Jose Mourinho is not a popular man in Barcelona; The Portuguese is less thought of in the Catalonian city as Bobby Robson’s translator at the club than as a public enemy following his time with Chelsea. Mourinho’s popularity in Barcelona took a knock as soon as he accused referee Anders Frisk of being influenced by Frank Rijkaard back in 2005 and the bad blood was only starting there with inflammatory comments having been thrown back and forth between Mourinho, Rijkaard and their players for the duration of the managerial spells Mourinho and Rijkaard had over those respective clubs. And now Mourinho has returned to the city with the football team looking as vulnerable as it has done in a long time and with the chance to give them something to really hate him for.
Group F is still the most wide open of all the Champion’s League group with just a point separating most of the teams in it. When the Champion’s League draw was made Group F was considered to be one of the easiest with Barca and Inter Milan favourites to go through by a long way. Things haven’t gone to plan though – Dinamo Kiev have proven surprisingly hard to beat whilst Rubin Kazan have been one of the giant killers of the competition having taken points off both the big boys, including 4 off Barcelona in two difficult games. And now the stage is set for a giant to be thrown out of the competition as victory for Rubin Kazan over Dinamo Kiev tonight would mean that one of Barca or Inter are surely going out. It’s not dead-set for Inter who could still turn things around and go through if luck went their way on the final group matchday – but Barcelona cannot afford to lose at home to Inter Milan tonight, doing so coupled with a win for Rubin would send the Champion’s League holders out of the competition to the shock of everyone. But surely Inter won’t win at the Nou Camp?
Not necessarily; deadly though Barca are they are currently hit with a crisis in terms of key players being out – a bout of swine flu has hit that’s removed Eric Abidal and Yaya Toure from the equation whilst forward duo Lionel Messi and Zlatan Ibrahimovic are both injured and highly doubtful to start the game. Then there’s Thierry Henry – what state of mind will he be in following all the controversy that’s followed him this week? Barcelona could only draw with Athletic Bilbao at the weekend which led to them losing top spot in La Liga; Inter meanwhile romped home to yet another victory and have the benefit of having almost all of their squad available for the big game tonight.
The fact remains though that it will not be at all easy for Inter to knock the Spanish champions out – it showed when they met in Italy earlier this season that Barca are the better side of the two and they have the core of their team available including all first choice defenders except Abidal, surely they can keep out Inter another time? Scoring may be a problem for Barca given their injury problems up front but defensively they should be sound. But then there’s the problem that even if they draw with Inter the Italians will get a result on the final group matchday against already qualified Rubin and send Barca out anyway, it’s a tough situation for the Spanish giants and it means that victory tonight is essential.
Opinion-wise, I can’t see Inter getting the win; their record against the big Spanish and English clubs is poor and helps the conviction that the Italian league is now inferior to the Spanish and English top flights. Barca may not have superb squad depth but the likes of Bojan and Pedro will fancy their chances in stepping in regardless of the difference in quality between them and Barca’s first choice forwards. A good tactical display by Inter could derail the Catalonians though and who better to plan a tactical surprise than Mourinho? The man’s revered for his tactical abilities and will surely be looking to outwit Barca out of the competition. Make no mistake, Mourinho would love to knock Barca out of the competition and he’ll be doing his best to make it happen. The question remains though whether the best Italy has to offer is able to defeat the depleted squad of the Spanish champions? So low has opinion gone of the teams of Serie A that it is not a forgone conclusion anymore.