It was a match that was made for Jose Mourinho. His Internazionale side were coming into the derby against AC Milan on a poor run of form, having won just three of their previous six league games, and the build-up was peppered with spats: the Italian league had allowed Milan permission to reschedule last Wednesday’s match with Udinese to allow more time to prepare for Inter and Italy coach Marcello Lippi had visited the Milan training-ground in the build-up to the game, but not the Inter one.
“Perhaps he didn’t want ro be reminded of that bad period of his career,” dead-panned Mourinho.
A fortnight ago, Mourinho was three minutes from losing his coveted eight-year, 127-match unbeaten of home games in the league. Two late goals turned a 3-2 deficit against bottom-side Siena into a 4-3 win but there was a real danger that Mourinho’s run might end last night, to an in-form Milan side that had won eight of its last nine games, scored 12 in its last three, and were only six points behind Inter with a game in hand.
He needn’t have worried: Inter started superbly, with Wesley Sneijder hitting the woodwork and having a shot excellently saved before Diego Milito put them ahead inside 15 minutes.
For all the pre-match talk of Milan’s flowing football under Leonardo, it was Inter who were pushing forward at will and threatening Dida’s goal. That is, until 26 minutes in, when Sneijder, who had already collided with referee Gianluca Rocchi, was dismissed for sarcastically applauding the official after a decision went against Inter. “He disrespected me,” the brave Rocchi was heard to explain to Mourinho at half-time.
But playing for over an hour with ten men with arguably your best player out of the game Ã‚Â against Serie A’s in-form side is a challenge made for Mourinho. He galvanised his midfield, where Esteban Cambiasso was superb, and though Milan had a few chances, Inter continued to create more, with the impressive Goran Pandev hitting the post before he killed off the game with a free-kick that sailed past Dida, who seemed rooted to the ground.
Mourinho celebrated wildly on the touchline, and as the game reached its frenetic finale, he could be seen waving his arms. windmill-style, to rouse the fans. There was more drama to come: Lucio was sent off late on for a handball and Milan awarded a penalty, which Julio Cesar saved from Ronaldinho.
Cue more Mourinho madness, and a superb shot of Marco Materazzi in the stands celebrating wearing a Silvio Berlusconi rubber-mask.
The win has put Inter nine points clear of the field in Serie A, and now (1.24) for the title. Milan have moved out to (5.6). More significantly, Mourinho may have alighted on a new formation for the Champions League tie against Chelsea, as he switched from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-3-3, with Cambiasso joined by Muntari and Zanetti in midfield. Pandev may have been bought as a stop-gap to cover the absence of Samuel Eto’o, but on this form he may keep out the Cameroon striker for the big matches to come.
In the last two seasons, Inter have dropped out of the Champions League at this stage of the season to English opposition (Liverpool 2008, Manchester United 2009) and once again Mourinho will pit his wits against Premier League opposition, his former club Chelsea, in next month’s enticing European Round of 16 tie. Inter are 2.78 to get past Chelsea, who are 1.53.
Chelsea may be physically stronger and have more pace than this Inter Milan side, but what we saw last night was a mental strength that Inter have previously lacked in Europe. “The way we played, we could have had another two men ejected and, even with seven men, we would have won,” is how Mourinho put it. Against Milan, Inter finally looked like a Mourinho side and that may spell danger for Chelsea.
Reproduced with permission from betting.betfair.com. Ã‚Â© The Sporting Exchange Limited
MORE: Man United latest news
MORE: Arsenal latest news
MORE: Chelsea latest news
MORE: Liverpool latest news