Chelsea v Inter Milan, Champions League last 16 second leg, March 16, 2010
Forget David Beckhamâ€™s return to Old Trafford, Jose Mourinhoâ€™s appearance at Stamford Bridge could well eclipse Goldenballs last Wednesday night simply because the former Manchester United number seven appeared with the two legs done and dusted. â€œThe Special Oneâ€ however could shape a tie that is on a knife edge from the minute he opens his mouth in what is expected to be an incendiary pre-match press conference on Monday night. (Jose Mourinho is 1.83 to be Inter’s manager at start of next season, 1.83 against.)
Mourinho, a master of the dark arts, will be looking to shape the second leg as only he can and the Portuguese coach is expected to be awarded an excellent welcome from the Chelsea crowd – who incidentally have yet to chant Carlo Ancelottiâ€™s name this season. Inter Milan hold a slim 2-1 lead from the first leg and the pressure is on the Nerazzurri to finally secure a result in Europe that makes the continent sit up and take notice.
Inter travel to Stamford Bridge in very patchy form and the perennial Italian champions are in the midst of a real wobble as their lead at the top of Serie A has been whittled down. The 3-1 defeat at Catania on Friday night was the end of what looks to be a complacent run since great rivals AC Milan were beaten with nine men at the end of January.
In Serie A since the start of February, Inter have won just two of their seven matches which included five draws where Mourinhoâ€™s side showed similarities to last yearâ€™s vintage. At this stage of the Champions League last season, Inter failed to take their chances at Old Trafford and were dumped out the competition.
Much will depend on Lucio, the Brazilian defender who will be charged with marking the in-form Didier Drogba (4.50 to score first, 1.90 to score anytime). As well as Wesley Sneijder (4.50 to score) who has made Inter tick this season but may struggle for room it what looks set to be a packed midfield at Stamford Bridge. Strikers Diego Milito (3.50 to score), Samuel Etoâ€™o (3.50 to score) and Mario Balotelli (4.00 to score) will be charged with scoring and the three hitman undoubtedly have the talent to make Chelsea pay at the back.
Chelsea, like Inter, have also been blowing hot and cold of late and with injuries to key players (Petr Cech, Ashley Cole and Michael Essien) and they look yet again like they could agonisingly miss out on the biggest prizes at the last. Ross Turnbull faces the most important game of his life as he steps in for Cech and Hilario and any mistake from the former Middlesbrough keeper could hand the Italians a significant advantage.
The recent home defeat to Manchester City punctured an undefeated home record in the league and the subsequent victories over Stoke and West Ham have been a little laboured. In particular Michael Essienâ€™s absence has been keenly felt with Michael Ballack not looking the force of old this season.
One of the key battles will undoubtedly be Florent Malouda v Maicon. The French winger played in defence in the first game but was in sensational form against West Ham on Saturday but Jonathan Spector is a different proposition to the Brazilian. Joe Cole (4.00 to score) also impressed off the bench against the Hammers and with his contract running down and an England World Cup spot to play for this could be the game to make an impact.
How Inter defend from set pieces will also be crucial and which side handle the occasion is also going to play a part. It is impossible to ignore the â€œMourinho factor.â€ At least seven of the Chelsea starting line-up will have played under the Portuguese coach and all eyes will be on him. It is often said that coaches can only do so much, after all they donâ€™t cross the white line. But this game could be dictated by one of the most gifted managers of the modern game with revenge in mind for his September 2007 departure.
101gg predicts: Chelsea 1 â€“ Inter Milan 1 (7.00)