Friday 23 February 2018

'Beast' continues to worry hell out of Barca beauties

Ian Chadband

THEY will never love the man, but Italy has belatedly been forced to appreciate the general.

'Kneel to Mou', Il Giornale demanded of its compatriots yesterday with a headline to suggest a nation ought to now rightfully acknowledge the service to Italian football rendered by Jose Mourinho.

Never mind that he is Serie A's only foreign coach and overseeing a team featuring a sole Italian in Mario Balotelli, a sub whose one contribution was to throw off his shirt in disgust at getting jeered by his own fans, Mourinho is still perceived from Torino to Sicily to have fashioned a very Italian triumph.

One built on tactical acumen, defensive quality and street wisdom; and one quite embarrassingly absent over the past three seasons during which the cream of Serie A have looked so ageing, pedestrian and slow-witted compared to their premier European rivals.

There will doubtless be some Catalans wishing to portray Mourinho as some sort of footballing Darth Vader, a destroyer rather than a creator, setting out so artfully to snuff out Barca's beauty.

Indeed, Xavi, the conductor of Barca's orchestra, was left so out of tune by being harried out of his comfort zone that he ended up snapping to Mourinho in the tunnel afterwards that the referee must have been biased towards his Portuguese compatriot.

You will never beat Mourinho in this form of the game, either. "What about the Chelsea match last season?" he apparently responded, reminding Xavi of Tom Henning Ovrebo's gifts to Barcelona at the same stage last season.

Touche! Mourinho at his irritant best. Or is that childish worst? Back right under Barca's skin, anyway, just like the good old days at the Bridge.

One moment on Tuesday, he was standing next to a blackened kettle, sneering: "Why can Barcelona not act like champions and accept they lost to a team that played better?"

By yesterday, though, he was flattering them, swooning about Inter's need to follow "Barcelona's beautiful school."

Ah, Jose. Still predictably unpredictable after all these years.

But don't buy into the idea of a victory for Jose Machiavelli and anti-football; rather, enjoy a triumph for football's infinite variety, in which a superb plan, well-executed and carried out by inspired players, prevailed over superior resources. And, yes, pragmatism came allied to some style too; Mourinho's clever Inter are far from displeasing to watch.

Barcelona were out-thought, outfought and, squeezed to such distraction, out of sorts.

Xavi likes to conduct at his own tempo. No chance. Never mind the danger from Lionel Messi; Mourinho cut the supply line with his hound dogs, Thiago Motta and Esteban Cambiasso, rarely allowing a moment's reflection.


"We wanted 11 against 11, to play with the lines very close, to not give them room in between and to press them in the positions they get the ball," explained Mourinho.

So Barca enjoyed 71pc possession, but largely in unthreatening areas.

In a way, Inter did a Barca. High pressing, winning the ball with legitimate physicality -- Barcelona committed more fouls, received more yellows and won less tackles -- and then hitting swiftly on the break. Hardness and experience came drenched with inspiration; has Javier Zanetti ever looked better? At 36 too.

Twenty minutes of the real Messi in the second leg could swiftly mean all bets are off. But do not expect Mourinho's team to accept being besieged for 90 minutes; he left the Nou Camp as a translator and re-enters it as a field marshal.

And the man whose tactics once had Johan Cruyff despairing for football's future would enjoy nothing more than sticking one over the aesthete godfather. The beast still worries the hell out of Barca's beauties. Always has. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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