I don’t know how many people have heard of the "24 hour rule", so I am going to reiterate it here. Basically, it’s an unwritten rule in sports that you can enjoy something as much as you want, as long as the celebration is over 24 hours later. Then you have to move on to the next thing.
It’s been 24 hours. It’s time to move on and bring closure to the good feeling.
Apologies in advance for the length, but there's a lot of ground to cover as this is a pretty important win. But to do that, we need to give an award. Here’s my Inter Player of the Game. It was a close vote.
Shots (on Goal): 14(3), 13(4)
Fouls: 23, 12
Corner Kicks: 7, 4
Offsides: 3, 7
Time of Possession: 51%, 49%
Yellow Cards: 4, 4
Red Cards: 1, 0
This is the spot where I usually complain about the ref. And while I thought that he could have been more strict about some of the shenanigans, like Obi Mikel sliding in on Sneijder with two feet with the studs up. Or Drogba taking Milito by both shoulders and shoving him about ten feet back in the penalty area. Or I think it was Malouda who had an absolutely horrendous challenge that got him a caution, I am happy that we were able to keep Thiago Motta on the field with only a caution as he probably deserved worse that that. I thought that we might have lost Lucio with a high challenge as well. But the theme of the night was that it was going to be a physical game – clearly initiated by the home team. Fair enough, we can play that way too. The difference between last season and this season is that we can play ruff n’ tuff and we can one – touch – nifty too.
I am also glad that the ref saw through the Droba grabbing Walter and then falling backwards which Chelsea Nation is claiming as a penalty not given. I wasn’t the only one who saw through the ruse as the Guardian also commented that “…it was difficult to determine who initiated contact.” Translation: Drogba is at it again.
Cesar: Surprisingly, Julio didn’t have very much to do thanks to the incredible work of the 6 in front of him. Unlike the last Chelsea game, he didn’t let an easy one in. 6.5
Maicon: Maicon gave the Chelsea midfield fits in the first half as he sprang from nowhere to truck down the field. He sacrificed himself by shielding the ball and standing up to their pushing, kicking and worse and putting himself in front of a Drogba shot which he deflected. 7.0
Lucio: Classy, canny and smart game from Lucio. He made incredible interceptions, he was great in the air and he pushed the ball forward, often surprising Chelsea by taking the ball up himself. In short, everything we paid him to do. 7.5
Walter Samuel: That’s right; he gets his whole name today. What a performance. He was tough, resolute and impenetrable. He stood up to Drogba on several occasions and bullied The Bully around the penalty area. 7.5
Javier Zanetti: The 36 year old was calm, cool and professional the whole game not letting anything come down the left. I can only think of 1 time he was beaten. I have a whole hand of fingers to count how many times he went up the field embarrassing younger players trying to take the ball away from him. 7.0
Cambiasso: This is the man who would have been the Player of the Game for me if Wes was only slightly less magical. A lot was said before this game about Inter’s “flimsy” midfield. Cambiasso bossed the entire middle third of the field to such a degree that I would swear that players in Spaceman Blue Unis were doing what he said. When we look back at this game in a few years, I would bet that this is the moment that Cambiasso started to believe/act like the next Captain of Inter. 8.5
Thiago Motta: I spent some time on Monday writing about how I didn’t think that Motta was a good fit for us. But he was huge yesterday playing right in front of the defence and Doing to Chelsea That Which Chelsea Hath Done Unto Us. With sauce! 6.5
Wesley Sneijder: There no one on the field yesterday who could have done what Wes did. He was in a class by himself and without a doubt the difference between the two teams. Not even that, he is the difference between last season’s team and this one. If this is a preview of what Sneijder is capable of at the apex of his form... whew. What. A. Player. 9.0
Pandev: Goran had a peach of an opportunity to be the hero of this game and he held off shooting what was certainly a goal for a half second too long. If nothing else, he did an excellent job causing the right side of Chelsea fits. Btw, the switch for Deki was exactly correct. These two players are more alike then not. The vice-Deki? 6.0
Eto’o: This is why Eto’o is so important. It’s been about 3 months since he scored last. His Serie A form has been suspect and he had started to come under criticism… but given some chances, and he had a fair number of them, he will put one in no matter the stage. And frankly, that’s exactly why he’s here. I can feel the man-love for Eto’o making a return. 7.0
Milito: Despite having a wonderful chance in the first half – actually all our forwards had good chances – Milito was largely neutralized. Except for the incorrectly called offside that would have had him alone on Whosits Jr. Chelsea had in goal. What a chance… 6.5
Mariga: Mariga’s inclusion here is as an early warning, in my book. Motta is banned for the next game and we are going to need a defensive midfielder for that game. Mariga would have been a suicide selection for this game, but he might be acclimated for the next one depending on the draw. N/A
Deki: Deki injected a lot of life into the club when he came on. He played hard and was able to help keep possession towards the end of the game. 6.0
Materazzi: The team was all smiles when Marco came on the field. The unofficial captain of the bench team, like Deki, injected life late in the game with his presence. He didn’t make any difference in the game but it was one of those moments that was just right. N/A
We walked on the field in a 433 with the midfield in a ^ shape with Wesley at the point and with three forwards – the outside two really used to badger and harass the only players that can give Chelsea any type of width - their fullbacks. Mourinho’s careful look at the first leg of the tie showed him that Inter was handling the straight ahead attack of Chelsea just fine; it was the late arrival of the fullbacks that caused defensive distress. To counter this he made sure that he did the harassing first to keep the fullbacks honest. It was a master stroke as an embarrassing number of pundits before the game were sure that the team bus would have been parked on the field adjacent to Cesar.
Ancelotti made exactly no change in tactics from the game in Milan other than healthier personnel. Chelsea, as far as I can tell had the same idea yesterday that they had last month, which to be diplomatic, was based on big men using their size, speed and not much else. I was hard pressed to find players of quality on the Chelsea side. In fact, I thought that they reminded me of Inter from the last 2 seasons. The main difference between us and them, apparently, is that 2 seasons ago we knew we had deficiencies in creativity and worked to solve them. I am not sure if Chelsea knows what they need, yet. It may be that players like Sneijder won’t do as well in England where, let’s face it, big lungs are prized over smart feet.
In any event, it was apparent early on that Chelsea would try to intimidate the team. Chelsea forwards Kamikazed into Cesar rightly thinking that with him out of the game or rattled they would have an easier time of it. Chelsea forwards went after Lucio’s feet and ankles early on too, after correctly identifying him as a key player from the first leg of the tie. The Chelsea defence also tried to impose themselves on our smaller statured forwards, Terry often getting an elbow in the back of Milito’s head, for example. Mikel made a couple of late “tackles” on Sneijder. And fair play to them, this is a contact sport, so I don’t begrudge them their tactics – especially since we were able to go the other way with as much leeway from the ref – which was a welcome change from league games recently. We kicked and pushed them right back. It was no surprise that Drogba was getting frustrated as he was as much a target for our guys as Milito was for theirs. Drogba shoves Milito at one end and Drogba gets pushed at the other end by someone able to push him – it’s the very definition of fair play.
People won’t like it, of course, as they may call it anti - football. It’s not, by the way, it’s just that most people don’t like to acknowledge that physical contact is part of the defensive aspect of the game. Defence is as much a part of the game as the attack. And using it to draw the other team in to launch a counter is a perfectly valid strategy. In fact, this game yesterday is a lesson in the strength of the transition.
Defence is largely down to organization. You can use as many players as you want, but the main idea is to play tough and absorb the threat from the other team. Force them into making a mistake and push the ball up field faster than the other team can get back to defend with as close to a numerical advantage as possible. As the game went on and Chelsea had to chase that goal they committed more and more players forward. That, plus terrible organization in the back – some idiot has been keeping Inter players onsides, even if it wasn’t always called correctly – means that there were going to be opportunities. When Ballack left and Joe “I’m Useless” Cole came on, it was like a signal flare went up, that side of the field was going to be weak defencively. Chelsea had one man on Eto’o, which is just stupid, and they let him get behind that guy, that was just plum crazy. But really, that wasn’t the first chance we got. There were chances all game long.
See, this isn’t anti-football. It’s just a transition strategy. It’s just recovery of the ball and transition to attack. It serves two purposes: A. To make the other team run more than you and B. create a few high percentage shots with as little risk as possible. And I get that some people find constant attack appealing. I am one of those that don’t. I like to see a well coached, organized side do smart things in an athletic way. When it works, it’s like a well oiled machine. But I can see why people don’t like it. The pace has to slow down a little as people have to think through their training and it’s less likely that pure athleticism is the determining factor which also frustrates some people, I think. The bad teams get a slightly better chance to get a result. But the beauty is that you get a game like yesterday where both teams were big and powerful, but one team was obviously better prepared and organized – if they were also a little slower – and deserved to win for that small amount of an advantage.
Special thanks to Real Madrid, whose short sightedness gifted us with so many important and wonderful players
If there was a big loser from last night it was Mario Balotelli. A lot of players sacrificed their egos and potential glamour for the good of the team – like Eto’o who played out wide and was never going to get as many chances to look good as he would have if he had played in the middle. But play wide he did and was rewarded for his efforts.
Mario, compared to that, looks very much the petulant child who won’t go out of his way for his team. This was a team building moment, as Inter passed an obstacle that had really become a mental block for them. And Mario missed it by being quite selfish. He will have to go a long way to fix that or we might have to say goodbye. It’s also evident that the leadership – Javier, Marco, Cambiasso – is unsympathetic to the hurt feelings of Super Mario. Here’s the way I see this going: either Mario decides that he’s going to get in line or he turns this into a contest of wills. There is no way this ends well for anyone if Mario decides to play the “I’m A Superstar” card.
In the old days, Moratti might have sided with a player and pressured the Manager to relent with the idea that the player would probably outlast the Manager. But things have changed and here’s how: Mourinho’s Inter puts butts in the seats and generates a media frenzy worldwide that produces money and prestige in a scale that hasn’t been seen around this team since Moratti’s father was President. Plus, it probably also says something about Moratti’s confidence in Mourinho not leaving anytime soon. My opinion? If Mourinho can manufacture Scudetti and embarrassing amounts of money for the team through the Champions League like he has already done this season, then Moratti has enough money to lure Mourinho to stay past the dreams of avarice. Moratti will never tire of success, though Mourinho might want to explore other pastures someday.
Moving on II
The Champions League draw for the next round is on Friday, I think, and we have a big game against Palermo on Sunday. It’s hard to know how the team will react. If we had failed to go through this round, I could tell you immediately what would happen but this team – as in, this collection of players, not the organization – haven’t been in this situation before. So, either the good feelings create an incredible confidence and rise in form or they will be so tired that we will be only able to put up a token resistance. It’s hard to say… but I do know one thing, Javier Zanetti will play 90 minutes in that game.