Inter 3-1 Barcelona: ‘Gabbia’, Wesley Sneijder’s Masterclass and Jose Mourinho’s Finest Hour

Inter 3-1 Barcelona is part of 90min’s 20 Greatest Matches of the Decade series. Follow the rest of the series over the course of the next week.

Inter vs. Barcelona. Jose Mourinho vs. Pep Guardiola. The pragmatist vs. the idealist. Defence vs. attack. The ‘bus’ vs. tiki taka. 

That was the second leg of Inter’s UEFA Champions League semi final clash. 

A game in which Mourinho’s Inter players would ‘sweat blood’ to ensure I Nerazzurri would reach their first European Cup final since 1967, and continue their historic march toward the first treble in calcio history.

A game that Mourinho would later call the “greatest moment” of his career.

A game that would – in many ways – define how the divisive manager would be thought of in the ensuing years. For this was the game during which Jose Mourinho became (for better or worse) synonymous with ‘parking the bus’ or, in less rudimentary terms, spoiling games with a low-defensive block. 

Oh, and it’s also the game after which the Inter manager would run around Camp Nou’s hallowed turf à la Alan Shearer.

Inter Milan's Portuguese  coach Jose Mou

BUT, it’s not the game that this article is about.

Today, we’re discussing the other game between Inter and Barca that year – the first leg of that infamous UEFA Champions League semi final. 

A very, very, very different game of football. In every conceivable way. 

Yes, it was still Inter vs. Barcelona, still Jose Mourinho vs. Pep Guardiola, and still the pragmatist vs. the idealist, however it most certainly wasn’t defence vs. attack or the ‘bus’ vs. tiki taka. 

As on 20th April 2010, Inter took the game to Barcelona. 

And if there was ever a time to do so, to go almost blow-for-blow with one of the greatest teams of all time, it was the 20th April 2010; after La Blaugrana had endured a near 1,000km bus trip as a result of flight cancellations due to an Icelandic volcanic ash cloud (the same ash cloud that prevented Blackburn Rovers from signing Robert Lewandowski…something which is ALWAYS worth a mention). 

Jose Mourinho devised a rather simple, two-fold, plan for I Nerazzurri to beleaguer a leggy, likely stiff as a board, Barca side at San Siro: 

1) ‘Gabbia’ Lionel Messi –  a four-man ‘cage’ which would restrict Messi’s ability to effect the game. 

2) Attack the space left by the marauding Dani Alves and Maxwell with pace and precision. 

Jose Mourinho

So, in other words: Jose Mourinho’s plan was the same as every other manager’s plan when their team faced Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona. 

So yes, it was pretty simple plan. 

But as exemplified by Barcelona’s haul of six trophies (UEFA Champions League, La Liga, Copa del Rey, UEFA Super Cup, FIFA Club World Cup and Supercopa de Espana) in 2009 alone, it was a rather difficult one to execute. 

In fact, very, very, very rarely did the first part of the plan – stopping Messi – seem even remotely possible. Not least in 2010 when the mercurial number 10 was (arguably) at the peak of his powers, with Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez – the two greatest Spanish footballers of all time – feeding the ball to him at will and with Barcelona’s greatest ever coach building one of the greatest football teams of all time around him. 

Somehow, through immense mental fortitude, unwavering concentration and a will to sacrifice oneself for the cause, Inter found a way to stifle Messi.

Barcelona's Argentinian forward Lionel M

The number ten would limber through the game, with his offensive threat quelled by the fact that, when he received the ball, he was instantly hounded by a group of wily – and hugely talented – group of players hellbent on not giving him an inch of space to work his magic in. 

So, part one of the plan executed to perfection. Nice one lads. 

But to actually beat Barcelona, the second phase of the plan also needed to be executed. And that was, as you can probably guess,also easier said than done…

…Especially after Pedro had given Barca a one-goal lead inside the first 20 minutes. 

While it was difficult to stop Messi, it was almost impossible to stop him AND not simultaneously negate your own ability to ‘hurt’ (as Mourinho put it) Barcelona in the offensive third.

Inter Milan's Dutch midfielder Wesley Sn

Therefore, the actualisation of the second part of Mourinho’s plan would require unfathomable levels of confidence and quality; two things Inter’s soon-to-be treble-winning side, luckily, had in abundance. 

Undeterred by Pedro’s early goal, I Nerazzurri – with Messi ‘caged’ – bombed forward at every opportunity, exploiting the space left by the ever-marauding Dani Alves and Maxwell with astonishing precision. 

“We were educated to attack the spaces behind them”, said Mourinho, when discussing the game with ?Coaches’ Voices. 

“So in this situation, we always had lots of players ready to attack the space behind both full-backs.”

The space left by Alves would be exploited for Wesley Sneijder’s 30th minute equaliser, as the-then best player in the world (he 100% should’ve won the 2010 Ballon d’Or) found himself free as a bird on the left of the Barca penalty area, from where he would drill the ball into the bottom corner. Sneijder would – of course – run the length of the touchline to celebrate with Mourinho. 

Wesley Sneijder

At the start of the second half, the space left by Maxwell on the other flank allowed Diego Milito to feed the ball through to Maicon, who subsequently slipped the ball under Victor Valdes to make it 2-1. 

Then 15 minutes later, the win was sealed by Diego Milito, who – you guessed it – exploited space left at the back post by Maxwell to head home Inter’s third. 

Inter would hold onto their 3-1 lead throughout the remainder of the game at San Siro, and then hold Barcelona to one goal at Camp Nou to seal a place in the UEFA Champions League final – which they would, as you already know, go on to win at the Santiago Bernabeu. 

Jose Mourinho and Inter had executed a simple, yet seemingly impossible, plan. 

They had stopped Messi.

They had stopped Barcelona.

They had won.

Rather comfortably. 

Jose Mourinho

And while Mourinho may cite the second leg as the “greatest moment” of his career, and the game that will define his memory more than any other, Inter’s 3-1 win over Barcelona at San Siro was the best any of his teams has ever – and probably will ever – play. 


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Juventus & Inter Join Race for Chris Smalling After Impressive Start With Roma

?Juventus and Inter have joined the race to sign Manchester United centre back Chris Smalling, who has enjoyed a surprisingly strong start to life on loan with Roma.

The 29-year-old swapped Manchester for Rome during the summer as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and the United hierarchy looked to refresh and rejuvenate their backline.

Despite being deemed surplus to requirements at Old Trafford, Smalling – somewhat surprisingly – has been one of the Serie A’s standout performers so far in 2019/20, prompting Roma to push for a permanent deal.

Chris Smalling,Gervinho

However, according to Corriere della Sera (via ?Tutto Mercato Web), Roma will face pressure to complete the deal from both Juventus and Inter, who are ready to pounce if Roma cannot agree a deal with ?United.

The Red Devils are ?looking for a fee of around €18m (£15m), but Roma are reluctant to meet those demands. Having already paid €3m to secure the loan deal itself, Roma only want to offer €15m to complete a permanent deal.

If United are not prepared to accept such a deal, then ?Juventus and ?Inter could look to take advantage. The two sides have been scouring the ?Serie A for potential transfer targets, and both are said to have been impressed by what they have seen from Smalling.

For Juventus, a move for Smalling does make some sense. The pairing of Leonardo Bonucci and Matthijs de Ligt have been hugely impressive for Maurizio Sarri’s side, but there are questions over the future of the remaining centre backs in the squad.

Both Daniele Rugani and Merih Demiral have both been linked with moves elsewhere, while there are doubts over how 35-year-old Giorgio Chiellini will fare once he returns from his cruciate ligament tear.

If they are looking for a reliable rotation option, they could certainly do worse than Smalling, who so far has proven to be a solid defender in the Serie A.


The same can be said for Inter, who could find themselves on the lookout for new centre-backs in the near future. ??Milan Škriniar is wanted by Barcelona and Real Madrid, while Diego Godín will soon turn 34 years old.

The two sides will likely continue to monitor Smalling over the coming months to decide whether he has moved on from the inconsistent form which plagued his time with United. If they like what they see, a move could certainly be a possibility.


Eric Abidal Speaks on Barcelona’s Interest in Lautaro Martínez as Luis Suárez Is Tipped for Boca

?Barcelona director Eric Abidal has confirmed that the club are monitoring Inter forward Lautaro Martínez as part of their search for a replacement for Luis Suárez.

La Blaugrana have been on the lookout for alternatives to 32-year-old Suárez – something which the Uruguayan himself insisted ?he has no problems with – and Martínez’s name is understood to be on their shortlist.

Eric Abidal

Speaking to ?Mundo Deportivo, Abidal revealed that he is a huge fan of Martínez, but he did insist that ?Barcelona are looking at a number of options.

“Yes, he is a complete player, I think he is performing at a great level,” Abidal admitted. “He is a player we know, but there are other players who also have a lot of quality.

“I know Barça. I know what adaptation is like, but I don’t pay much attention to the player who plays every week. Instead, I look at others.”

Lautaro Martinez

Abidal also went on to discuss ?Suárez, insisting the Uruguayan has always been told the truth about his future at the club and about Barcelona’s interest in other strikers.

“I am transparent with the players, Luis can tell you because last year I already told him that it was going to be like this, that we were going to look for an attacker, and he accepted that because he wants what is best for the team,” Abidal confessed.

With Barcelona looking for new forwards, Suárez’s future at the club has come into question. A move to Major League Soccer has been touted, but journalist Martín Castilla told CNN Radio (via ?Sport) that Suárez could even end up joining Argentinian side Boca Juniors.

Luis Suarez

That move could come down to who wins the club’s presidential elections in early December, but a switch to fellow Argentinian side San Lorenzo could also be an option for Suárez in the near future.

Castilla noted that Suárez may not be prepared to leave the ‘highest level’ just yet. However, the options will likely be there for him if he decides to call time on his career at Camp Nou.

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Romelu Lukaku Reveals Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Reaction to Forward’s Decision to Leave Man Utd

Inter striker Romelu Lukaku has claimed that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wanted to keep the Belgian star at Manchester United, but it was he who made the decision to leave Old Trafford. 

Lukaku left Man Utd following a summer of discontent regarding his future in England, and the 26-year-old was even told to stay away from the rest of the Red Devils team during pre-season. 

Romelu Lukaku

The Belgian striker eventually joined Inter as he appeared to be surplus to requirements in Solskjaer’s style of play, but Lukaku told Het Belang van Limburg that he chose to leave ‘in March’ as he was ‘ready to try something new’. 

“??Solskjaer has my eternal respect. He understood me when I said in March that it was time for me to leave England. 

“I have been in the Premier League as an 18-year-old boy and now I am 26. Solskjaer wanted to keep me, but I was ready for something new.”

?Lukaku scored 42 goals in all competitions for Man Utd, but he struggled to make an impact during his final season at Old Trafford, and he was eventually frozen out of the side by Solskjaer, who opted for quicker and more dynamic players in attack. 


The former ?Everton man has adapted well to life in Serie A, and he believes his ‘football intelligence’ helped his transition from England to Italy. 

“I have had a good relationship with trainer Antonio Conte for three years and I know exactly what he expects of me.

“The first two weeks at Inter I worked very hard with the group and when my teammates got some rest, I trained individually.

“Thanks to my football intelligence, I integrated easily. We play in a system with two strikers and that suits me. Anyway, I already knew my team-mates in advance.”

Lukaku moved to ?Inter for a fee of around £70m, and has scored nine goals in 12 league matches, as I Nerazzurri aim to end ?Juventus’ domination of Italian football. 


Inter Deny Envelope Containing Bullet & Death Threats Was Intended for Antonio Conte

?Inter have addressed reports that Antonio Conte was sent an envelope containing a bullet and death threats, which claimed the package was delivered to the coach’s private residence.

On Saturday morning, stories emerged suggesting the 50-year-old had received the items at his home address, with Conte understood to be the target of the threats. It was also alleged that a team of police had been called together to protect the manager, but the Nerazzurri have moved swiftly to deny that is the case.

Antonio Conte

In response to ?claims by Corriere della Sport, an official statement from the club read (as quoted by ?Sky Sports): “In relation to the news published today, ?Inter states that Antonio Conte did not personally receive any threatening letters and, consequently, he did not go in person to file a complaint.

“It was the club that received a letter and, as is the practice in this kind of situation, it contacted the competent authorities.”

Conte’s wife Elisabetta Muscarello likewise denied her husband was the intended target, saying on social media: “For the record: the story of the bullet is a hoax!”

Local authorities do not view the threat as genuine, but have nonetheless acted with diligence to ensure the staff at Inter are well protected.


Conte has guided the Nerazzurri to second place in ?Serie A after the first 12 rounds of action, with his side just a single point behind defending champions ?Juventus at the summit.

Their next league match is a home fixture against Torino on Saturday 23 November, before they lock horns with Slavia Prague the following Wednesday in European matters.

As things stand, Inter will miss out on qualification for the ?Champions League knockout stages. The Italians’ 3-2 defeat away to ?Borussia Dortmund at the start of the month leaves them three points behind BVB and four off ?Barcelona in Group F.

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