With all the problems surrounding the journey Barcelona encountered on their Journey to Milan over the weekend Jose Mourinho was presented to the media on Monday looking calm and confident. The ‘eyes of the world will be upon this game’ he said as football fans the world over prepared for the battle between the great tactician and the masterful Catalans, already being talked about as the greatest club side in the history of the game.
The pre match talk was of Inter looking to keep things tight and head to the Camp Nou with the game still very much in the balance. What ensued was a game not many neutrals expected and even the most die hard Nerazzurri fan would have fantasised about in their wildest dreams.
Mourinho’s team selection was straight forward and the team lined up in exactly the same manner as they had against Chelsea in the first knock out stage. Goran Pandev and Samuel Eto’o lined up in the wide positions of a three pronged attack with two instructions; firstly to nullify the attacking threats posed by Maxwell and Alves and secondly to support the Argentine forward Diego Milito. Pandev in particular seemed more determined to reinforce the defence in the initial stages rather than support Milito, who often found himself with nobody in support in the opening minutes. The intentions he laid out were clear, keep things tight in defence and then get the ball forward as quickly and as effectively as possible. This was not quite Herrera’s Catenaccio but certainly a modern day equivalent. With the two colossal south Americans (Samuel and Lucio) at the heart of the defence Barcelona’s passing and movement would have to be at its best in order to catch them on the back foot.
Any side preparing to play against this sublime Barcelona side will not expect to have much possession, the key however is to press and maintain a small gap between the lines of defence and attack. The real surprise came in the way Inter moved the ball so directly and at such speed when going forward. The ball was often played behind one of the full backs which in turn then separated and isolated Puyol and Pique, Milito, who was an ever willing runner, was continually winning the race.
It came however as no surprise that Barca took the lead after 19 minutes. The lines of defence that Mourinho would have talked about all week disappeared the moment Maicon allowed Maxwell to race passed him and pick out Pedro from the by-line to finish calmly for his 20th goal of the season. As soon as the ball hit the back of the net everyone, including the majority of the fans in the Guiseppe Meazza stadium would have feared the worst. Out came Mourinho from the dug out, encouraging and remonstrating with his players to start again and maintain focus.
What followed is something that became synonymous with Mourinho’s teams in the past. Firstly, Milito missed a great opportunity to pull level before Eto’o managed to escape Maxwell and deliver a cross towards Milito. The Argentine cleverly controlled the ball and just before the on rushing Alves could close him down he laid the ball neatly to Sneijder who passed the ball into the net. There was certainly an element of fortune in the third and final goal of the evening but one that any neutral would find hard to deny a team that had shut down the most creative side of the last 30 years.
The realisation of the players that Mourinho’s belief in them had substance spurred them onto a dramatic victory that has put one leg in the final at the Santiago Bernebeu on 22nd May. The performances of each and every player is one that will have to be repeated again in the Nou Camp but one feels that only a team managed and run by Mourinho is capable of going there and finishing the job.