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Mourinho to Lagerback: One man can’t stop Messi

Messi had scored 29 goals in his previous 29 matches prior to Wednesday night and the Argentina winger’s breathtaking form this season has led to…

Messi had scored 29 goals in his previous 29 matches prior to Wednesday night and the Argentina winger’s breathtaking form this season has led to many hailing him as the world’s greatest ever player, all at the tender age of 22.

But Messi had faced Mourinho sides on six previous occasions and failed to score in any of those matches.

And six became seven as 10-man Inter defended with both heroism and cynicism to deny the fleet-footed Argentinian and secure passage to next month’s Champions League final in Madrid following a 1-0 defeat at the Nou Camp.

Above all, though, Mourinho’s negation of Messi owed more to order and organisation, the Portuguese coach said.

“I am against man-to-man marking,” he said.

“We defend as a team, in zones – one man alone cannot stop Messi.

“You can’t say it was (Esteban) Cambiasso that stopped Messi or that our midfield or our defence stopped Messi – we worked together and playing in zones.

“Everyone knows their positions and we defended exceptionally.”

Following Barcelona’s surprise 3-1 first-leg defeat in Milan last week, an Italian journalist asked coach Pep Guardiola what had been wrong with Lionel Messi.

“Come to Barcelona and you’ll see what Messi is all about,” Guardiola replied.

But the Barca coach was forced to admit that his player had struggled at the Nou Camp, starved for space by Inter’s no-nonsense back-line.

“It was difficult for him because there was hardly any space between the midfield and the defence and he couldn’t play as he usually does,” Guardiola said.

Chelsea had used the same tactic to great effect last season, despite ultimately losing out in dramatic circumstances in the Champions League semi-finals, and Espanyol almost beat Barca two weeks ago by employing a similar ultra-defensive system.

“You have played against Messi six times…” a journalist said to Mourinho on Tuesday.

The coach interrupted: “Me? If I played against Messi, I would lose 50-0 and I wouldn’t touch the ball.”

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