Inter v United 1999 - Fergie's Tactical Triumph
As you probably know, this is not the first time we face Internazionale in the Champions League. Last time, we knocked them out - en route to the Treble.
That time the teams played for getting into the semi-finals and United played the first leg at home. And what an occasion it was, as brilliant as any in 1999.
Old Trafford was simply rocking, the atmosphere was fabulous and the players served up a game to remember. Twice Beckham's perfect cross found Dwight Yorke, twice the in-form striker headed the ball into the net. But it was far from being a straightforward procession to a routine 2-0 win: Inter came forward in numbers and we had reasons to be grateful to Peter Schmeichel and Nicky Butt whose vital goalline clearance prevented Inter from snatching an away goal.
The result was perfect though and the performance was also first-class, especially in attack where United were incisive and threatening throughout. Deserved win but we were due a few nervous moments in the cauldron of San Siro.
For me, Fergie's decisive move in the second leg remains one of his best tactical switches during his United career. Starting Ronny Johnsen as a defensive midfielder didn't look like a too bad idea but in reality it meant that we could not maintain possession of the ball and were subsequently battered by an Inter side that was unlucky not to have been awarded a penalty for Schmeichel's foul on Zamorano.
Nicola Ventola pulled one back in the middle of the second half and it looked like Inter could be able to push it into extra-time if they keep up their game. But they couldn't and Fergie must be given credit because of that.
He withdrew the rapidly tiring Johnsen and instead of trying to shut up shop by making a negative substitution he sent on Paul Scholes. And the wee ginja had an immediate impact on the game, our passing became much more controlled, we started to have some rhytm and for the remainder of the game we kept the Nerazzurri at arm's length. It was a marvellous bonus when Scholes fired home Gary Neville's cross in the 88th minute to seal our place in the last four.
We all knew what United achieved in the subsequent two months - and the springboard of our great success was, I'm convinced, the dramatic comeback against Liverpool and Scholes' introduction at the San Siro. Hopefully Fergie will be just as brave as he was back then.
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