The Champions League draw is like a box of chocolates, you never know which one you are gonna get.
Friday’s Champions League draw was like a mini-Christmas, waiting to see what you will get. What we got was a mouth-watering set of ties to be played out in February; with the highlights of the round undoubtedly being England’s finest up against Serie A’s supremos and Liverpool’s matches against Real Madrid.
The only person who seems to be unhappy with the outcome of the draw is Fabio Capello. He described it as “diabolical” that all three Italian teams will face English opposition. Fabio suggested that “they are games that will bring numerous suggestions and impossible predictions.” Unfortunately, the best analysis that the mercurial Italian could offer was that “It will be difficult for Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United but it will be equally difficult for Roma, Juve and Inter.” Thanks for that Fabio!
To compensate for the Italian autocrat’s lack of foresight, I have dared to throw some predictions out there for the second round games. As it is the run up to Christmas and the New Year, I will keep the excitement going by doing two previews per week. This also gives me the benefit of time to do some research in order to say something interesting (or anything at all) about glamour ties such as Villareal versus Panathanaikos.
To kick things off I will take a look at the Fergie’s Man Utd match up with Jose Mourinho’s Internazionale.
Inter Milan vs. Manchester United
This one has been billed as Mourinho vs Ferguson, with both managers lavishing praise on each other and their respective teams. Of course, these are early days and I am sure the mind games will stoke up closer to the occasion. However, Jose won’t be scared of Fergie, as there is only one fat Walrus of a Premiership manager who invokes that kind of fear in the “Special One”.
Hey lads, look who is coming to town. It is that purple-nosed bastard!
Jose couldn’t resist having an early dig, claiming that Ibrahimovic is better than Ronaldo. Now, both of these guys are blessed with great skills, some of which can be seen here and here. Ibra’s goals for Inter this year have been as crucial as Ronaldo’s were to United last season. Furthermore, Italians (both Nerazzuri and opposition fans) rave about Zlatan as we do about Ronaldo in this country. But let’s be frank, Ronaldo is the far better player in terms of impact. A far more relevant comparison for this Champions League tie should be between Ibrahimovic and Berbatov. They are similar in stature, flair and role within the team.
Berbatov’s return of 6 goals in 16 appearances pales in comparison to Ibra’s 11 in 21, but come February Berba could be further imbedded into this United side, providing that bit of class and a natural target man, a much needed option in Europe. Berbatov will be provided class support in the shape of Ronaldo, Giggs, Scholes, Rooney and Tevez (provided they remain injury-free). The same cannot quite be said of Inter. Mourinho has opted for a United-esque attacking trio of Ibra alongside two of Quaresma, Stankovic, Mancini and Balotelli, supported by Sulley Muntari supply from midfield. The fact that Mourinho has tinkered with his forward line reflects the inconsistency in performances of his attackers bar Ibra. Ricardo Quaresma has certainly not lived up to expectations, leading to him being dropped, with even 21 year old Nigerian Victor Obinna preferred over him.
A problem for Manchester United could be Inter’s physicality, both in midfield and defence, with the likes of Vieira, Muntari, Cambiasso and Samuel bringing fighting qualities that Mourinho also managed to build during his tenure at Chelsea.
A big strength that Mourinho’s Inter has over his former Chelsea side is attacking full backs. Both Maicon and Maxwell provide the pace, power, technique and ability to score that is a hallmark of the very best Brazilian full backs. At Chelsea, Jose rarely let Cole and Ferreira/Essien/Diarra to bomb forward in such as way. I remember Chelsea’s Second Round, second leg match against Barca in the 2005/6 season where Mourinho’s team trailed Barca 2-1 from the first leg at Stamford Bridge and Jose basically didn’t want to be embarrassed by the Catalans in their pomp. Despite trailing 1-0 in the Second Leg, he just wouldn’t let his full backs get forward in case Barca tore them apart on the break. Mourinho famously claimed that it was an unfair contest because it hadn’t been “11 vs 11” for the two legs.
United’s Superior Movement
Jose should be able to get Inter to overcome their annual brain-freeze in the Champions League, instilling his experience from both Porto and Chelsea. where I ultimately see Inter coming undone will be when they face the kind of movement and intensity that United conjure up. As Italian sides have found challenging over the past few years when facing English opposition, Mourinho’s side just won’t be used to the relentless attacking style of Man U week-in, week-out in Serie A.
Tight affair with contentious decisions (I smell a red card or two) but United will take advantage of the second leg at Old Trafford.
Check this for Mourinho’s likely reaction to my prediction (24 seconds in). Also worthwhile watching to see that Jose’s charm comes across just the same in Italian as it does in English.
Fergie lays a strategic piece of gum on the pitch which Ibrahimovic later gets stuck in.
Pat-Rice Evra gets mean.
Owen Hargreaves, Nani and Ronaldo morph into one. Jokers eh?