The way that Inter played against Chelsea on Tuesday night was nothing short of remarkable. It was remarkable because against Catania the previous Sunday they had looked like a team that was on its last legs. It was remarkable because Jose Mourinho fielded a team that was set up to attack and control the game rather than play a cagey counter-attacking style and it was remarkable because the Nerazzurri went to Stamford Bridge and looked comfortably the better side for almost the whole 90 minutes.
The performance was exactly what you would expect when you look at the names on Inter’s team sheet. But, as has happened on so many other occasions this season, the expectation, from realistic fans, was that la Beneamata would simply fail to perform and leave everyone exasperated that a team with so much talent could fail so badly. Instead, what we got was a true picture of the team that Inter can be. A team that cannot only win games by attacking, but do it playing attractive football of the highest quality. Some of the passing moves put together by Mourinho’s team would not have looked out of place had they happened at the Camp Nou or the Emirates Stadium, and no doubt left Carlo Ancelotti glad that may well never have to face Inter again.
Credit also has to be given to Jose Mourinho. He has received a lot of criticism, not least in this club focus , so far this season, but on Tuesday he reminded everyone of just why the nickname ‘the Special One’ was endowed upon him by those same supporters that he sent home in tears. Mourinho realised that to go to Chelsea and play their normal game would be suicide for Inter, and the tactical decision he made was very brave because picking an attacking formation away from home could very well have lead to a heavy defeat – and more than likely sealed his fate as the next coach to get fired by president Moratti. His gamble paid off, and for now he is basking in the well-deserved adulation.
But this result must be kept in perspective. Mourinho has in-depth knowledge of Chelsea and their strengths and weaknesses, a luxury which he will not be afforded in the quarter-finals no matter who Inter draw. At the moment, there is no reason to believe that this one victory is going to spark a sudden upturn in form from la Beneamata, and they will still be hoping to for a favourable draw in the next round. There is also work to do in the league with an away tie against Palermo this weekend, and the newfound confidence in Europe must not be allowed to let the side lose concentration domestically. If, as Marco Branca claimed, the loss last week was a result of a lack of concentration, then the team has an ever bigger reason to be distracted this weekend after a week of getting nothing but praise.
The same goes for the coach – just because he is currently the darling of the Italian media (which in itself is as incredible as the victory), does not mean that Mourinho can believe himself to be safe just yet. Winning the Champions League is a long way off, and there is still the very real possibility that Inter could end the season without a trophy, which would be a disaster. Jose has bought himself some time with this result, but should his side lose on Sunday it will not take much for the fans in Milan to become unsettled again, and having seen the sort of performance of which this current side is capable, they will want to see them producing that sort of football more often.
The secret is out – Inter can be a very good side. The trick now is to live up to the new expectations.