Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Champions League Preview: Inter Milan v. Manchester United

With all due respect to my compatriots, this is the big match. Sir Alex versus the Special One. Two teams absolutely flying in their leagues. Two of the most entertaining offensive players in Ibrahimovic and Ronaldo. Manchester United's decimated defense (blame the Club World Cup!).

And yet, with all that drama, isn't a bore draw all but inevitable?

For all of Teletubby's talk of "kill or be killed," Manchester United would simply love a nil-nil or 1-1 draw. And the thing about United this year is that the cards always seem to fall their way.... Destiny and the quadruple and all of that.

But, let's look at the positives. Let's look at the unknowns. The biggest will be who exactly forms United's back four. Jonny Evans and John O'Shea traveled to Italy, but both will face last-minute fitness tests (expect the physios to break out lots of the magic spray). After that, and with all due respect to Richard Eckersley and Rafael's twin brother, United have only two fit, available defenders in their squad: Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra. So could we see Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick pushed into the back line?

On the other side of the pitch, Inter Milan have been in great form in Serie A, where they are 9 points clear of second-place Juve. Mourinho has already announced most of his squad, which will of course include Ibrahimovic, Adriano, Cambiasso and the like. And then there's the good ol' Special One with his very special mouth:

Manchester United are a great attacking team but I have watched every one of their matches in the Champions League last season and they changed the way they play away. When they played Barça, they had a different approach.

I am not saying they are afraid. I know United don’t like that word. I know Sir Alex doesn’t like that word. But they respect us and they know they can lose and because of that they won’t try the same approach in the Champions League. They will change more than us.

Really, what Premiership fan doesn't miss Mourinho and his mindgames?

So here is what we know: Inter will be pushing for a win. And Man U will be playing to do as little damage to themselves as possible, in the hopes that they can return to Old Trafford and seal it there. This match therefore comes down to which team can impose their will on the game. At best we'll see the classic tactical battle between Fergie and Jose. At worst, it'll be a lot of tentative holding football.

Prediction: I already gave it away above, but I see a 1-1 draw. Inter come out and score in the first half, Man U get a late equalizer by let's say, oh, Berbatov. I loathe United as much as the next non-Mancurian. But they just have that certain aura about them that championship teams get.

As for Man U's defense, I think that Inter will be so focused on exploiting it that they'll lose some play. Thing is, United still has Rio Ferdinard and Van Der Sar, who should be able to cover up for any mistakes by Fletcher, Eckersley or the red pylon cones that Sir Alex sends out to cover up the gaps in the back line.

God knows my heart is hoping for a smashing 2-0 win by Inter that puts heaps of pressure for the return leg at Old Trafford. My brain just tells me otherwise!


ü75 said...

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The NY Kid said...

Well, some of us are secure, and others feel the need to...overcompensate shall we say.