Pavlov's hounds cannot ever have slavered more than Uefa's top dogs did yesterday. The draw for the last 16 of the Champions League rapidly made moans about the tedium of the group phase inconsequential, and, just in time for the panto season, the "Special One" is centre stage once more.
Jose Mourinho's Internazionale stand between Manchester United and a place in the quarter-finals after the Italian club were drawn to face the holders in a last 16 awash with reacquaintances and Anglo-Italian drama.
Yesterday's draw also pitted Arsenal against Roma, and Chelsea against Juventus, whose manager Claudio Ranieri will be guaranteed a warm return to Stamford Bridge if not an easy ride.
Rafael Benitez will be taking a trip to a former club when Liverpool face Real Madrid, where he worked as a coach from 1989 to 1995. Real's new manager, Juande Ramos, recently of Tottenham Hotspur, gets a rapid return to England.
All four English clubs were relieved to avoid Barcelona, the new tournament favourites. They face Lyon.
For sheer entertainment value on all levels, Mourinho versus Sir Alex Ferguson will top the bill as the pair battle for a place in the quarter-finals just as they battled when Mourinho's Porto played United – and beat them – at the same stage five seasons ago.
The memory of the Portuguese maverick charging up the Old Trafford touchline and into the British sporting consciousness after Costinha scored the 90th-minute equaliser Porto needed for a 3-2 aggregate win and progress is indelible.
Ferguson has not had the best of it against Mourinho-led teams – just one win and six defeats in 12 games to date – but there can be no better stage to begin levelling up that record.
"I am satisfied, I wanted the best and I have got the European champions," Mourinho said. "It is a team with the current Ballon D'Or winner [Cristiano Ronaldo], a great coach in Alex Ferguson and a stadium with a fantastic atmosphere. It will be unforgettable returning to Manchester."
United and Inter have met only once before in the competition, in 1998-99, when United prevailed en route to a historic treble. Omens aside, Ferguson insisted last night that he is relishing the chance to face Mourinho again anyway. "It will be interesting to come up against Jose again," he said. "He is a character with a good personality and I have always got on well with him. He knocked us out of the competition when he was at Porto, so I hope we have the luck they had in that tie this time around."
Inter's familiar names include Patrick Vieira, Hernan Crespo and Luis Figo, and their three successive Serie A titles – and current table-topping status – are evidence they are formidable opposition.
"Hopefully, we can do the job there in the first game and give ourselves a platform to take back to Old Trafford," Ferguson said. "The San Siro is a great stadium to play in. We've lost two semi-finals to Milan there so we want to go there and do better. This is the stage when the competition gets going and I think all the English teams have a good chance. I'm happy with our draw."
Juventus's Ranieri was not so pleased in drawing Chelsea – "I can't say I'm happy" – but masked his disappointment with some mind games, saying it would be a "disaster" for his former employers if Chelsea did not get through.
Ranieri spent four seasons at Stamford Bridge, taking them to the tournament's semi-finals in 2004 before Roman Abramovich ousted him to make way for Mourinho.
"It's a beautiful tie, a fascinating one and we will have to be in top form," Ranieri said. "Chelsea is a team that is constructed to win the Champions League and for Abramovich not to win it, it would be a disaster.
"For our part, we will try to stop Chelsea from reaching the top of the world, which is where Abramovich has programmed them to arrive to."
While Chelsea have never won the European Cup, Liverpool [five times] and Real Madrid [nine] have lifted it 14 times between them. Liverpool have also been runners-up twice, and Real Madrid three times. Yet they have dominated in different eras, and have met only once before in the competition, in the 1981 final, won 1-0 by Liverpool with an Alan Kennedy goal. "Mammoth," is how the Liverpool club secretary, Bryce Morrison, described yesterday's draw.
Arsenal's manager, Arsène Wenger, described the tie with Roma as "a 50-50 draw" and suggested it would be as tough as a draw against Barcelona would have been. Barcelona beat Arsenal in the 2006 final.
Acknowledging Roma's recent record of nine wins and a draw in their last 10 games in all competitions, he said they are "maybe the best team in Italy at the moment ... [they have] technical players who are comfortable in a small space."
The Frenchman added: "We have a great chance of winning the competition. I want to give that to my club because not only have I not won it, but the club have not won it. It is the most spectacular competition from now on. Any team will go for it until the last second of the game and that is where people start to enjoy it."
Gunning for Britain: The star men barring the route to Rome
Overlapping full-back in the Brazilian tradition who has created several goals this season, but Cafu's heir in the Selecao is no slouch defensively either. Able to play on his left foot which makes showing him the inside a risk.
Manchester United tried to sign him in 2003 but were refused a work permit. The following year he came to Europe, to Monaco, from Cruzeiro, joining Internazionale in 2006. Banned for six matches as part of the infamous Inter v Valencia Champions League brawl in 2007.
Full name is Maicon Douglas Sisenando, but the 27-year-old was supposed to be named, according to legend, after the actor Michael Douglas only for his father to be misunderstood when registering the birth.
INTERNAZIONALE v Manchester United
The Serbian national captain's future was the subject of much debate when Jose Mourinho took over at Inter this summer but the versatile 30-year-old midfielder has proved to be an important figure this season, providing the midfield adaptability which Mourinho prizes in his players.
He can play centrally, or wide, attacking, or defensive, he has a powerful shot and good passing range. He first came to prominence during four years with Red Star Belgrade before winning the Cup Winners' Cup (1999) and Scudetto (2000) with Lazio.
HEAD TO HEAD
3 Mar 1999 CLQF Man United 2 Inter 0
17 Mar 1999 CLQF Inter 1 Man United 1
Chelsea v JUVENTUS
ALESSANDRO DEL PIERO
At 34 Del Piero is not always granted 90 minutes by Claudio Ranieri but still one of the key figures for the Old Lady. Now in his 15th year at the club he stood by them when they were relegated as part of the Moggipoli scandal, nor did he agitate to move in periods when he has found himself out of favour. He can play in attack, wide or, most effectively, in the trequartista position, or in 'the hole'. His continued value and threat was demonstrated in the group stage matches against Real Madrid when Del Piero scored three of Juve's four goals in their back-to-back victories over the Spanish champions.
One of the few Italians to emerge from Euro 2008 with credit despite beginning the competition under the unfortunate cloud of knowing it was his challenge, in training, which had robbed the Azzurri of their captain Fabio Cannavaro. As is often the way he ended the tournament playing in Cannavaro's position, and excelling. Originally a left-back when coming to notice at Livorno and Fiorentina, he was successfully converted by Claudio Ranieri to a central defender when Juve were demoted to Serie B. Has enrolled on a Business Studies course at Turin University. Age 24
HEAD TO HEAD
No previous meetings
REAL MADRID v Liverpool
His quality is not in doubt, just his fitness. Should Liverpool encounter Robben at his flying best their oft-vulnerable full-backs will need all the help Rafael Benitez can plan for them. The Dutch 24-year-old was pinched by Chelsea from under Manchester United's noses and shone, when fit, in Jose Mourinho's two championship-winning seasons.
His fragility tested Mourinho's patience and he was also a victim of tactical changes so when Real Madrid offered £24m for him in 2007 everyone was reasonably content. Robben's time in Spain has been as punctuated by injury as it was in England. Since leaving PSV Eindhoven four-and-a-half seasons ago he has managed just under 100 league appearances. But if he is fit, Liverpool should beware.
The replacement for the injured Ruud van Nistelrooy, Huntelaar agreed a £19m move from Ajax this month. Ajax's failure to defeat Steve McClaren's FC Twente in a Dutch play-off means Huntelaar is available for Champions League ties but that is not the only reason he has been bought. Has the same nose for goal as Van Nistelrooy with 10 in 18 international matches following 18 in 22 under-21 appearances. With Ajax and Heerenveen he scored 113 goals in 143 Eredivisie appearances.
HEAD TO HEAD
27 May 1981 CLF Liverpool 1 Real Madrid 0
Arsenal v ROMA
At Roma, all passes lead to Totti. The fulcrum of Luciano Spalletti's revolving forward line, the heartbeat of the side, this native Roman remains a genius footballer but a somewhat mercurial one. Currently retired from the national team to concentrate on his club career, but do not rule out the 32-year-old returning if Marcello Lippi asks (though he turned down Roberto Donadoni). Played more than 400 league games for Roma despite several serious injuries.
A serial collector of shirts including, it is reported, swapping one of his with the Irish rugby international Brian O'Driscoll.
Montenegro's captain, most notable player, and after Dejan Savicevic and Predrag Mijatovic (who played before Montenegro had its own national team), probably their most famous ever. Better known in the UK for scoring twice as Roma beat Chelsea in this season's group stages. Roma's tactical system means he is often played on the left flank though he is more of a centre-forward, where he fills in when Totti is absent. Quick, mobile, with a dangerous shot he is not to be underestimated and, should he tire of being played out of position by Spalletti, should have no shortage of Premier League suitors.
HEAD TO HEAD
27 Nov 2002 CLGS Roma 1 Arsenal 3
11 Mar 2003 CLGS Arsenal 1 Roma 1
MOURINHO 6 FERGIE 1: Head-to-head record
*P12 Mourinho 6 Ferguson 2 D 4
25 Feb 2004 CL Porto 2 Man United 1
9 Mar 04 CL Man United 1 Porto 1
15 Aug 04 PL Chelsea 1 Man Utd 0
12 Jan 05 LC Chelsea 0 Man Utd 0
26 Jan 05 LC Man Utd 1 Chelsea 2
10 May 05 PL Man Utd 1 Chelsea 3
6 Nov 05 PL Man Utd 1 Chelsea 0
29 Apr 06 PL Chelsea 3 Man Utd 0
26 Nov 06 PL Man Utd 1 Chelsea 1
9 May 07 PL Chelsea 0 Man Utd 0
19 May 07 FAC Chelsea 1 Man Utd 0
5 Aug 07 CS Chelsea 1 Man Utd 1
(United won 3-0 on penalties)
Champions League Draw and match dates
LAST 16 FIRST LEG
Tuesday 24 February
Internazionale v Manchester United
Atletico Madrid v Porto
Lyon v Barcelona
Arsenal v Roma
Wednesday 25 February
Villarreal v Panathinaikos
Real Madrid v Liverpool
Sporting Lisbon v Bayern Munich
Chelsea v Juventus
*LAST 16 SECOND LEG
Tuesday 10 March
Panathinaikos v Villarreal
Liverpool v Real Madrid
Bayern Munich v Sporting Lisbon
Juventus v Chelsea
Wednesday 11 March
Manchester United v Internazionale
Porto v Atletico Madrid
Barcelona v Lyon
Roma v Arsenal
7/8 & 14/15 April
28/29 April & 5/6 May
Wed 27 May (Stadio Olimpico, Rome)