Jose Mourinho was in buoyant mood ahead of Internazionale’s first knockout round meeting with Manchester United, insisting his side would take on the European champions with “no fear”.
Both Inter and United are domestic titleholders, both enjoy clear leads in their title races, but one key difference between the sides is their European form. United won the Champions League last season and are one match away from a record 20-game unbeaten sequence in Europe’s elite competition. Conversely, Inter have continually struggled in Europe, falling at this hurdle in each of the last two campaigns.
Inter also struggled to get through the group stage, finishing second to Panathinaikos FC after two wins, two draws and two defeats. Yet Mourinho has an impressive record against United, losing only once in ten matches against United during his three years in charge of Chelsea and perhaps most memorably knocking them out of this competition in 2004-06 while in charge of Porto.
“I have told my players not to be afraid of being knocked out, but instead to go into this match thinking that in 15 days we can celebrate beating the European champions,” he said. “I’m an optimist – always have been – but I’m right to be confident because whenever this side has been in difficulty it has responded well. We have no fear.”
United prevailed 2-1 at home to Blackburn Rovers on Saturday but that win came at a price as Jonny Evans went off with an ankle knock, adding to Sir Alex Ferguson’s defensive concerns.
“With Wes Brown [ankle], Rafael [ankle] and Gary Neville [virus] out, and Nemanja Vidic suspended, it’s a worrying moment for us but we’ve accepted it and we’ll get on with it,” said Sir Alex.
“The challenge of playing in a stadium with a fantastic crowd will help the players – I’m sure of that.”
With Fabio likely to come in at right-back and Anderson (ankle) still sidelined, the United manager admitted a degree of tactical tinkering would be required.
The Portuguese coach was full of confidence throughout the news conference, although he conceded that the tie “will probably last longer than 180 minutes”.
Sir Alex retorted by saying: “It’ll be all over tomorrow if we get the away goal.”