Club Focus – Inter – A stuttering start, and a Portuguese explosion

The opening game of the season is generally a tense affair for any team, but the performance from Inter on Sunday afternoon was not what José Mourinho would have wished for. A home tie against a newly promoted Bari side was, theoretically, a simple three points to gently ease the Nerazzurri into the new season. Unfortunately, the best laid plans of mice and men go oft awry, and Bari certainly did their best to disrupt the champions at the Giuseppe Meazza.

It was far from a dull game, and one from which both teams will think they could have claimed all three points. From an Inter perspective, probably the most worrying element of the game was the way that the Bari strikeforce managed to trouble their anxious-looking defence, even after Marco ‘is he always on a yellow card’ Materazzi was replaced by Iván Córdoba. With all due respect, Vitaly Kutuzov and Fernando Sforzini are not the most fearsome pair of strikers likely to be invading the Nerazzurri half of Milan this season – especially with the Milan derby next weekend – and Mourinho will be expecting a much more calm and convincing performance next time out. “We have enough quality to win and we didn’t do it because we didn’t play well” commented Mourinho after the match, “and because Bari played a great game. We did not have the luck to score 2-0, despite two or three chances.” The Inter Coach also alluded to the current perceived weakness in the Nerazzurri’s squad, saying: “I must not use the absence of Cambiasso or an attacking midfielder to justify the draw, it’s not the time to do it.”

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One talking point in the game was the introduction of Ricardo Quaresma, who is a man in need of redemption, but, strangely, a man who does not play like he is concerned about his future prospects. His delivery was generally poor – with a couple of dangerous crosses being the exception – but he just does not play like the man whose outrageous skills terrified defenders in the Champions League for Porto. Enigmatic is a term much overused in football, but it describes the Portuguese winger perfectly, as there seems to be no answer to why there is such a huge disparity between his obvious talent and his level of performance.

Interestingly, the talk of Wesley Sneijder’s exit from the Bernabéu seems, finally, to be turning into a transfer deal – potentially for the ludicrously low price of around £13m. The problem at the moment seems to be that it is no longer only Inter who are in the race, with Manchester United and Bayern Munich reported to be considering bids. If we needed another reason to be unconvinced at the financial acumen of the Real Madrid hierarchy then this deal would be it. But their loss may well be Inter’s gain, and with the capture of the Dutchmen the search for some creativity in midfield in the blue and black stripes at Giuseppe Meazza will finally be over. He certainly could have provided some creativity and finishing ability needed to fend off the likes of Bari. Sneijder is a truly world class player – good with both feet, a fantastic free-kick taker and a man who can really dictate play from the central-midfield position.

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It would be difficult to write about la Beneamata this week without highlighting José Mourinho’s very public falling out with Azzurri Coach Marcello Lippi. The irrepressible Portuguese Tactician took exception to Lippi’s prediction that Juventus would be this season’s champions, taking it – somewhat strangely given Lippi’s ties with la Vecchia Signora – as a personal sleight. Lippi retaliated with a swipe at the Inter Boss, claiming: “Mourinho seemed an intelligent person to me, I’m sorry he’s interpreted things differently.” Since then, the affair has developed into a somewhat childish daily exchange of insults between the pair through the medium of the Italian media, and has left many people confused as to why both parties feel so strongly about the issue.

Never one to rest on his laurels, the Inter coach quickly started another war of words, criticising Roma boss Luciano Spalletti, who dared to contradict the ‘Special One’s’ opinion of Lippi. Mourinho responded to this by identifying a time when he felt that Spalletti had disrespected Inter and added: “I also want to tell him that he should work better, because with the team he has he could win everything.” Call it mind games, a siege mentality, or any other football related cliché that you can think of, but José Mourinho certainly seems to be good at keeping the attention firmly focused on himself – and as a result – keeping the pressure off his players (not that it seemed to help this weekend). With the Derby della Madonnina coming up, the Inter faithful will be desperately hoping that the Portuguese Boss can weave his magic and get la Beneamata playing like champions again.

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