Inter 0 Man Utd 0: Fergie lets Jose off the hook as Red Devils draw a blank
25 February 2009 08:56
Jose Mourinho was right about one thing. Manchester United
did indeed approach this Champions League encounter with what appeared to be a hint of caution. Beyond that, however, the selfanointed Special One could not have been more wrong.
He was wrong about United's reluctance to meet Inter Milan 'eye to eye'. Wrong to be quite so confident in predicting his team can win this tie. Wrong to argue that, 'technically', Italian football is superior to the game he once dominated as the much-admired manager of Chelsea.
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Sir Alex Ferguson might regret showing Mourinho's men quite as much respect as he did inside this magnificent sporting cathedral, because the presence of 83rd-minute substitute Wayne Rooney from the start could well have secured the goal United so deserved - an away goal that would have left them within touching distance of a place in the last eight rather than the somewhat precarious position they now occupy.
But United were so superior to their hosts - technically as well as tactically - that Ferguson need not worry too much about nights when a goal for the opposition at Old Trafford has proved so costly, like Monaco 11 years ago when a missile from David Trezeguet blew a giant hole in United's season.
On this occasion they should have little difficulty avoiding such a setback and instead secure a victory that will propel them into the quarter-finals as conquerors not just of Mourinho but an Inter side sitting at the top of a championship that is clearly inferior to the Barclays Premier League.
Even if imposing Inter striker Adriano probably squandered the clearest opportunity of the night, the vast majority of the chances went to United, and Mourinho must now stand accused of over-selling his side.
What, we ask again, is all the fuss about Zlatan Ibrahimovic? Where was the evidence that the troubled, not to mention tubby, Adriano has in some way been rebuilt and reborn? What makes Mourinho think Inter are equipped to end years of under-achievement in the Champions League?
Only goalkeeper Julio Cesar, outstanding in frustrating United's forwards, can reflect on the first leg of this tie with any real pleasure. The rest of them, for the most part, were desperately disappointing, even if Ivan Cordoba demonstrated in the second half that he should have started ahead of the hapless Rivas Lopez.
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In every area United were better. In defence, where Rio Ferdinand was terrific and a patched-up Jonny Evans again excelled as deputy to the suspended Nemanja Vidic; in midfield, where Michael Carrick delivered another marvellous, mature display alongside the tireless Darren Fletcher, and in attack, where Ryan Giggs was terrific as a foil to Dimitar Berbatov and Cristiano Ronaldo demonstrated to Mourinho that it is an insult to even mention Ibrahimovic in the same breath.
All they lacked, for all the opportunities they created against an Inter defence weakened by the absence of the injured Walter Samuel, were the finishing touches to an otherwise confident and classy display. Ronaldo squandered the best of their opportunities, directing a close-range header wide.
Ferguson's decision to deploy Giggs behind Berbatov was interesting, considering the Wales winger was not deemed worthy of a place in United's starting line-up in the final in Moscow last May.
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But planting Ronaldo on the right did make sense when Mourinho had revealed his intention to select an 18-year-old full back in Davide Santon for his European debut. Ronaldo wasted no time in running at the youngster and earned an early free-kick that he then u