (booked, as well as the favorite goal of Inzaghi’s Inter era substitutions: 29, on eight occasions he had yellow on his back) and the derby flipped with the two-time championship Giro.
Another frequent criticism relates to role-by-turn change: asking Inzaghi to make a tactical revolution in his team during the race is like asking an elephant to do a somersault. If it is legitimate for the coach to trust his tactical imprint, the danger for Inzaghi is that his 3-5-2 streak will become predictable, as we have seen in some matches this season.
What is surprising is that if on the one hand Inzaghi seems a little underwhelmed by the change, on the other hand he is willing to revolutionize his game plan with the threat of expulsion: replacing Mkhitaryan with Galliardini, is only nominal. Change between two mesali. On the contrary, it represented an important change in terms of intent and willingness to control possession. Just as Dimarco’s choice of Bastoni inevitably leads to a series of adjustments, losing his physique to gain something in the offensive phase, with the latter being naturally more susceptible to internal and external interference.
Then there is a factor beyond purely tactical technical rhetoric. We must try to get into the psychology of players who know they are always in danger of being substituted if they get a yellow card, and that was symbolic at Udinese-Inter. Mkhitaryan and Bastoni played the last two minutes of their short match seeing that Gagliardini and Demarco were ready on the sidelines and already knew they would be sacrificed at the altar of fearful Inzaghi. Bastoni, with the last ball of his match, touched a great goal. And his face at the moment of change, more than Mkhitaryan, can tell of the frustration a player feels when coming out of such a delicate game in this way.
Frustrate that Bastoni then vent trying to make a mess Bench. The story was commented surprisingly by Christian Vieri: “I wouldn’t have come out. We have to argue with the coach and break everything in our pentina for something like that.” Other than the two yellow cards, it must be emphasized that in the first half hour of the match, Pereira carried the entire left flank of Inter around the field, making him impregnable when he decided to explore the area towards the back and in the moments he decided to focus on. But it is clear that Inzaghi would not have replaced Bastoni and Mkhitaryan had it not been for the weight of the yellow card, and the defender’s reaction can be read in two ways: the anger over his performance, so far less than enough, but also the simple anger of the club. Having to leave the game early.
Also, there seem to be some players that Inzaghi trusts more than others. In the last three matches, Marcelo Brozovic, left on the pitch, despite being booked in theoretically dangerous stages of the match (39 minutes against Milan, 55 minutes against Torino, 57 minutes against Udinese). But is his confidence in Brozovic or is it just a feeling that there is no worthy alternative to the owner? A similar argument can be made for the experience of Acerbi Lazio, who was booked 16 times in 104 Serie A games under Inzaghi’s orders and was never substituted, and ended up being sent off for a double yellow card on two occasions. Also in this case, in addition to confidence in Acerbi’s management skills, there was a clear lack of potential alternatives.
For example, if we go to take the data regarding Ligue 1 Luiz Felipe from the period I will call “post Leiva-Bologna” to rest, we will find four yellow cards and four substitutions in the matches in which he started; For Patrick, the number is five out of eight changes to yellow (he only saved himself when he was booked after 85 minutes). With Udine’s change, Bastoni reached five out of five in the case of yellow cards, while de Vrij instead stopped at two out of three yellow card changes. Parilla was also subjected to secret harassment, surviving the first three matches played with the yellow player last season and then being systematically replaced on the next five occasions. Calhanoglu’s case is by far the most interesting: last season, he was booked 11 times in the Turkish League and in only three cases finished the match. The first against Salernitana: he was booked in the 76th minute, with the team controlling (0-3, it would have ended 0-5), so the result was already safe. The other two came with Roma and Cagliari, but in both cases Calhanoglu was booked in the 87th minute. On the other eight occasions, the cause-and-effect correlation was impressive: exit right after a yellow card with Fiorentina in the 83rd minute; 14 minutes spent on the field against Atalanta and 21 minutes against Napoli (always warned at the end of the first half); Then 4′ conceded against Torino and again against Atalanta, 13 minutes in the aforementioned second leg derby with Milan, and one minute with Juventus and Bologna. The yellow card becomes a starting pistol shot: once taken out, Inzaghi warns the fourth man.
For this desire to try to control all the variables of the match, Inzaghi ends up conditioning his players: the midfielders and defenders know that they are under an invisible lens and that any interference over the top that is penalized by yellow can become a reason to switch. Is it impossible to think that this could indirectly affect the position of an Inzag player? Ironically, he plays “like he’s careful”? So maybe you don’t impose a risky closure by letting your opponents have a chance. After all, the yellow card is also a weapon at the player’s disposal, it is spent when the team needs it. Perhaps living as a crimson leading to change is not the right spirit.
When the tournament resumes, Inter will find Roma, a team that focuses so much in the forty meters on their players’ ability to create numerical superiority by jumping on the man: Dybala on the strait, whether from a first-person perspective or going to team up with Abraham, Pellegrini and Zaniolo on a wide field. A stress test that could be devastating to the contract of a team that has already lost three games in the first seven days of the tournament.