The Stadio Giuseppe Meazza was the site for the much-anticipated first leg of the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 clash between Internazionale and Chelsea.
Inter manager Jose Mourinho played his normal mind games using the press to air out his compliments and thoughts about Chelsea throughout the week. “The Special One” is surely to be extra motivated to face his former side and push Inter past this Champions League wall they have had trouble penetrating.
Mourinho set up the Nerazzurri in a 4-3-1-2. Julio Cesar was given the start between the posts despite his car accident from a few days back. The captain Javier Zanetti started at leftback and Maicon was on the right. The central defending pair of Walter Samuel and Lucio centered them. Cambiasso, Thiago Motta, and Dejan Stankovic were the midfielders set to do the dirty work. While Sneijder was just behind the attacking duo of Samuel Eto’o and Diego Milito.
Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti is also all familiar with this Inter side, coming from their domestic rival AC Milan to Chelsea. The boss lined the Blues up in a 4-3-3. Facing multiple absences Ancelotti was forced to tinker with his side a bit. Malouda got the start at leftback with Branislav Ivanovic on the opposite side.
Captain John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho were the duo in the central defense. Obi Mikel and Michael Ballack played the defensive midfielding role, as Frank Lampard was the center midfielder. Up front Didier Drogba was the striker and his two supporting attackers were Anelka and Kalou.
The sell out crowd of over 80,000 fans were filled with energy and noise when this one kicked off.
Things started quickly for Inter when in the 3rd minute Diego Milito found the ball on his foot after penetrating the area, juked inside of Chelsea captain John Terry and sidefooted a strike near post past the reaching keeper Petr Cech. Milito made this goal look routine and once again an Italian side jumped to an early start against an English club at the San Siro.
Chelsea attempted to respond to this quick strike by slowing down the pace of the match and controlling possession.
In the 9th minute a reckless Thiago Motta was booked for a dangerous high boot that raked the face of Michael Ballack. Despite there being no intention, it was surely a bookable offense.
In the 15th minute Chelsea won a free kick from an estimated 25 yards out. Didier Drogba stepped up and promptly smoked his effort off the crossbar past the flying Julio Cesar who had no chance.
18th minute Chelsea continued to pressure the Inter goal when Ballack sent a buzzing deflected effort on net that Julio Cesar could only palm aside.
In the 22nd minute Diego Milito found himself in the penalty area again right around the same spot he scored from earlier on, but this time after turning his defender he decided to take a dive in the box after Carvalho swung his back leg blindly. The man in charge was having none of it and saw the whole play develop and correctly made the easy decision to book the simulating Milito. Carvalho should be relieved though as he was beaten and shouldn’t have made such a sloppy attempt at the attacker. Luckily for him there was no contact or Inter would have been lining up for a penalty to take an early two-goal lead.
In the 23rd minute Chelsea midfielder Kalou connected on a clattering challenge on Sneijder that gave the Blues their first booking and rightfully so.
Inter had a glorious scoring opportunity in the 33rd minute when Walter Samuel’s left footed driven pass sent Sneijder free on the left wing. The Dutchman cutback to open up a passing lane for himself and sent in a dangerous square ball right to the feet of striker Samuel Eto’o. Eto’o botched the left footed attempt from eight yards out and Chelsea was extremely fortunate to not be in a 2-0 hole.
The Chelsea defense looked vulnerable once again in the 38th minute. Maicon and Milito played a nifty give and go on the right wing which freed the Brazilian in on what looked like was going to be a direct scoring opportunity, but a heavy first touch by Maicon led himself too far and Cech was able to come out and gather the ball.
In stoppage time our first moment of controversy took place. Javier Zanetti poorly headed a deep throw in by Chelsea backwards in a halfhearted clearance attempt and just like that Kalou was just about free on net, when a clumsy Samuel challenge surely brought down the attacker. Kalou made the most of the minimal contact, as he embellished to full extent, but that is irrelevant in this case as Samuel was well out of position and nowhere near the ball. And if you still have doubts over the call just watch the reaction of the defender who instantly put his hands on head in self-disappointment while awaiting the referee to come punish him. But no reprimand was given from the referee. If whistled for a penalty Samuel might have also been sent off for being the last defender and taking away a direct scoring opportunity, but it seemed as if a penalty and a caution would have done the trick because of the minimal contact and angle of attack from Kalou.
Inter went into the tunnel ahead 1-0 at the midway point and their pulses were surely pounding at a fast rate after that scary moment just before the whistle where a penalty could easily have been given. Chelsea may have had the advantage in possession, but Inter clearly had the better chances.
The second half began just how the English side wanted. In the 51st minute Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic made a run up the pitch and after drawing the attention of multiple Inter defenders simply laid the ball off for Kalou, who smoothly sidefooted an effort on goal from 20 yards out that found its way past Julio Cesar to tie the match at 1-1. Julio Cesar was clearly at fault here and despite the fact he was screened for a brief moment the shot still lacked pace and hit off his gloves on its way to the back of the net.
Just when questions started to arise if Inter could respond from such a critical away goal they replied just minutes later. In the 55th minute to be precise, a determined Esteban Cambiasso was quick to regain the lead for Inter. The Argentine pounced on an attempted clearance off the head of Carvalho, and struck a left footed rip from just outside the area only for it to thump off of a defender. But a fortunate Cambiasso had the ball blocked directly back to him, where he preceded to hit an even harder strike this time which lasered into the net past the helpless keeper.
Unfortunately for Chelsea they were forced to sub out keeper Petr Cech after he came down awkwardly after gathering a high cross minutes later. It looked to have been a knee injury and he could barely apply weight to his leg. He was stretchered off the pitch and it would be a surprise if he were able to participate in the second leg from first glance.
In the 65th minute Chelsea produced a brilliant scoring opportunity. Nicolas Anelka fed Drogba at the top of the area and continued his run intelligently when he received an accurate pass back from Drogba into the box. Anelka preceded to send a dangerous ball square to the awaiting Frank Lampard just near the penalty spot, where Lampard managed to connect with a sidefooted skipper that forced a sprawling save from the keeper. This was clearly Chelsea’s best attacking display of the match.
In the 70th minute Inter nearly tallied a third goal when Mario Balotelli freed himself on the wing and sent a dangerous ball across the area that Cambiasso smashed but Ivanovic slid well to block it.
In the final 20 minutes Inter was satisfied to contain and remain organized in the containment of the Chelsea attack. The Blues struggled to even create half chances, as the Nerazzurri shackled down and strangled any life out of Chelsea attempts forward.
At the final whistle the first leg completed with Inter claiming the victory over Chelsea 2-1.
Inter Milan may not have had the bulk of the possession but they certainly had the better scoring chances. The Nerazzurri also may have lucked out on the decision to not award the penalty at the end of the first half, but at the same time the result definitely seemed fair. Inter was as organized as ever in the back four and were tremendous at frustrating the Chelsea attack. Inter was also better in the midfield, as they were more aggressive and won the bulk of the loose balls. And to complete the trifecta Inter was also better and more fluent in their attack.
Chelsea though definitely not happy with their overall play, can easily accept the result for the road leg. They will feel robbed to not have gotten that penalty, and can easily raise claims of being a man up from that point on. This would most likely have created a completely different result, but instead they will turn their focus to the second leg. If they can prevent the visitors from scoring at Stamford Bridge they are likely to advance. So they will certainly expect a much better effort from their defense, especially from captain John Terry.
Looking forward to the second leg at Stamford Bridge it is sure to be an excellent one. There will be plenty to play for and the tie is clearly wide open for the taking. Inter held serve at home, but at the same time will Chelsea’s away goal prove crucial?
Julio Cesar- 5.5 The black and blue-eyed keeper showed his team spirit by sporting the clubs colors, but looked to still be shaken up from his car accident when he surrendered a mighty soft away goal. Tried his best to make it up to his teammates later with a sprawling desperation save on Lampard.
Zanetti- 6.5 The consistent durable captain played his role as usual for the Nerazzurri. He kept the side calm and composed and played an important role in keeping Anelka quiet throughout the match. Did make a mistake at the end of the first half when his halfhearted header led to the Kalou penalty controversy.
Lucio- 8.5 The Brazilian was an absolute rock in the central defense. He was at the top of his game. Cancelled out and frustrated Drogba whenever they were in competition and cleared countless balls from dangerous area with ease.
Samuel- 6.5 The Argentine played a solid match and was also strong in the central defense. But was dreadfully lucky not to be whistled for a penalty and maybe even sent off just before the half.
Maicon- 6.0 The Brazilian made his runs down the wing and had an average match under his standards. Kept Malouda at home at times because of his threat to attack. Was absent a few times when Kalou attacked up his side.
Thiago Motta- 5.0 The midfielder didn’t produce anything special in this match. Subbed out in the 58th minute.
Cambiasso- 7.5 The feisty Argentine did well as the guard dog in front of the back four. He clogged up the center of the pitch and won numerous balls with his grit and strength. Also came forward and lasered home the match-winning goal.
Stankovic- 6.0 Played an under appreciated match in the midfield. Was a physical and ball winning presence. Was subbed out with less than 10 minutes to play.
Sneijder- 6.5 The Dutch International didn’t have his finest touch on display tonight, but he still was in the middle of multiple opportunities. Was involved in the initial goal and created what should have been the second goal when he found Eto’o in the goalmouth with an accurate ball.
Milito- 7.0 The Argentine striker was a threat throughout the first half. His 3rd minute goal was one he made look routine, as he easily undressed John Terry and beat Petr Cech with no nerves. Faded out as match wore on though was basically invisible in the second half.
Eto’o- 5.0 Was nowhere near as involved as the masses expected. Missed a sitter from eight yards out and wasn’t a threat for most of his stay on the pitch. Subbed out in the 67th minute.
Balotelli- 6.0 The substitute was a threat every time the ball was on his foot on the right wing. Was constantly given attention and if Inter wasn’t sitting back probably would have only been more menacing for the Chelsea defense.
Cech- 4.5 The keeper wasn’t responsible for either goal, but I can’t help to criticize him minorly for the first. He seemed to be slightly out of position and the shot was right at hand level. Subbed out in the 60th minute due to what seemed to be a serious knee injury.
Malouda- 5.5 The braided Frenchman filled in nicely in the leftback position. He was given a handful by the attacking presence of Maicon and substitute Balotelli, but contained them well as nothing came of their attacks.
Terry- 4.0 The captain was quite possibly the worst man on the pitch for his side. He was skinned by Milito on the first goal and his horrendous marking on Eto’o should have been the second if it wasn’t for a complete shank by the African.
Carvalho- 5.5 The Portuguese international had a decent match. Was troubled by the Inter duo upfront, but was clearly the better half of the Chelsea central defense. His poor headed clearance attempt led to the Cambiasso goal.
Ivanovic- 6.5 The determined rightback was a big contributor for the Blues. He was full of energy and it was his run and pass that set up the Kalou goal. Was also always going at full tilt to disrupt any nearby attacks. Sliding block on Cambiasso rocket may have saved a goal.
Ballack- 5.5 The German midfielder played his role quietly in the midfield. Besides getting cleated in the face and a buzzing shot on net early on, we barely heard from him.
Mikel Obi- 5.5 Was left scrambling in the first half and rarely was providing the bite and ball winning that was expected of him. He improved in the second half, but needs to take notes on Cambiasso’s performance.
Lampard- 5.5 Wasn’t as heavily involved the match as expected. Was rarely an attacking presence and only had one go on net that was even worth mentioning. Normally he would have buried that opportunity, but tonight he couldn’t get full force on the touch.
Kalou- 6.5 Was the most common attacker with possession for Chelsea throughout the match. Is still confused how he wasn’t awarded a penalty just before the half. Scored a soft critical away goal that could make him the hero after the second leg. Subbed out in the 78th minute.
Anelka- 5.5 Was basically invisible for the entire match except for the glorious attempt he created for Lampard in the second half.
Drogba- 6.0 The Ivorian striker had a match he would like to forget as nothing really went his way. His superb free kick rang the cross bar and he was never really given proper service or space throughout the match. Lucio clearly got the best of him on this night.
Man of the Match- Lucio, Internazionale
Referee- Manuel Mejuto Gonzalez 5.0 – His bookings were all dead on and his fouls were also accurate, but major points have to be deducted for missing the crucial penalty at the end of the first half.