A View From Below

Sporting debate and opinion

Substance over style as Mourinho magic defeats Barcelona to send Inter Milan to brink of their first European cup in almost 50 years

Last night Jose Mourinho exclaimed that Inter would ‘party’ after their 1-0 defeat to Barcelona that sent them through to the Champions League final 3-2 on aggregate, and after the staunch defensive display put in by 10 inter players for over an hour, few could deny them such a luxury. The Special One’s sprint round the pitch to his away fans at the final whistle was a classic piece of Mourinho magic in a game that proves the former Chelsea tactician as the best in the business, and one of the greatest coaches of all time.

Barcelona didn’t look their sharp and stylish themselves during the second-leg tie at the Camp Nou, in which Inter were lined up to frustrate, defend and dawdle in possession by their Portugese manager. The tactics worked brilliantly until the last 10 minutes when it seemed as if the tiring legs of the Italian side would buckle under the weight of Catalan talent and a ferocious home crowd nearly 100,000 strong.

Messi’s perfectly weighted cross was put a yard in front of youngster Bojan, who looked certain to score – but put wide. 7 Minutes from time, Xavi played a ball into the box and defender Gerard Pique swivvled and shot like a seasoned centre forward. Barca proceeded to bombard the Inter goal for the remaining time, but a combination of determined tackling and blocking and a touch of fortune when Yaya Toure’s touch to the on rushing Bojan who fired home was deemed off-side.

So Jose has taken Europe’s nearly men to their first European final since 1972, a feat that has elluded 24 different managers before him – and given the Northern Italian side the chance to win the trophy they most covet. In doing so, he extracted some revenge for his beaten Chelsea side in the Semi-final two years ago, when an injury time Andreas Iniesta stunner knocked out the resillient London side. The bad blood from that game, added to Mourinho’s irksome reaction to being labelled as ‘the translator’ during his 4 years at Barca predominantly under Bobby Robson, mixed with the fresh anger between himself and the Catalan side from this double legged affair led him to exclaim he would “retire without having coached Barcelona”.

As much praise as Mourinho is deserved, Barca were unusually lacklustre. Messi seemed off-colour, Ibrahimovic yet again failed under the spotlight of a big game, Xavi frustratingly passed at times, and Pep Guardiola’s substitutes did not have the desired impact.
Chasing the game with half an hour to play, taking of Zlatan Ibrahimovic seems a strange decision to me, when replacing him with a 5 ft 8 inch striker would lose Barca presence for the long ball. Then to bring on Jeffren, a 22 year old untested forward, leaving Thierry Henry on the bench is either a poor choice of replacement, or just emphasising how the writing is on the wall for his career at the Camp Nou.

To be fair to Guardiola, after such an incredible first season as Barca manager, with their 6 trophy haul – it was always gonna be difficult to reach such great heights again. However the Spanish side will be distraught at not being able to defend their title at arch-rivals Real Madrid’s home, something the everescent Mourinho was quick to point out.

The Neazzurri are an intriguing team. In the build up to their games, their is always more emphasis placed on manager than players – but in Wesley Sneijder, they possess a world class attacking midfielder. A diminutive playmaker made available by Madrid at the back-end of last season, he has proved the key in unlocking defences at home and away this season for Inter – providing Samuel Eto’o, Gabriel Milito and Goran Pandev ample chances.

In defence, Inter can be best described as resolute. Lucio and Walter Samuel are some of the toughest defenders in the game, Javier Zanetti is an experience player who marked Messi out of the game, and Maicon potentially the best right back in world football. Behind all of them lies Julio Cesar, the goalkeeper and Brazil’s stopper – who pulled off a fabulous save to deny Messi in the first half.

In midfield Cambiasso and Thiago Motta offer a shield for the defence effectively, and Sneijder’s role is often to unleash Milito, Eto’o and Pandev, the latter two doubling up as wingers when the side are not in possession.
It is a side in typical Mourinho mould, an one few will bet against lifting the trophy in Madrid on the 22nd May 2010.

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April 29, 2010 - Posted by | Football

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