Jose Mourinho might have found himself at the centre of the pre-match build-up but once the final whistle blew, it was his Inter players that deserved the spotlight for their excellent dismantling of a Chelsea side who never looked like getting the better of their old master.
The Nerazzurri’s patient, intelligent probing – led by Wesley Sneijder, far and away the best player on the pitch – sent them through to the Champions League quarter-finals and the visitors were rarely troubled. Bar a five-minute flurry at the end of the first-half, Chelsea displayed none of the verve that has taken them within touching distance of top spot in the Premier League, struggling to break down a determined Inter who have to now be considered amongst the favourites to take the Champions League crown in May.
Sneijder was the player Mourinho desperately wanted as the summer transfer window came to a close, feeling the Dutchman would be the final piece of the puzzle that took Inter from an efficient, no-frills team to one capable of moments of magic, such as the pass the former Real Madrid player laid on for Samuel Eto’o for the game-clinching goal. Supported by Thiago Motta and Esteban Cambiasso, Sneijder orchestrated Inter’s clever attacking while his midfield partners aided their resolute defending. The purchase of the talented ex-Ajax man was a protracted affair but for performances such as this it was worth waiting for.
Motta was also the player responsible for finally provoking Didier Drogba into a reaction as the Ivory Coast captain was battered from pillar-to-post throughout the game without protection from the referee, and while that may explain his stamp on the Brazilian midfielder, it does not excuse it. Drogba’s red card summed up a frustrating night for the Blues who were careless in possession and too often failed to track the Inter runners from midfield, but will feel hard done by at the amount of fouls in the penalty area that went unpunished. As the game wore on, Inter’s performance rose while Chelsea offered no further ideas on how to get past the white-shirted wall in front of them.
One of the qualities Mourinho possesses most is sheer bravado and that is what won the game for Inter, exemplifying their Coach’s confidence with a swaggering display. It would have been easy for the Serie A champions to show no attacking intent – especially in the absence of livewire forward Mario Balotelli – but instead they showed no fear, employing three forwards who linked up with more cohesion than the trio of Drogba, Nicolas Anelka and Florent Malouda. Combined with Motta, Cambiasso and Sneijder’s control of the midfield and Frank Lampard being starved of the ball by Inter’s hard-working engine room, the home side were rendered toothless.
Mourinho departed down the Stamford Bridge tunnel before the 90 minutes were up, understandably content at what he had seen. For once, no excessive celebration from the Portuguese was needed, no pointed post-match comments required – all his talking was done on the pitch.