Rather than contemplating another last-16 exit, José Mourinho talked up "the possibility of Inter knocking out the world champions" as he prepares to return to the scene of a career-defining defeat of Manchester United FC.
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José Mourinho brings his FC Internazionale Milano team to Old Trafford hoping to engineer a moment to match the career-defining conquest of Manchester United FC that he achieved on his first visit as coach of FC Porto five years ago this week.
"At that time they didn't know who was this crazy manager running down the touchline," said Mourinho, recalling his memorable goal celebration during the 1-1 draw that carried eventual winners Porto past United at this stage of the 2003/04 UEFA Champions League. If anyone is going to sound undaunted by facing a United side unbeaten in 18 European home games it is the Portuguese, not least given he lost just one of ten subsequent encounters with United during his three years at Chelsea FC.
This tie is balanced after a goalless first leg but Mourinho talked up Inter's prospects of upsetting opponents targeting a tenth quarter-final in 13 seasons: "Zero-zero away from home is not a very good result. It is a result that leaves lots of question marks." Mourinho's prediction of a close contest decided by "little differences" echoed his United counterpart, Sir Alex Ferguson, who admitted: "With a 0-0 draw you are never overconfident because an away goal can be a severe setback to you."
Yet United will draw confidence from having beaten FC Barcelona from this position in last term's semi-finals. "That was the situation when we played Barcelona and what was required was magnificent concentration and focus," said Sir Alex, who played down the significance of his record against Mourinho. "I look at my football club and what it has achieved over the time I have been here. That is more important to me than my record against him."
Sir Alex believes United have undergone a "massive improvement" since their last defeat in the competition, 21 games ago in the 2007 semi-final with AC Milan. "We have far more maturity and understanding of the Champions League," said the Scot, who will bring back Dimitar Berbatov and Cristiano Ronaldo after they sat out Saturday's 4-0 FA Cup win at Fulham FC. While he can also call on defenders Rio Ferdinand and John O'Shea – both fit despite limping off against Fulham – Mourinho must reorganise his back line after Nicolás Burdisso and Marco Materazzi suffered injuries in Saturday's 2-0 victory at Genoa CFC.
Buck the trend
With Cristian Chivu also sidelined, Inter's coach will recall Walter Samuel after a three-match injury absence, and could also hand Patrick Vieira a first start in the competition since Matchday 1. He admitted stopping the hosts' "incredible strikers" will not be easy. "[Sir Alex] has lots of ammunition and is clever in the way he uses it. They are never predictable. You have to read the game and adapt to what they bring." Inter fell at this stage in 2007 and 2008 but the 'Special One' thinks he can buck the trend. "The press have been talking for three weeks about the drama of Inter going out always in the last 16. I prefer to think in a different way, of the possibility of Inter knocking out the world champions. Not even my flu can affect my pleasure."