Jose Mourinho's "perfect" Internazionale claimed an extraordinary derby victory over Milan in San Siro last night despite finishing the game with nine men, a result that was followed by a extraordinary outburst of classic Mourinho.
The result leaves Inter nine points ahead of their city rivals at the top of Serie A and set fair for yet another Scudetto. Mourinho, though, later decided all is not fair in Italian football with a typically forthright response to the red cards, followed by a characteristic boast.
"Everything was done today to try and prevent Inter from winning, but my squad is strong and we will win the Scudetto," said Mourinho on Italian television. "But I will leave it at that. This is your country and your league. I am just a foreigner working here. One day, I will go and leave this problem with you.
"It was a strange game. I think we all understand that it was no coincidence that he showed the red card to [Wesley] Sneijder. I have realised that they are not going to allow us to wrap this title up. But we were perfect. We would have won this game even with seven men. Maybe with six we would have struggled, but we would have won with seven."
Sneijder was the first to go, dismissed early in the first half. The Dutchman was followed in the last minute of normal time by Lucio, who earned his red card for giving away a penalty. With five minutes of injury time to be played and with a two-man advantage, Ronaldinho, whose effervescent form has had so much to do with Milan's revival, had the chance to set up a grandstand finish; instead Julio Cesar saved his compatriot's effort, to the clear delight of a leaping Mourinho on the touchline.
David Beckham was shown the first yellow card of the game for his second foul in the third minute and that early booking set a strict standard which the referee Gianluca Rocchi was obliged to maintain.
Inter took an early lead through Diego Milito, who shot home after 10 minutes. Lucio was then shown a yellow card for simulation and Sneijder responded by applauding the referee ironically, only Rocchi did not appreciate the gesture and he sent the Dutchman off in the 26th minute.
"Is it right that a player gets sent off for clapping his hands, but not when a player runs halfway across the pitch in an aggressive manner?" Mourinho asked.
A precisely targeted free-kick by Goran Pandev doubled the lead midway through the second half before Lucio's late foul for a handball inside the penalty area earned him his second yellow.
Spotlight on Barcelona's unbeaten run
Thierry Henry knows a thing or two about invincibility. The Frenchman scored 30 goals in the 2003-04 season when Arsenal went a whole campaign without losing in the league and, after this 3-0 victory away to Valladolid, he is halfway to repeating the feat in La Liga.
Barcelona, who are running out of records to break, completed the first half of the season without losing a single game for the first time in their history. The victory means they have 49 points at the halfway point of the season – just one less than last year when they had the title won four matches from the end of the campaign.
The Frenchman failed to find the net but goals from Xavi, Leo Messi and the superb Dani Alves (above) sealed the victory. Barça were the only club not to baulk at Alves' price tag 18 months ago. "Too much money for a full-back," was the thrust of most clubs' reluctance – but Alves produced 12 assists in last year's campaign and is already on eight this time.
It was his cross from the right that Xavi volleyed in for the first and it was his pass that allowed Zlaten Ibrahimovic to tee-up Messi for his 15th goal of the season. Between strikes, a spectacular Alves cross-shot got the Brazilian on the score-sheet too.
Coach Pep Guardiola said: "I knew from the start that this season we would always lose out in comparison to last season's record. We are already out of the cup and we have one point less at the halfway stage but the attitude of the team is just as good as last season and we are still playing to the same high standard."
Talking point: The fall of Van Gaal
It's usually Arjen Robben writhing around on the deck and a concerned manager looking over him but, for once, roles were reversed as the Dutch winger celebrated his 26th birthday with a man-of-the-match performance and a free-kick goal that was too much for Bayern Munich coach Louis van Gaal.
As Robben ran to celebrate with his coach in Bayern's 3-2 win away to Werder Bremen, Van Gaal slipped and fell on his back on the touchline. "It was a good job he only scored once," said the manager, having seen Robben return Bayern to the top of the Bundesliga ahead of Leverkusen's trip to Hoffenheim.
Van Gaal welcomed back Franck Ribery as the French winger played 22 second-half minutes after an absence of three months and 20 days.