Manchester United send Jose Mourinho's Inter Milan out of the Champions League

11 March 2009 09:43
Jose Mourinho hugged Sir Alex Ferguson at the final whistle but it was really the only time that Inter Milan got to grips with Manchester United. Mourinho's team went out of Europe with a whimper, not a bang, and Old Trafford serenaded them on their way with chants of "bye, bye Mourinho'' and "you're not special any more''.

As an audition for any future vacancy here, Mourinho disappointed. Headers from Nemanja Vidic and Cristiano Ronaldo guaranteed the champions' progression to the quarter-finals. Serie A's reputation for tough, organised defending took a real knock here as United's goals, particularly Vidic's, were avoidable.

 Related ArticlesChampions League action

Top 10: European coaches

Inter Milan v Manchester United: Ferguson and Mourinho are friends reunited

Inter Milan v Manchester United: Jose Mourinho favourite to master Alex Ferguson

Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez keep Manchester United in honours hunt

Cristiano Ronaldo eyes European glory

When the Serb scored, United had the initiative and Wayne Rooney, particularly, was superb, whether charging through the middle or keeping the excellent Maicon occupied on the flank in the second half. Rooney was sought out for an embrace by Mourinho, a picture of frustration by the end.

As well as moaning about the amount of time added on at the end (only two minutes which seemed about right), Mourinho also complained about the ball, a special one dedicated to United as European champions. Uefa politely reminded the Inter coach that he could choose the ball when his team won the competition.

Although more enterprising than in the San Siro, Inter still failed to impress and only Javier Zanetti and Maicon deserved any praise. Arguably, the most convincing performance from someone with Inter connections was when Mourinho had entered this famous arena.

The show had begun even before kick-off with Mourinho, breaking off from embracing Carlos Tevez in the tunnel, marching on his own down the touchline, milking the mix of applause and many jeers tumbling forth from the United faithful. It was a piece of pure theatre from the Special One, who will have particularly enjoyed the song accompanying his every step towards the dug-out - "This Is The One''. His smile soon disappeared.

Within five minutes, United were ahead, exploiting a major tactical weakness Mourinho had inexplicably saddled his team with. Inter's inexperienced left-back, David Santon, was forced to face Ronaldo, the European Footballer of the Year, with no shielding midfielder. Mario Balotelli, the teenaged striker, started on the left tucked in behind Zlatan Ibrahimovic but rarely tracked back. Poor Santon.

Mourinho rejigged at the break, inserting Sulley Muntari in front of Santon and pushing Balotelli up but United had the lead by then and were swiftly to add another. Santon, a hugely promising defender, was desperately exposed in the first period. Ronaldo, sensing vulnerability, began running at the full-back, soon winning a fifth-minute corner that bring such substantial reward.

Ryan Giggs jogged across to the flag as his team-mates began moving into position. As United's captain curled the ball across, men in red shirts sought to escape those in black-and-blue. Vidic's move was the most decisive, the Serb twice checking his run to throw Patrick Vieira off the scent. A yard of space gained, Vidic flicked his header imperiously into the goal. Once again, the modern tendency to position defenders on only one post was punished.

The Stretford End loved it, taunting Mourinho and particularly Vieira, the midfielder who enjoyed a scrap or three here during his Arsenal days. United's players were determined to ram their message home, grabbing a second but Giggs promptly wasted a glorious chance.

Inter briefly took confidence. Javier Zanetti, usually an influence on the major occasions, began to control midfield. Maicon, the Brazilian full-back, started to raid down the right. Ibrahimovic, the spearhead of Inter's 4-1-2-2-1 formation, at last hinted at some substance to all the hype, troubling Rio Ferdinand and Vidic. From one Maicon free-kick, the tall Swedish international headed goalwards, the ball bouncing down and up before hitting the bar and flying over.

Before Ronaldo's header relaxed United's supporters, Inter enjoyed a period of hope. Ibrahimovic set up Dejan Stankovic, whose right-foot shot was pushed away by Edwin van der Sar at full stretch.

United needed another goal to settle them. Giggs and Rooney combined brilliantly to send O'Shea through, the Irishman having only Julio Cesar to beat. Inter's keeper seemed to have made O'Shea's task easier by diving early, inviting the Irishman to dink the ball over him. Instead, O'Shea elected to side-foot the ball low and the Brazilian saved.

Reprieved, Inter went on the attack again. Stankovic threatened. Then Ibrahimovic, unrecognisable from his first-leg anonymity, shot wide. Van der Sar denied Maicon. United weathered the storm and Ferguson's inspired tactical tweak at the interval helped them move further clear.

To stifle Maicon, Ferguson pulled Rooney back to left midfield, pushing Giggs through the middle in support of Dimitar Berbatov, who had hurt himself in the warm-up but continued. Within four minutes, Ferguson's switch had paid off. When Giggs dribbled across the box, Rooney cleverly made himself available on the left.

Possession received, Rooney wrongfooted Maicon and chipped the ball into area. Berbatov was offside but Ronaldo had timed his run perfectly, meeting Rooney's delivery and heading irresistibly past Julio Cesar.

Facing the exit, Mourinho threw on another striker, Adriano, who immediately hit the post with a volley.

Luis Figo then appeared but Inter's attack lacked focus. The shooting was poor, Ibrahimovic back to his profligate worst. Ferguson's Maicon plan was working, the full-back largely pegged back by the supreme work-rate of Rooney. Under the approving gaze of Fabio Capello, the England international was tireless up and down the left, although one challenge on Maicon brought a deserved caution.

The life really began to drain from Inter, the visitors going down without a struggle. Only Maicon and Zanetti fought against the fading of the light for the Italian champions. Ibrahimovic disappeared. Adriano lacked the real athleticism to alarm Ferdinand or Vidic. Figo was playing from memory, albeit magnificent ones.

As United headed towards the quarter-final draw a week tomorrow, Inter return to securing Serie A and intensifying speculation about the future of Mourinho.

Team detailsManchester United (4-4-2): Van der Sar; O'Shea, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra; Ronaldo, Carrick, Scholes, Giggs; Rooney, Berbatov.Subs: Foster (g), Anderson, Park, Evans, Fletcher, Gibson, Tevez.Inter Milan (4-1-2-2-1): Julio Cesar; Maicon, Cordoba, Samuel, Santon; Cambiasso; Vieira, Zanetti; Stankovic, Balotelli; Ibrahimovic.Subs: Toldo (g), Maxwell, Figo, Cruz, Adriano, Muntari, Rivas.Referee: W Stark (Germany).


Source: Telegraph