Finally, proof that Inter can mix it with the best in Europe. Tuesday nights victory at Stamford Bridge was virtually the perfect away performance for this competition, the effects of which will increase tenfold the belief of the team that they can go on to lift the trophy.
More than anything, due to a series of poor European performances ranging back since their domestic dominance began, the Nerazzurri have consistently, and timidly surrendered in Europe, a feat which unanimously appears to have manifested itself more into the minds of the players which further provoked this cyclical choking. But what really does this victory mean? There is no doubt that the game Inter played over ninety minutes against Chelsea was virtually flawless, but is this really the catalyst for the side to succeed in Europe? For all the proclamations of a new dawn, the danger is it could very well be false.
For a start, as well as Inter played, Chelsea were unbelieveably poor. Mourinho got his tactics spot on by negating the Blues width from their full-backs, meaning most of their attacks were funnelled through their one-paced midfield. Didier Drogba was marshalled and man-handled to great effect, and at no point were il Biscione overly stretched or exposed. In many ways this is a testament to the teams strengths and the way they were set out, yet another view is that Chelsea were the ideal opposition for Inter to come up against. The two teams follow a similar blueprint – partially down to Mourinho’s legacy in West London – and are very similar in terms of their personnel and style. Chelsea’s forwards were stopped by an equally robust defensive set-up, when their attacks were rebuffed, the balls came back harder and higher, Chelsea had no plan B or an x-factor, Inter were content. Unfortunately though, if Mourinho is to eliminate the ghost of Helenio Herrera then the challenges will come in more problematic form.
The draw for the quarter and semi-finals was made today and although la Benemeata have been handed a negotiable quarter in CSKA Moscow, they must face the winner of the battle of the mini whirring dervish’s, Barcelona or Arsenal. The merits of Barcelona do not need reiterating, especially after they dismantled Inter at the Camp Nou earlier on in the season, and certainly after an ominous, Lionel Messi inspired demolition of Stuttgart on Wednesday. Whichever side prevails, Inter will have to deal with a completely different concept to the one they were able to weather from Chelsea. While Inter were able to match the masculinity of Chelsea, the quick wits and nimble footwork of Barca or Arsenal will be a completely different proposition.
After a job well done, simply sitting back and soaking up the long awaited praise and adulation from the Italian media would have been too mundane for Mourinho this week, who ever since eliminating his former team, has opted to flirt and titillate about his future on the peninsula. Even before the sweat beads had dried on his players foreheads, Mourinho had popped up in front of British SKY TV reporters to not only pronounce his side’s achievement, but to throw in innuendo about returning to Chelsea, or the Premier League some time in the future. Just in case anybody didn’t get the message the Special One would be receptive to a change of scenery and an increase in salary this summer, the Portuguese tactician decided to then release details of his contractual obligations with Inter, declaring, “My future consists of doing my best until the end of the season, then we’ll see. My contract is simple. I’ve got another three years, with a clause that allows me to leave whenever I want.” Is this type of behaviour really necessary? When unity and cohesion is needed as a co-ordinated assault at home and abroad is reaching a critical stage? When Mourinho has constantly lambasted Mario Balotelli for a ‘lack of focus’? You must be able to act like this when you are special.
But at least one side got it right in SW6 as Juventus showed all is still not right in their camp by capitulating against Fulham. Fabio Cannavaro’s red card was harsh with Fabio Grosso on the scene, but the dismissal put Canna out of his misery after a torrid half hour in which he was physically bullied by Zamora, unable to cope with the England hopeful’s aggressive front-running and bullish determination. At 36, the former World Player of the Year looked way short of the human defence mechanism which brilliantly guided the Azzurri to the 2006 World Cup, and with the holding of that crown coming up shortly, seeing Canna being given the run-around in such a way will be giving Marcelo Lippi more than a few causes for concern.
The chances are though Canna will be in South Africa, an opportunity that fellow old timer David Beckham will not enjoy. The exploits of neighbours Inter quickly deposed the Milan ace of his customary back page spot after snapping his Achilles tendon on Sunday night. Surgery on the ankle went well having flew to see a specialist in Finland, but the injury means Beckham will be ruled out for six months, bringing a premature end to his second loan spell with the Rossoneri. Adriano Galliani had suggested that once Beckham got back to full fitness, another offer would be on the table from the club – not a bad idea considering the brilliant cameo montage he delivered at Old Trafford the week before.
In response, Beckham has returned the compliment, with an emotive message to his team-mates wishing them all the best for the remainder of the season, the full message reads:
“To the Coach and to all my friends, I want to wish you good luck for the rest of the season and I hope you bring home the title. I would also like to thank all of you for the support and the affection that you all showed after the game against Chievo. You really moved me and I know that I have true friends at the club. I hope to play with you again and be a part of this wonderful team. Once again thanks for your affection and good luck. Ciao, David.”
A true legend, an absolute gentleman. Get well soon, David.