|Inter represent a true test of United's power
||[Feb. 23rd, 2009|10:55 am]
Are we about to find out whether this Manchester United side really is one of the true greats of world football history?
For sure, the crass lack of a real challenge to United in their own League this season has been a source of immense frustration. Liverpool continue to drop points yet continue to pretend they remain title contenders. Chelsea has a new manager but surely appointed him far too late to make any difference. Arsenal are out of it, long since left adrift. For the title race to be all but over, barring a complete collapse by United, before February is out, is a huge let down.
But if the Barclays Premier League has failed to satisfy this season, then it's unlikely we will say the same about the Uefa Champions League which resumes across Europe this week.
The beginning of the knock-out stages (it is the round of the last 16 this week) means only the best remain. And you won't find better than Inter Milan v Manchester United, the Champions of Italy against the Champions of England, Europe and the world.
The first leg in Italy tomorrow night will at last present United with the kind of real challenge that has been sadly missing in their domestic league this season. Internazionale, led by the charismatic Jose Mourinho, are on course to retain their own league title, just like United in England. They come into the match fresh from several victories in recent weeks, the best a 2-1 win over AC Milan, their great city rivals, in the Milan derby last weekend.
Two mighty clubs, Internazionale and Manchester United: two mighty characters in their respective managers, Sir Alex Ferguson and Mourinho. The stakes could hardly be higher going into tomorrow's two-leg match.
Ferguson will be more than aware that Inter represent a clear and present danger to United's hold on the Champions League trophy. Together with Barcelona, they are probably the biggest threat remaining in the competition. If one of these three clubs does not go on to lift the trophy, it will be a major surprise.
United can be certain they will need to be at their defensive best to establish a winning position for the second leg in Manchester. Inter are slick, clever, well organised and afraid of no-one, as befits a team coached by Jose Mourinho.
The former Chelsea manager has watched United himself on several recent occasions and shows them every respect. "Of course, they are a great team; they have some great players and a great manager who has earned respect everywhere. But perhaps we have a few players too who can play quite well" he says, with a cunning smile.
Testing yourself against the best opposition has always energised potential champions. They relish, not fear, such challenges and United are no exception.
At last, we will see just how good United have become this season. For if they can outwit Inter, then the road to the final will surely open up fore them once again.