Straight from the dark heart of Italy
We all know that Jose Mourinho loves to play the role of the great communicator, so you can imagine how he felt being imprisoned inside a windowed broom cupboard this weekend.
With the Inter Milan coach having flaunted the rule during the match against Genoa that a suspended coach cannot converse with his staff or players, Catania made sure that the bellowing Portuguese was left to brood in silence in the least hospitable of hospitality boxes on Friday.
He would have been well aware that there was a camera trained on him for the full 90 minutes just in case he leapt up to rap the window like an irate householder after kids had kicked a ball into his garden.
Scowling at the neighbours was about the extent of his annoyance but it must have taken supreme self-restraint not to lob the television set through the window after Sulley Muntari’s 85-second cameo appearance as the village idiot.
In that time, the knuckled-headed midfielder trotted onto the pitch as a substitute, committed a foul and was booked – and then handled the ball in the wall from the subsequent free-kick to receive a second yellow card.
The fact that he was standing inside the area – actually, make that 'jumping inside the area with arm waving over his head like someone in the throes of a nightmare where they are being attacked by a swarm of bees' – added further ignominy to the brief but never to be forgotten appearance.
Giuseppe Mascara, executing the penalty-kick in the manner of the fabled but risky cucchiaio (spoon), heaped even more embarrassment on the self-destructing league leaders.
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With AC Milan defeating Chievo (despite looking as one-paced as they were in Manchester), the lead at the top is now down to just one point.
David Beckham’s injury has of course stolen the headlines away from Inter for today anyway, which may allow the squad to head to London in relative peace and quiet.
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At least Mourinho will be back in the thick of the action tomorrow evening, which is just as well but because his players have looked a little lost without a constant stream of advice from the touchline. In fact, the Special One could be the special factor the Nerazzurri need to unsettle Chelsea, who may end up playing against the occasion more than the visitors.
The grim display in Sicily should have little bearing on a glitzy European night, but it will be up to Mou to instil belief in his players that they can play the game in the English side’s third of the pitch.
It will take supreme confidence and work-rate to accomplish this all-important foothold, but from there it will be possible to work on the home team’s weaknesses along the flanks and then provide service in and around the area.
Much will depend on Esteban Cambiasso’s role at the base of a midfield diamond – and the Argentine’s smothering role needs to halt Chelsea high up the pitch to release Wesley Sneijder while Javier Zanetti and Dejan Stankovic work the flanks with an intensity as never before.
Diego Milito will show for the ball all night, no matter how closely he is being marked, but Samuel Eto’o needs to break free of his recent malaise and demonstrate he is still the big-game player.
It's going to have to be one of those nights where all those elements must come together, or else Italy will be looking at another barren year of no representation in the quarter-finals of the Champions League.
Looking at the bigger picture, it would take Serie A one step closer to losing its fourth place in the competition, depending how well the German clubs perform in Europe this season. But no one, including Inter, will be thinking that the champions are carrying a nation’s hopes. It's only the national team that the whole country rallies around - and even that is not as pronounced as it once was.
So Inter will go into their date with destiny very much on their own... which is just the way Jose likes it.
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Inter losing to Catania, the 2nd best team in Sicily is an embarrassment of epic proportions!
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