x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Mourinho: a bad man to cross

Chelsea got rid of him in 2007, and the next time he set foot in Stamford Bridge they were on their way out of Champions League.

Jose Mourinho in the tunnel before Inter Milan's Champions League match against Chelsea.
Jose Mourinho in the tunnel before Inter Milan's Champions League match against Chelsea.

Inter Milan were a team on a mission to win the Champions League. Jose Mourinho, their coach, had every reason to feel vengeful when he returned to Stamford Bridge for the first time since he was sacked in 2007. You don't make an enemy of Mourinho in football, and Chelsea paid the price. Italian football has been written off and generally fallen out of favour. Nobody fancied Inter in England but they were superbly organised as well as highly motivated. Samuel Eto'o took his goal beautifully and Wesley Sneijder looked a world beater - and exactly the type of player his former club, Real Madrid, had needed against Lyon recently.

Mourinho's game plan was perfect. How many teams go to Stamford Bridge and dominate? Inter had chance after chance and could have won three or four goals. Defensively, Lucio and Walter Samuel played beyond themselves and more than compensated for their lack of pace. Inter didn't have any Italian players in their starting XI, but that didn't seem to bother the 3,000 travelling fans in The Shed end, who celebrated wildly after the game - as you would expect.

There are times when Arsenal have no English players. I don't think it's a huge issue. Yes, it's good when a local boy breaks through, especially one who has come through the youth ranks, but talent should come first. Barcelona like their Catalan players and they bring extra value to the side, but I've yet to see protests that Lionel Messi is from Argentina. I'm from Nottingham but I felt every bit a Manchester United man when I played for the Reds.

The Manchester lads did set the tone in the dressing room though. Mourinho was rightly satisfied after the game and it wouldn't surprise me if he won the Champions League at Inter this season and then said "Thanks, but I'm off" the next day. He's one of the few managers who could get away with that. Chelsea had few clear-cut chances, but they've not just become a bad side. They were beaten by the better team on the day and that happens in knock-out competitions.

They will concentrate on the Premier League and the FA Cup, but I'll be interested to see what goes on there in the summer. Roman Abramovich doesn't appear to be spending quite as lavishly as he did and players are being offered reduced contracts. Abramovich always said that he wanted Chelsea to be a sustainable business and I think we are seeing evidence of that. They've been unlucky in Europe too. They came very close to winning the Champions League in Moscow in 2008, but lost out to the lottery of penalties against United.

And they were going through to the final last season until Andres Iniesta scored a "worlder" - that's footballer speak for a world-class goal. So Inter go into today's draw with seven other teams. It's been the best Champions League for years, with shocks and dark horses. I don't like the new format and find it tedious that clubs have to wait three weeks for the second leg, but the football itself is exciting and full of surprises.

Liverpool went out in the group stage and Real Madrid again failed to get past the last 16. They were beaten by a very, very good Lyon side. I like Bordeaux too, the second French side still in the competition. We have a Russian team in the final eight and just one Spanish side. Bayern Munich are another team who could surprise and Arsenal are playing very well, but I don't think they are quite in the same league as my favourites.

United and Barca are my picks simply because in Wayne Rooney and Messi, they have the best two players in the world, good enough to change any game. They are both totally different in their style, but they are a danger every time they get the ball. Barca are awesome going forward and United are hitting top form, though they looked tired against Fulham - predictable after playing AC Milan midweek.

United take on Chelsea in a few weeks and I hope that game doesn't affect the Champions League match a few days later. I hope it's a United v Barca final in Madrid because United are desperate for revenge, while Barca want to be the first team since AC Milan 20 years ago to retain their European crown. They have the added bonus that the final is in the Bernabéu, the home of their great rivals Real.

The draw will tell us whether they are going to be kept apart until that stage, but if the trend of this season's Champions League is anything to go by, we should expect a few more surprises before we reach Madrid. @Email:sports@thenational.ae