Inter Milan 0-0 Manchester United: José’s Defense Holds, See You at Old Trafford Everyone (UEFA Champions League Round of 16, First Leg)

UEFA Champions League 2008-09 - Inter Milan vs. Manchester Utd

On the positive side, here’s a neat little stat for you: this was José Mourinho’s 13th encounter vs. Sir Alex Ferguson and so far, the Scottish legend has only managed to beat his Portuguese counterpart (wait for it)… once! You better believe it.

You better also believe that if the Nerazzurri play at Old Trafford the way they played this match’s first half, they’ll be out of Europe faster than José can say “Pirla”, and that’s a fact. The final 0-0 between Inter Milan and Manchester United is not such a bad one in itself (it’s the best home draw a team can get), but alas this was a game which also evidenced the tactical & technical superiority of the Red Devils over their Italian opponents, particularly in the first 45 minutes.

One can only hope that José saved some his half-time advice (which remotivated Inter towards playing at least decently in the second half) for the second leg, as the Nerazzurri will be needing every bit of it when they travel to Old Trafford in a match with everything still left to play for.

Manchester United Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo, right, challenges for the ball with Inter Milan forward Davide Santon, left, and Romanian defender Cristian Chivu during a Champions League, Round of 16, first leg soccer match, at the San Siro stadium in Milan, Italy, Tuesday, Feb.24, 2009. (AP Photo)

UEFA Champions League 2008-09 - Round of 16, First Leg - Inter 0-0 Man Utd

Tactically, Mourinho stuck to his pre-match plans from the eve, with the small exception of Nelson Rivas taking Cordoba’s place in the centre of defense. It would be a choice almost costing Inter a goal, as we shall see later on. Ferguson’s line-up included a couple of surprises: 4-2-3-1 formation, cautious in defence, and Rooney and Scholes left on the bench. In counterpart, Sir Alex’s aces-up-the-sleeve were Giggs‘ and Park‘s positions: with his team in possession, the Welsh captain placed himself at the heart of Inter’s diamond formation, crushing Cambiasso and forcing Stankovic to drop back, whereas the Korean winger consistently remained in the opponent’s half, a point of reference for Berbatov and a frequent obstacle to Maicon’s roaming runs forward.

Those tactics were the Red Devil key to the first half. Deprived of penetration from their best attackers, Inter had to improvise, paying on errors from Muntari and Adriano’s lack of mobility (Van der Sar had basically very little to do, coming out only to anticipate an Adriano half-chance after a good Zlatan pass). On the other end Julio Cesar kept his team afloat with two fantastic saves on Cristiano Ronaldo, first parrying a header and then a free-kick. The Portuguese midfielder was a constant threat; his speed & accel was hard to match but when Santon succeeded at doing so, the Meazza fans cheered as much as if their team had scored. From a team morale perspective, getting to half-time without any damage was a sign of good luck for Mourinho’s boys. It could have been worse, considering Rivas’s slip-work on Giggs (the Welsh midfielder blasted his chance on Julio Cesar) and Berbatov’s dynamism. 0-0 HT

Manchester United's Ryan Giggs (R) reacts after missing a scoring opportunity, as Inter Milan's goalkeeper Julio Cesar (L) gestures, during their Champions League soccer match at San Siro stadium in Milan February 24, 2009. (REUTERS)

José’s half-time speech must have really done wonders, because shortly after the break finally came the first threats to the Man Utd defence. Ibrahimovic started the proceedings with a good dummy for Adriano (left kick over the bar), and was later followed by Javier Zanetti (cross from the right towards Adriano, slight pull by Ferdinand on the Brazilian to clear the ball; no penalty). Overall, it was a more balanced game because by replacing Rivas with Cordoba, Mourinho patch up the leak in his back line.

The direct-contact battle was raging: Cambiasso & Adriano in particular attacked & defended every ball as if their life depended on it. Manchester relied on their lethal counterattacks, such as when Ronaldo accelerated forward and sent a cross towards Park (who couldn’t connect), or when Giggs roamed forward dribbling one player after the next, and finally found the intervention of Cordoba to stop his goal-bound effort. Mourinho ran for cover and switched to his beloved 4-3-3 formation (enter Cruz & Balotelli for Muntari & Adriano).

Inter Milan Brazilian goalkeeper Julio Cesar, left, kicks the ball away from Manchester United forward Wayne Rooney during the Champions League soccer match between Inter Milan and Manchester United at the San Siro stadium in Milan, Italy, Tuesday, Feb 24, 2009. (AP Photo)

The Nerazzurri’s golden chance in the game arrived at the end: Ibra redirected a corner-kick jumping higher than Evans, Cambiasso tried to apply the chest-finish (yes you have read correctly) a yard away from the line, Van der Sar recovered the ball easily. No luck for Inter. In the final minutes Rooney came on for Park to increase the Red Devils striking power, and Roo almost immediately forced Julio Cesar to a desperate rushing out attempt and foot clearance out of his box. The final kick (litterally) of the game was an umpteenth Ronaldo set-piece effort, stopped by Julio Cesar as best he could. 0-0 FT.

The story of this match will continue at Old Trafford in two weeks’ time, with the sincere hope that Inter get rid of the “fear” they seemed to have in the first 45 minutes today.



F.C. Internazionale Milano
[Match Highlights]
Manchester United F.C.
GOALSCORERS: 13′ Maicon (I), 62’ C.Pizarro (W).
INTER (4-3-1-2): Julio Cesar – Maicon, Rivas (46’ Córdoba), Chivu, Santon – J.Zanetti, Cambiasso, Muntari (66’ Cruz) – Stankovic – Adriano (66’ Balotelli), Ibrahimovic. (bench: Toldo, Maxwell, Burdisso, Figo). Coach: Mourinho.
MANCHESTER UTD (4-2-3-1): Van der Sar – O’Shea, Evans, R.Ferdinand, Evra – Fletcher, Carrick – C.Ronaldo, Giggs, Park (83’ Rooney) – Berbatov. (bench: Foster, Fabio, Gibson, Nani, Scholes, Tevez). Coach: Ferguson.


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Posted in English Premiership, Inter, UEFA Champions League |

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