1. Reports on the death of Italian football have proven premature with Inter’s dogged performance over the two legs clearly demonstrating the Serie A champions are more than a match for the best of the English Premier League including Chelsea.
Mourinho has no doubt added much-needed tactical discipline in difficult European ties but take nothing away from an all-round excellent Inter display for whom Wesley Sneijder was imperious.
2. Jose Mourinho won the battle of the city-swapping managers hands down. Two second-half tactical substitutions from Ancellotti failed to unlock the Chelsea defence and Mourinho’s deployment of a 4-3-1-2 formation eventually wore down an uninspiring Chelsea side.
3. Cambiasso and Sneijder are as good a midfield pairing as any other in Europe this season. The Dutchman adds class and guile while Cambiasso provides the steel and defensive cover. The two dovetailed superbly around the centre of the pitch and their movement kept the likes of Ballack, Lampard and Obi Mikel busy all night.
4. The steady decline in both form and influence of both Frank Lampard and John Terry should worry every single English fan ahead of the World Cup in South Africa this summer. If Chelsea’s English internationals can no longer inspire their club side on crucial European nights then how can they be expected to inspire their country against the likes of Spain or Italy?
5. Inter’s centre-backs Lucio and Samuel comfortably contained Didier Drogba for the second Champions League game in a row. The Ivorian won his fair share of free-kicks off the Brazilian Lucio but failed to stamp his authority on the tie in the way Chelsea would have hoped.
It is testament to the Inter defenders concentration that Drogba’s only sights on goal came from a half-chance snap-shot in the first half and a couple of long-range free-kicks in the second. The Ivorians’ sending-off late in the game was borne out of pure frustration having been marked out of the tie by Inter’s no-nonsense defenders.
6. Wolfgang Stark demonstrated how an important Champions League tie should be refereed by a proper UEFA referee with a quietly efficient yet commanding display. The German’s efficient performance was in stark (no pun intended) contrast to a certain Mr. Overbo’s in last season’s ill-fated semi-final tie with Barcelona at the Bridge. How Chelsea must wish Stark had been officiating that night.
7. Florent Malouda’s magnificent display against West Ham United in the Premier League the previous weekend was quickly forgotten with a disappointing and un-productive performance. Denied the space afforded to him on Saturday Malouda struggled to make any headway against the tough Brazilian right-back Maicon and as a result his influence waned as the tie progressed.
8. Since Drogba returned from the African Nations tournament Nicholas Anelka has not looked the same player. The French international’s confidence has waned and his fine record of four goals in four games while his Ivorian strike-partner was away has dried up dramatically.
The only time Anelka looked threatening last night was when he made brief darts into the box in an attempt to link up with Drogba. Too often he found himself hugging the touchline in search of possession rather than linking play around the edge of the penalty area with Chelsea’s free-running midfielders. A confidence player by nature, it is that very trait that Anelka is desperately lacking in right now and his team is suffering without the Frenchman’s goals.
9. Samuel Eto’o is a shadow of the player who scored freely as part of Barcelona’s all-conquering side just a year ago. One moment at the start of the second half encapsulated the Cameroon international’s disappointing display. A beautifully-weighted through ball from Sneijder found Eto’o in acres of space. Rather than take the shot on the run from the edge of the box Eto’o instead elected to take a few extra steps which allowed Zhirkov time to clear. A year ago the ball would have been nestling in the bottom corner of the net. Credit to Eto’o who popped up to score Inter’s vital goal in the 79th minute but he can ill-afford to be as wasteful in the latter stages of the competition.
10. Chelsea’s exit from the Champions League is bad news for both Manchester United and Arsenal. The Premier League title run-in begins in earnest this weekend but the Pensioners will not have an already cluttered fixture-list further complicated by two-legged Champions League quarter or semi final ties.
No doubt Wenger and Ferguson would have preferred to see Carlo Ancellotti’s side in the hat for Friday’s draw along with their own teams. Chelsea can console themselves following their Champions League exit that they are now free to concentrate on the Premier League and FA Cup. A domestic double is still attainable despite last night’s poor performance.
Ger McCarthy is author of Off Centre Circle, which chronicles the curious life of a West Cork League junior footballer.