Conservative tactics abounded when Internazionale took on Udinese at the San Siro on Thursday night, and a scoreless draw was the predictable result.
Inter are clinging on to fifth spot and the last Europa League place in Serie A, and they could have used three points from this home fixture to distance themselves from Parma.
Udinese, meanwhile, are in the mid-table twilight zone where they appear to be safe from relegation, yet have no chance of qualifying for Europe next season. They should be the happier of the two sides with the point gained from this match.
Inter coach Walter Mazzarri set his side up in their customary 3-5-2 formation, with the aim of building play through South American midfielders Fredy Guarin and Hernanes, while also using wing-backs Jonathan and Yuto Nagatomo to bomb forward to create attacking opportunities.
With pacy Argentine duo Mauro Icardi and Rodrigo Palacio up front, the idea is generally to tease the opposition defense out of position through intelligent movement.
After a shock defeat at home to Atalanta last weekend, Walter Samuel and Juan were brought in to shore up the defense.
The Friuli team also play with three central defenders in what could be called a 3-5-1-1.
Under-pressure Udinese manager Francesco Guidolin pulled a surprise by resting his star striker, Antonio Di Natale, for this fixture, handing Colombian youngster Luis Muriel an opportunity to impress.
Portuguese playmaker Bruno Fernandes was the man tasked with creating chances for the lone striker.
Inter's plan to attack through their full-backs was clearly demonstrated in an early raid.
With the Udinese defense packed tightly in the center, Hernanes (directed by Esteban Cambiasso), played a through pass to the overlapping Jonathan, who raced through from deep.
The Brazilian sent in a dangerous cross but 17-year-old keeper Simone Scuffet punched clear. This formula was repeated time and time again, with similar results.
Hernanes held the ball up waiting for Jonathan to race through:
Jonathan crossed into a crowded area, which was then cleared:
Udinese soon identified the threat from out wide, however, and they drew back their own lateral players, Gabriel Silva and Silvan Widmer, to form a bank of five defenders, supported by four midfielders. Though Inter had no trouble hanging on to the ball, finding space to exploit became very difficult.
Udinese sat back and absorbed pressure:
The visitors, with so many numbers behind the ball, were relying on quick counter-attacks to trouble Inter, but Muriel and Fernandes largely found themselves outnumbered by the Nerazzurri's rugged and experienced defenders.
This tactical stalemate ensured there was not a single shot on target until Fernandes had a pop from outside the area in the 41st minute.
Udinese soon had another opportunity when they exploited the space behind a retreating Nagatomo, with Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu finding Fernandes, whose cross was just out of the reach of a sliding Muriel.
Nagatomo was caught out of position:
Muriel couldn't quite turn it in:
The second half followed a similar pattern, with Udinese's well-organized defense negating the speed of Inter's attacking players.
It was not until late in the game, when fatigue became a factor, that the Nerazzurri began to look more like scoring.
The introduction of Ricky Alvarez for Guarin added more spice to their attack, particularly when he shifted from the right to the left flank.
In the 88th minute, Inter had their best chance of the match, as Udinese finally began to look a little ragged at the back.
A lofted pass from Esteban Cambiasso found substitute Diego Milito on the left, and though his cross was partially cleared, Cambiasso's follow up shot drew a brilliant save from Scuffet.
The rebound was then nearly turned in by another sub, Danilo D'Ambrosio, but it was cleared off the line by Maurizio Domizzi.
Udinese's defense finally started to lose its shape:
It was as close as Inter would come and a late goal would have been somewhat unfair on Udinese, who deserved a point for their terrific composure and organization throughout.
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