Belfast Telegraph

Low-key Mourinho proves he is special

By Frank Malley

There were no manic celebrations. In fact, Jose Mourinho had already disappeared down the tunnel before the final whistle.

But inside his head you can be sure there was an urge to race down the Stamford Bridge touchline, coat tails flapping, arms pumping and voice screaming: "I'm the Special One and you'd better believe it."

As revenge goes it does not come much sweeter than Inter Milan's 1-0 win over Chelsea (3-1 on aggregate) which saw the Italians progress into the quarter-finals of the Champions League and Mourinho settle a festering score with Roman Abramovich.

There is no doubt Mourinho still smarts from the way he departed the Bridge after his ego collided with that of the Russian billionaire.

Mourinho had been pointing out as much for the past week in his observations that Chelsea had won nothing of note since he delivered back-to-back Premier League titles.

And this was the night he proved it. Proved that he is still the most charismatic, most disciplined, most astute football manager of them all.

Proved that when it comes to digging out a result when it matters most there is no-one better.

Never mind that Chelsea dominated possession. Inter, for large swathes of this match, were the better side. Technically more adept with Dutch playmaker Wesley Sneijder the brains at their core and Diego Milito a constant menace.

From the moment Mourinho stepped out on to the turf he knows so well to strains of 'Since You've Been Gone' by Rainbow this match was all about him.

The cameras swooped on him. The 38,000 crowd afforded him the warmest of ovations.

No wonder. Mourinho had never lost a league match at Stamford Bridge. In three and a half years he had turned the Bridge into one of football's most durable fortifications. Losing only to Barcelona in the Champions League and Charlton in the League Cup.

The reason was organisation. The advantage he brought to west London was not just a 2-1 first-leg lead. It was also his knowledge of Chelsea's players. How they lined up. How they preferred to play.

It showed in a first half in which Inter denied Chelsea space. Denied them time. Pressing and harrying. Prodigious work rate was always a feature of Mourinho's Chelsea team. If anything his Inter side exceeded it.

Scoring opportunities, not surprisingly, were rare and when Didier Drogba found one a brilliant block by Maicon snuffed out the danger.

But Mourinho had not come to park the bus, as many observers had claimed. Inter's line-up contained three strikers, Samuel Eto'o, Goran Pandev and Milito. More than enough to keep John Terry and Alex busy.

Inter's counters were laced with menace and Eto'o should have given the Italians the lead but contrived to send his header into the turf with the goal gaping.

But with every minute which passed the tension mounted. Tempers began to fray. Drogba clashed with Lucio. Drogba appeared to be dragged down by Walter Samuel.

And on the touchline the action was no less frantic. Chelsea assistant Ray Wilkins, normally the blandest, most placid of characters, was held back by fourth official Thorsten Kinhofer as he remonstrated with the Inter entourage.

Meanwhile, Mourinho was up one minute gesticulating, the next slumped in his seat the epitome of calm. A concoction of contradictions.

It might not have been the prettiest of matches. It was not overburdened with flowing football. Too many niggly fouls for that. But it was as compelling as football gets.

Chelsea ratcheting up the pressure, Inter soaking it up. Malouda bringing a smart save from Julio Cesar. Milito being denied by a last-ditch tackle from Yury Zhirkov.

Mourinho frantically waving back his defenders when they ventured too far forward, then slumping in his seat once more when Milito missed the game's best chance.

Then came the goal. A wonderful through-ball from Sneijder into the path of Eto'o and this time the Cameroon international could not miss. Cue delirium on the Inter bench. Not from Mourinho. Yes, there was a fist pump and a little jig.

But he was too busy organising his players for the final push. Always organising. That's Mourinho.

All that was left was for Drogba to be sent off for a clash with Thiago Motta. Chelsea's misery was complete.

So was Mourinho's revenge.

Belfast Telegraph

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