United Victory over Inter Milan Far from a Foregone Conclusion

Ian ThomsonCorrespondent IFebruary 25, 2009

Manchester United’s stirring performance in the San Siro on Tuesday night has provoked two polarised views of who will progress to the Champions League quarterfinals.

One view has the Red Devils winning comfortably after pummelling Internazionale in their back yard for most of the first leg. The other has the Italians sneaking through on away goals.

Jose Mourinho rates his side’s chances as “50-50”—for once he may be worth listening to.

Since the inception of the re-branded Champions League in 1992-93, 76 first leg ties from all knock-out matches (including preliminaries) have ended goalless.

On 54 occasions, the away team from the first leg won the return game on home soil. Statistically speaking, Mourinho’s side have marginally less than a one-in-three shot.

Of those 76 ties, however, Manchester United have been away from home in the first leg on three occasions. Only once have they progressed.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s cavalier attacking approach may provide compelling entertainment for those famed European nights at Old Trafford, but his teams have had a tendency to fall victim to clinical counter-attacking over the years.

In 1998, David Trezeguet’s early strike saw Monaco triumph on away goals after a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford.

In 2000, United’s celebrated treble-winners were dethroned by Real Madrid as Argentine midfielder Fernando Redondo inspired a commanding 3-2 victory.

United’s sole success came in last season’s semi-final against Barcelona when Paul Scholes settled a nervy tie with a typical long-range drive. Lionel Messi drove the Catalans forward in search of that crucial away goal, but United survived.

Inter have never travelled to a second leg after a scoreless home game, but their overall record in away games during knock-out rounds is far from impressive.

They have won only twice in 14 ties and those were in preliminary matches—at Skonto Riga in 1998-99 and Shakhtar Donetsk in 2005-06.

Mourinho has mixed experiences of such occasions. His Porto team triumphed 1-0 at Deportivo La Coruña in the 2004 semi-final, but Chelsea were undone a year later by Luis Garcia’s controversial early winner at Anfield as Liverpool prevailed in a titanic struggle.

United will be favourites to go through—they are the holders and world champions after all—but as Liverpool, Milan, and Porto have shown in recent seasons, the best team is never guaranteed to prevail.