Inter Milan v Manchester United
First Leg: Giuseppe Meazza, Tuesday, February 24 2009.
Second Leg: Old Trafford, Wednesday, March 11 2009.
This was the matchup that everyone was hoping for. Two of the most storied franchises in history meeting each other in the Round of 16. Two of the pre-tournament favorites battling for the right to continue their European dream. Some of the biggest names in football fighting it out on the pitch with Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand, Edwin Van der Sar, and Dimitar Berbatov taking on Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Javier Zanetti, Dejan Stankovic, Marco Materazzi, and Esteban Cambiasso.
And, of course, there’s the running subplot involving two of the greatest managers in the world as Sir Alex Ferguson will try to add to his trophy collection at the expense of the man that many think will replace him at Old Trafford in Jose Mourinho.
When this fixture was first announced, it seemed as if Manchester United’s European quest were in serious danger. Inter Milan were firing on all cylinders and looked like they were going to cruise to a victory. They had a huge lead in Serie A and could concentrate on this match while United were still trying find their form in the Premiership. Moreover, with Nemanja Vidic’s red-card in the World Club Championships, Manchester United’s rash of injuries, and Mourinho’s excellent record against Sir Alex Ferguson (he has 6 wins and 5 draws in 12 career meetings with “Mr. Alex”), it seemed as if United were looking down the barrel of their first exit in the Round of 16 since 2004-2005.
However, Inter Milan have been erratic as of late, drawing against Torino and getting thrashed by Atalanta. They remain in first place by a healthy margin, however, the troops have been restless. They had a dreaded “players only” meeting after the disappointment against Torino, and The Special One has been making headlines for the wrong reasons (criticizing his team after the Atalanta match, blasting the refs, clashing with Adriano and Quaresma, for example).
Mourinho doesn’t seem happy in Italy, as he’s made numerous comments about heading back to England, including a recent press conference where he openly stated his desire to go back to Chelsea some day amid some reports that indicate that “some day” could mean “this summer.”
Meanwhile, United have been playing their best football of the year, reeling off 13 consecutive clean sheets and moving into first place in the Premiership. Plus, United will have the advantage of playing the second-leg at home, where they have been unbeatable.
The player on the spot could very well be young Jonny Evans. Manchester United will be without Vidic for the first match, and Evans, who has been injured but is expected back for this clash, could have the monumental task of having to keep Ibrahimovic in check. How he does in Vidic’s absence could determine whether United go through or go home.
In any event, this should be a great fixture that could very well determine who goes on to win the Champions League.
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