ETCHED IN MEMORY: BARCELONA vs INTER MILAN

ETCHED IN MEMORY: BARCELONA vs INTER MILAN

Football is littered with glorious irony, and no more clearly is that the case than in April 2010, when Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan side, toppled a Barcelona team flowing at the peak of their powers.

Mourinho had defeated his old club, by playing an abrasive style of football, perfectly counteracting the beautiful passing play that Barcelona had taught him just 15 years earlier. 

If you cast your mind back to the mid-90’s Jose Mourinho was working for Barcelona, as Sir Bobby Robson’s assistant manager. Mourinho stayed at Barcelona under the next manager Louis van Gaal, and by the time he left the club in 2000 he’d become ingrained with Barca’s ‘tiki-taka’ style of play. 

So when Barcelona opted for the unproven Pep Guardiola to become their new manager in 2008, Mourinho became enraged and seeked vengeance on his old club. That brings us neatly back to April 2010.

Inter led 3-1 from the first leg after a commanding performance at the San Siro. But back at the Camp Nou Barcelona believed that they had every chance of progressing to the final. They had dismantled Manchester United in Rome a year earlier, and would do so again at Wembley in the season following this. 

On the night, their team contained: Alves, Xavi, Busquets, Pedro, Ibrahimovic and Messi. Still, Inter boasted the likes of Zanetti, Diego Milito, Eto’o and Sneijder.

 

Despite Inter’s attacking potential, it was clear from the first whistle that Moruinho was setting his team up to defend. A flat back four of Zanetti, Samuel, Lucio and Maicon, with Thiago Motta and Cambiasso tightly shielding the defence. Christian Chivu was even deployed as a defensive winger on the left-side, despite being a left-back. No doubt this was to limit the time and space that Messi had on the ball. 

The game wasn’t filled with incredible skill and countless goalmouth action, but it more than made up for that with its tension and tactical nous. The game was like a long drawn-out chess-match between the two foes, Guardiola and Mourinho.

 

Barca dominated the early stages of the game, with Pedro dragging his first-time shot just wide of the post mid-way through the first-half. 

It seemed that the pressure was getting to Inter, and the referee. Sergio Busquets went down after an innocuous hand-off from Thiago Motta whilst defending the ball. Busquets rolled, the Camp Nou bayed for blood, and De Bleeckere granted their wish, producing a red card.

The tide of the tie was starting to swing, if there’s one team you don’t want to be down a man to, it's Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona. 

Minutes later Messi tested the flexibility of Juilo Cesar, curling a shot into the bottom corner, which the Brazilian brilliantly tipped wide. 

But Inter managed to get to half-time unscathed on the scoreline, albeit with two yellow cards and one red. 

Despite constant waves of Barcelona attacks Inter held firm. Mourinho opted for another defensive midfielder, bringing on Sulley Muntari for Sneijder with 25 minutes remaining.

However, the pressure finally paid in the 83rd minute. Xavi picked up the ball outside Inter’s box, threading a short pass into the feet of Gerard Pique. The defender elegantly rotated his body around the ball, fooling both Julio Cesar and Maicon allowing him to pass the ball into an empty net. Now it really was game on, one more Barca goal, and they were in the final on away goals. 

Mourinho responded with another substitution bringing on McDonald Mariga (yet another defensive midfielder) for Samuel Eto’o. Inter were now lining up in what best resembles a deep 5-4-0 with four deep-lying midfielders. 

With four minutes left Xavi hit a rasping strike towards the bottom-left corner which Julio Cesar once again batted out. Barcelona were getting close.

Disaster did strike, though, for Inter in the 92nd minute. Walter Samuel cleared the ball straight into Yaya Toure, who poked the ball through to Bojan, smashing the ball into the top right corner. But Inter prayers were quickly answered. De Bleeckere blew his whistle, he adjudged Toure to have handled the ball. 

Inter survived the final two minutes and had made it to their first Champions League final since 1972. Quite the cause to celebrate. And celebrate they did. Zanetti, Samuel and Cordoba hugged each other on the ground for a moment, reflecting on the minor miracle they’d just achieved. Mourinho looked up to the top tiers of the Nou Camp with both arms raised. This seemed as much a spiritual victory as a footballing victory. He’d just beaten his old club, the greatest club in the world, by playing in a way that went completely against their principles. But for Mourinho, that didn’t matter, his side were the ones with tickets booked for Madrid a few later.

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Words by Joseph Odell

 

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