24 hours before the Inter Milan vs. Liverpool clash, there are mainly two ideas expressed by Inter manager Roberto Mancini. Number 1: “Whatever the result tonight, I don’t believe the whole season should be based on this game“. Number 2: “We are not at our best, we have players who are still recovering and others out for the long-term. Only those who can give 100% and run for 120 minutes will be allowed to play”.
These last few days, the Nerazzurri coach has been gathering his drawing tools, readying his ink, preparing his brushes and varnish, the whole nine yards necessary to paint Inter’s ‘perfect Champions League night’ on the canvas of Stadio Giuseppe Meazza ‘San Siro’. Leonardo Da Vinci was born in Florence, and Michelangelo’s Sixtine Chapel is in Rome, but it will be in Milan where true artistry will take place on Tuesday night: as only a masterpiece of gigantic proportions will be able to save Inter from European anonymity, and make their work stand out from that of Liverpool’s Red artists army.
Roberto Mancini vs. Rafael Benitez
“It has to be an evening without errors” said Roberto Mancini. “We must not concede space to Liverpool. (…) I don’t believe they will play defensively, even if Liverpool’s a squad more than capable of closing down matches. They will play their game, unless they have our ‘luck’ from the first leg and go a man down after half an hour. It is not by chance that they have eliminated great teams in the competition”.
As for Reds manager Rafael Benítez, his team’s European achievement makes him “proud” and he agreed with Mancini’s assertion that the visitors have not come to defend. “We are in good form at the moment, so the idea is to play our own game and try to score one goal. We won’t be able to play an exclusively defending game against a team as strong as Inter for very long” said the Spanish manager.
Inter’s prospects are complicated by injuries and suspensions: the Nerazzurri defence is missing Walter Samuel and Iván Cordoba (knee problems), Maxwell (ankle) and Marco Materazzi (suspended). The Italian coach was asked if he may consider playing five men in midfield to help protect the backline: “With so many unavailable, this could be a possibility, but to overturn the 2-0 deficit we will have to be perfect from every point of view. We face a very strong team, but the history of the UEFA Champions League is littered with memorable nights when teams have come back from seemingly impossible situations” added Mancini.
With Dejan Stankovic, Luis Jiménez and Hernan Crespo recuperating from their mild knocks, and Cristian Chivu confirmed in the defensive back-line, Mancini could field a revolutionez 4-4-2 formation with Nelson Rivas substituting for Materazzi, and Luis Figo occupying his place in midfield, ready to support Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Julio Cruz up front.
As for the new look Liverpool line-up, with Fernando Torres alone up front supported by Steven Gerrard, it looks ideally calibrated to offer defensive cover and attacking menace. Between them Torres and Gerrard have 44 goals this season for Liverpool, with the Spanish striker scoring 7 in his last 4 games. Even Benitez was prepared to admit yesterday that Torres was “on fire”, and this is a game in which the Spanish manager feels that his team must score to be sure of going through to the quarter-finals. “Gerrard and also the team are playing well“, Benitez said. “We have confidence but we know that we have to score and Torres can be the key player for us“.
With Steve Finnan left behind in Liverpool with a hamstring problem, and Xabi Alonso by his pregnant wife’s bedside, it seems inevitable that Benitez will be forced to play Jamie Carragher at right-back, and stock his midfield with Javier Mascherano alongside Lucas Leiva from minute 1.
A Blast From the Past
Now Mancini wants his own slice of history by repeating the feats of 1965, when Inter Milan completed one of the most memorable European comebacks: overturning a 3-1 semi-final first-leg defeat at Anfield to win 3-0 at San Siro, before going on to claim a second successive European Champion Clubs’ Cup. Inter must rally in similar fashion following the late goals scored by Dirk Kuyt and Steven Gerrard on 19 February.
“People remember that match in 1965 because it was an extraordinary night and Inter turned around a deficit which seemed impossible” said Mancini. “I hope that, in 33 years’ time, people will be talking about this match in the same way. Sometimes history repeats itself. I hope that we’ll be remembered the same way but it won’t be easy“.
It certainly won’t. We’re taking bets people, which team’s your money on?