Messi the Magician or Mourinho the Motivator?
Inter Milan travel to the Nou Camp to face Barcelona in the second leg of this absorbing Champions League semi-final.
Jose Mourinho's men made the most of home advantage in the first leg. Not only did the Italians build a healthy lead to take to Spain, they also found a way to neutralize Lionel Messi.
Much of the credit must go to the ‘Special One' Mourinho. Under his tactical instructions Cambiasso and co effectively suffocated the attacking threat of Barcelona by denying them any space in which to weave their footballing magic. As a result, this is now Inter's tie to lose and they will focus first on being solid defensively in Barcelona.
No doubt though that Messi, the Argentine superstar, will be tougher to stop on home soil. The Nou Camp is his theatre, where this season he has been unstoppable almost unplayable, just ask Arsene Wenger and his defenders. Some of them are still looking for the Barca star's dropped shoulders!
The Nerazzuri, importantly, have beaten the Catalans. The air of invincibility that has surrounded Pep Guardiola's men has disappeared. The 3-1 lead that Inter take into the second leg is theirs to defend, something to hold on to in the coliseum that is the Nou Camp. Nearly a hundred thousand Blaugranes will be baying for goals, the decibel level will rise with every attack only reaching a crescendo when the ball bulges in the back of Julio Cesar's net.
The Italians' resilience is admirable, and it will come in handy when they come under pressure in Barcelona.
Jose Mourinho produced a tactical master class to frustrate Chelsea in the second round and will likely employ a similar strategy at the Camp Nou. His gladiators at the back will be Walter Samuel and Lucio. The match-up between Ibrahimovic and the Brazilian international Lucio will be pivotal. If the Spaniards manage to breakthrough early the tie swings in their favour. The longer it goes without a goal, the better for Inter.
The betting for this game is absolutely fascinating.
Barcelona are big favourites to win the game at 4/11 but Inter are the ones fancied to progress through to the final. Inter are 13/2 to defeat Barcelona at home, a feat only Rubin Kazan have managed all season.
To qualify the Italians can be backed at odds of 4/6 compared to the 11/10 on offer for the Spaniards
This could symbolize the respect the bookies have for Mourinho and his disciplined troops. Many are in the opinion that Barcelona are the superior footballing team but might not be able to defeat the Nerazzuri significantly enough to progress through to the final at their expense.
As previously mentioned the scoring of the first goal in this clash is going to be crucial. An early goal for the home side is essential if they are to break down the Italians. The longer the score remains deadlocked, the more confident Mourinho will become and as he grows in confidence so will his team.
Pedro opened the scoring in the San Siro last week and is 5/1 to repeat that again this time around. The more likely scenario though is for either Lionel Messi at 5/2 or Zlatan Ibrahimovic at 4/1 to hit the back of the net first.
An early Inter goal would mean that Guardiola's charges would have to score three times without reply just to force extra time. Former Barca star Samuel Eto'o and Argentine hitman Gabriel Milito head the first scorer's list for Inter, both priced at 15/2.
I must say that I'm looking forward to this game immensely. The lack of presence from the English big four has not dampened my enthusiasm for these Champions League semi's.
From a personal perspective I cannot see Barcelona losing this game.
Not only can I see them winning in 90 minutes I can see them qualifying as well. My prediction is for a 2-0 home win meaning that Barcelona would qualify on away goals. They have beaten Inter 2-0 and 3-0 on their last two encounters at the Nou Camp and after consideration, I would go for the correct score market and Barcelona to win 2-0 is 13/2.