24/02/2009 21:38, Report by Ben Hibbs
Inter 0 United 0
This Champions League last 16 tie is intriguingly poised at the halfway stage, but Sir Alex Ferguson will hope that the lack of an away goal – one that looked odds on in a dominant first half – won’t come back to bite the Reds.
At least United’s task in the second leg at Old Trafford is simple: win. Any other results – apart from 0-0, which would take the game into extra time – would see Jose Mourinho’s men triumph. But if the first half performance is anything to go by, the Reds’ chances look good. The balance of the opening 45 minutes was so ludicrously tipped in United’s favour that a goal, or a few of them, seemed inevitable. But Internazionale returned a different team in the second half, no longer beleaguered by the Reds’ commanding football.
The game was given top billing, a mouth-watering battle between two of the most prominent forces in Europe – United seven points in front in the Premier League, Internazionale boasting a nine-point lead in Serie A – and, of course, the resumption of the rivalry between Sir Alex and Mourinho.
Injury problems before the match led to only six defenders travelling to Milan, two of them carrying injuries, but Jonny Evans and John O’Shea both made the starting line-up. And they weren’t the only surprises; Sir Alex left Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez on the bench, favouring an archetypal European away formation, set up for a smash and grab, with Dimitar Berbatov leading the line ahead of a five-man midfield comprising Cristiano Ronaldo, Darren Fletcher, Michael Carrick, Ryan Giggs and Ji-sung Park.
United haven’t lost a Champions League game since the 3-0 semi-final loss to AC Milan in this stadium two years ago. That defeat cut deep and United set out with the intention of putting it right. Ronaldo immediately grasped the nettle, he had an early sighter from a free-kick after three minutes, then tested Julio Cesar with a powerful header from Giggs’ corner, while another set-piece two