Straight from the dark heart of Italy
Inter’s impressive Champions League performance at Chelsea was signed, sealed and ready for delivery on Sunday morning on the club’s training pitch.
It was there that Jose Mourinho outlined his tactics to stifle and frustrate his old team – and he pulled two players out from the huddle to explain his modus operandi in the clearest manner possible.
The first player was Goran Pandev; the second, much more reluctant participant was Mario Balotelli.
Pandev had of course spent the first four months of the season kicking his heels at home as his contract dispute with Lazio stole away his career while Balotelli spent his time warming the bench doing little to further his own CV.
Mourinho informed his charges that Pandev would be in the team at Stamford Bridge while Balotelli, for his part, need not even dig out his passport.
Apparently the unruly teenager had turned up at the dressing room whistling the AC Milan club anthem, which obviously did not go down too well with his team-mates – and especially those battle-hardened warriors Javier Zanetti and Esteban Cambiasso.
Mourinho had said little on the return trip from Catania so the players knew that the final session would be pivotal to how the team would approach their most important game of the season.
Not many would have been surprised to see Inter sitting back and holding out for a draw, but once again the Portuguese was ready to confound the norm.
The knowledge that Pandev and Samuel Eto’o would become the first line of defence, thus giving those further back time to hold their ground and protect the penalty area, would have raised spirits within the party.
The fact that Mourinho then tore a strip off a chastened Balotelli was another defining moment. The squad was united behind their leader and the subsequent press furore over the youngster’s banishment would deflect coverage away from London.
Massimo Moratti wasn't even informed beforehand that the player he believes is the “future of the club” would be left at home. However, the owner had to side with his authority figure in light of the teen’s teasing of his team-mates – and must then have green-lighted the leak that Balotelli’s agent had visited Milan’s offices for a chat on Monday morning.
Throwing everyone off the scent enabled Mourinho to get on with plotting his own course: once safely in London he basked in the glory of being back on the King’s Road and even paraded the players on the morning of the game.
Usually Italian teams are huddled in the hotel, concentrating on the task at hand, wrapped in a blanket of tension that can only be thrown off when they cross the white line. Instead, we had the sight of a thoroughly-relaxed bunch enjoying the spring sunshine like any other group of tourists.
The fact that the Mister was in his element to a greater extent than during his time in Italy probably made the players forget for a moment that they had a game that evening.
Even at Stamford Bridge, he took over the tunnel entrance as if it was his own private VIP area, meeting and greeting old friends along the way. It was as if he had never been away. Carlo Ancelotti even had to wait in line to have a quick word before shuffling off into the gloom.
It was pure theatre until the players lined up; from there on it was
substance that counted rather than glamour - and Inter had it in
abundance. In all honesty Chelsea never really created a clear-cut
chance while the Nerazzurri could have finished two or three goals up.
It wasn’t even one of those evenings where an Italian side was hanging on for dear life. Everyone looked relaxed and composed, very few passes went astray – and when they did, an eager team-mate was there to regain possession.
For Inter this can only be the starting point and maybe the players will look back to Sunday and say this is where Inter finally became Mourinho’s Inter.
Let’s hope they get Arsenal in the quarter-finals...
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It was a performance to be proud of alright. Lucio was as good as ever while Samuel is showing his best form in years. The goal from Eto'o,as good as it was, probably saved him from the critics though. I didn't think he was looking anywhere near his best. Wesley Sneijder looks like a man who wants to show the Madrid circus what they are missing every time he steps on the pitch. Credit also due to Cambiasso and Motta too, although the whole team played well as a unit. I said last summer that the English sides all looked weaker coming into this season than they have for some time and it seems to be heading that way at the moment. Well done Inter and Fiorentina,and as for Milan...
Its exactly that laid back relaxed approach that did us (Liverpool) in '88. I became a fan of Wimbledon that day. Supporters like to mix with their heros. I know lots of Liverpool supporters who think Mourinho is all show, but here's more to him than that, its about deflecting press attention and he's better than Fergusen at that.
Benitez? He still gets credit for www.punterslounge.com/.../rafa-goes-pub-13391 and if we were on a sound financial footage, I think he could be a match for the best.
Footnote: None of them were special compared to Shanks
Whilst they weren't hanging on for dear life in an overall sense, there were a couple of moments in the penalty area where there was some impressive holding going on...things could have been pretty different had either of those been penalised.
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