Inter Milan v Barcelona, Champions League semi-final first leg, April 20, 2010
â€œBarcelona, as a team, are better than us. But being beaten by them doesn’t mean we can’t beat them in the later stages. If I had to play them again tomorrow, I would already be ready. If you told me that Inter will face Barca in the semi-final, I will accept that now.” â€“ Jose Mourinho after Inter Milanâ€™s 2-0 defeat to Barcelona in November.
So far the build-up to this match has been dominated by the battle between Mourinho and Lionel Messi (5.00 to score first, 2.10 to score). Such has been the form of â€œThe Fleaâ€ in recent weeks that surely only the worldâ€™s most tactically aware coach can stop the Argentine schemer, is how most see this two-legged semi-final.
In truth, â€œThe Special Oneâ€ may well look to suffocate the orchestrator of this great Barca side, by stopping Xavi (5.50 to score) and his endless carousel of pinpoint passes Inter could pose a real threat to the worldâ€™s top club team. However this tie plays out tactically, the winner will fancy their chances at the Bernabeu as these are arguably the top two teams left in the competition.
Pep Guardiolaâ€™s side have been hugely impressive in recent weeks with a stunning demolition of Arsenal in the second leg of the last round and then a comprehensive 2-0 win over their great Spanish rivals Real Madrid. There are though some chinks in their armour and a number of reasons to back the home side, at least in the first leg.
The 0-0 draw with Espanyol on Saturday evening slowed Barcelonaâ€™s progress in their battle to reclaim the La Liga title and their local rivals proved that the likes of Xavi, Messi and Pedro can be stopped. In addition, the Catalan giants have been forced to travel by bus to Milan due to the volcanic ash cloud that has floored much of Europeâ€™s air travel.
Barcelona will travel in two buses the 634 kilometres to Cannes on Sunday and stay overnight before covering the last 351 kilometres to Milan on Monday. Pep Guardiola played down the road trip: “If we go by road we will not have the desired recovery, but there are many teams in the Segunda B (Spanish third tier) who travel 16 or 17 hours by coach every week.”
You can just imagine Jose Mourinho licking his lips at the thought of Barcaâ€™s superstars holed up in a bus for much of Sunday and Monday in the lead-up to this match. And the absence of Andres Iniesta and the recent return to fitness of former Nerazzurri front man Zlatan Ibrahimovic (7.00 to score first, 2.60 to score) also plays into Interâ€™s hands.
Mourinho is likely to be aware that his side probably need to improve on the 0-0 draw played out in the first group game in September. The second group game saw Barcelona produce a masterclass without Messi and Ibrahimovic and Inter need to take a lead to the Nou Camp.
Inter seem likely to start with a three-man midfield to stop the prompting of Xavi and playmaker Wesley Sneijder (3.75 to score) will be hoping to produce chances for former Barcelona striker Samuel Eto’o (7.00 to score first, 2.60 to score) and Diego Milito (2.10 to score) if he plays. Maicon scored a terrific goal in the 2-0 win over Juventus on Friday night and the victory over the â€œOld Ladyâ€and the previous European wins over Chelsea and CSKA Moscow should spread belief in the Nerazzurri camp.
There are a host of potential battles to watch out for all across the pitch including Eto’o v Ibrahimovic (who were transferred between these clubs in the summer), Diego Milito v Gaby Milito (the Argentinean brothers) and Dani Alves v Maicon (the Brazilian rights backs and arguably the best attacking defenders in the world).
Almost every team in world football would struggle against Barcelona but Inter Milan may have the right blend on the pitch and a tactical mastermind on the bench to ensure that they will at least travel to the Nou Camp with some hope.
101gg predicts: Inter Milan 1 â€“ Barcelona 0 (7.67)