United-Inter: Can the Special One Unseat the Red Knight?

January 27, 2009

by Illya Mclellan…

After sitting through an unbelievably dour performance by Inter in their victory over Sampdoria, I heard several references by the commentators to the upcoming Champions League match between Manchester United and Internazionale.

It will be a mouth-watering clash of a battle between Jose Mourinho and Alex Ferguson, made all the more so because at present both teams sit at the top of their respective leagues.

Manchester United have done what they have done very well for many years under the guidance of the calm but belligerent Scotsman. They start slowly and chip away at a pretender’s league position.

Inter, under the guidance of Mourinho, have done the opposite in climbing to the top of the pile and then watching as others snap at their heels.

As a second round tie, this is definitely a special one. The contest features two of European football’s most famous and prestigious sides, with each of these larger than life managers having at his disposal a wealth of world class talent.

The thing that may have Inter fans worried is that United have been gathering speed in the last couple of months while they have seen Inter recently take their second loss in the league to mid-table Atalanta.

Not only this, but they have also not looked entirely convincing after this loss. Meanwhile, United have admittedly only managed a couple of one nil victories of late, but have looked comfortable doing so.

The game that took Inter back to the top of the table after Juventus had stolen the lead was another that could easily have finished differently had it not been for the safe hands of Julio Cesar in the Inter goal. The keeper made a brilliant save in injury time off a stinging shot from Sampdoria’s Danielle Dessena.

Mourinho was visibly relieved at the whistle.

United looked comfortable in seeing off Spurs in the FA cup and there was no sign of the worry on Ferguson’s face that Mourinho endured in the dying moments of the Sampdoria game.

All of this aside though, the last time that these two managers met in the Champions League it was the confident Portuguese who ended up running down the touchline with his arms aloft.

The question for him is this: Can he motivate his charges to stifle United and break open their miserly defence?

He certainly has options to do so with the in-form Swede, Zlatan Ibrahimovich, as well as the big Brazilian, Adriano, who seems to take an interest in big games.

Not to mention Quaresma, Crespo, and Julio Cruz or even Mancini, who has done little so far this season but who has found the net in the Champions League already.

No shortage of attackers here for Mourinho, but one would think that his game plan would be more along the lines of stifling United’s attacking threat and getting one or two goals and shutting the tie down.

This is after all what he managed to do so well as the boss of Chelsea.

United could well go about doing the exact same thing though, which we did see in last season’s Champions League semifinal against Barcelona. Grind out a defensive effort away and then snatch the win at home.

With Rooney, Berbatov, C. Ronaldo, and Co. you would hope for fireworks, though.

The glimmer of hope here for Inter is that United have been remarkably susceptible to losing their big games this season, as we saw in their visits to Anfield and the Emirates stadium. Sometimes luck is with the other team.

If Mourinho can get his victory in Italy it could well be the Champions who crash out in the second round, but it is a tall order for the Italian side who have looked so shaky in recent weeks.

But looking at it in terms of cup football in all its unpredictability, I think we could be in store for an upset in this tie, if you could call it that, as they are without a doubt two of the top sides in Europe.

Going on present form you might think that United will breeze into the quarters at the expense of Inter and give Ferguson his revenge for the loss he suffered to Mourinho when Porto went on to claim the cup.

These things are never that simple though, and both sides have the type of players who can unleash magic from their boots at any stage of a game.

Let’s hope it is this magic we see and not a battle of the defensive strategies.