Mourinho wins battle of minds

Patrick Vieira marched through the corridors of the Giuseppe Meazza stadium in a state of high dudgeon.

Javier Zanetti replaced Vieira in Inter's midfield to great effect.
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MILAN // Patrick Vieira marched through the corridors of the Giuseppe Meazza stadium in a state of high dudgeon. His participation in the Derby d'Italia had amounted to barely three minutes, his role that of safety-belt to protect Inter's 1-0 advantage over Juventus through the final moments of time added on for stoppages at the end of a terrifically intense contest.

Even as Vieira suggested he would be seeking explanations for his absence from Inter's head coach Jose Mourinho, we were listening to them. Any triumph by a Mourinho team is liable to be presented by the victorious manager as a beautifully planned tactical coup, . When that victory is against a team managed by Claudio Ranieri, the bragging is to be expected. Mourinho has been ribbing Ranieri via the Italian media frequently since he took over at Inter, often with references to how much more successful Chelsea were under Mourinho than under Ranieri, his predecessor at Stamford Bridge.

Now, face to face for the first time in a competitive match, first against third in Serie A, Mourinho had outfoxed the older man: First, by leaving out Vieira in favour of another veteran, Javier Zanetti, in midfield. The thinking, reasoned Mourinho, was that with the versatile Zanetti there, his flying full-back, Maicon could push forward with more confidence. Maicon did. Juve were under pressure for most of the last hour.

Second, Mourinho had picked Adriano for the first time in weeks, the Brazilian forgiven for another episode of bad time-keeping. The best player, though, had been Ali Sulley Muntari, the Ghanaian for whom Mourinho pressed his treasurers to buy in August. Muntari is acquiring the value Vieira once had in his pomp, tough in the defensive duties of central midfield, a threat when he enters the penalty box. Muntari scored the evening's only goal, a straightforward tap-in as Juventus became stretched at the back.

Inter versus Juve is always highly charged and hardly needed the Mourinho-Ranieri sideshow. Marco Materazzi thumped Alessandro Del Piero in the back of the head early on, Muntari escaped punishment for an infringement on Marco Marchionni inside the Inter penalty area. Having patted himself and his players on the back, Mourinho began remaking friends. Adriano had been welcomed back because Mourinho wanted "the beast in him against Juve's aggressive centre-halves." The Portuguese explained: "When I say 'beast' I mean it in the nicest possibly way. I wanted his power. I'm pleased with his contribution."

What he added about Vieira was likewise intended in the nicest possible way. "He's a great footballer, but I especially like his tactical nous against teams who play with a lot of width." He may still wish to give a grumpy Vieira a wide berth for a couple of days. ihawkey@thenational.ae