As Chelsea appear to falter under a cloud of scandal and injury, their Champions League opponents Internazionale are thriving in adversity in Serie A. Jose Mourinho, banished to the stands for three games after complaints about refereeing, watched his injury- and suspension-hit side win 3-2 at Udinese yesterday to stay four points clear of Milan who beat Atalanta 3-1 but lost striker Alexandre Pato to injury near the end.
Udinese stunned Inter when Simone Pepe put the home side ahead after just two minutes but Inter responded in spectacular fashion. First, Mario Balotelli blasted in from the edge of the area after receiving a pass from Maicon and then the Brazilian full-back topped his team-mate's effort by smashing a volley into the roof of the net.
Diego Milito made it three on the stroke of half-time from Balotelli's cross as Mourinho sat straight-faced in the stands making notes. Balotelli had been top of the class in the first half but he is also Mourinho's problem child and he stupidly handballed Antonio Di Natale's free-kick to concede a penalty in the second period. The Udinese striker scored his 19th goal of the season from the spot to put the pressure on the champions.
Balotelli, who could easily have been booked for the handball, finally got a yellow card moments later for a late challenge. He was then lectured to calm down by Samuel Eto'o as the striker waited on the touchline to come on as a substitute.
Juan Cuadrado missed a chance to level for Udinese, choosing to pass instead of shoot inside the six-yard box, and as Inter wobbled Mourinho's rate of text messages to his bench intensified with the order to "get Balotelli off before he is sent off" presumably prominent among them. The Inter keeper Julio Cesar saved well from Pepe on 90 minutes and with the last kick Udinese hit the bar leaving Mourinho, who had already quit his seat in the stand, celebrating at the exit, fist clenched above his head.
David Beckham played 90 minutes for Milan but it was Ronaldinho who inspired Leonardo's team, setting up a goal each for Pato, who scored twice, and Marco Borriello.
Pato then suffered an injury in his right thigh and is a doubt for Milan's Champions League tie at Old Trafford in just over a week's time.
In Spain, Real Madrid are on course to break their record 107-goal haul for one season after thrashing Tenerife 5-1, but Barcelona beat Malaga 2-1 to maintain their two-point lead at the top.