An easy 3-0 win over Bologna was just about the best preparation that Inter could have wished for ahead of their trip to face CSKA Moscow. Too often we see a side with a European tie coming up drop points in the match before because they have their minds on the next game. Inter, however, never looked like faltering against an average Bologna team. With Serie A poised for a very tight run-in,the 3 points Inter picked up this weekend were vital.
One particular positive was the performance of Thiago Motta. The Brazilian midfielder has found himself on the receiving end of a fair deal of criticism as his recent performances have been distinctly sub-par. His two goals on Saturday was the on-field rebuttal of a man determined to recapture the good form he displayed early in the season, shortly after joining from Genoa. He is a player that, when on form, can add some good distribution and a solid work rate to the Inter midfield. His playing style compliments the extremely hardworking Sulley Muntari and the technically gifted Wesley Sneijder.
Another man that had a point to prove against the Rossoblu was Mario Balotelli. Given his first start since the well-publicised-but-may-or-may-not-have-happened falling out with Jose Mourinho, the striker was in great form, further underlining that his talent is as great as his personality is volatile. He hit the post, scored, and generally looked very lively in his first 90 minute outing for some time. Whether or not he will have a part to play in the European match is still anyone’s guess.
The one potentially very bad piece of news to come out of Easter weekend is that Wesley Sneijder has picked up an injury in training, one which could well affect his participation in the CSKA game. This would obviously be a huge blow for the team as the former Real Madrid and Ajax player has been in superb form over the last few weeks, undoubtedly frustrating his former employers who failed to topple a resilient Lyon team in the Second Round. Mourinho has moved to calm the fans’ worries, saying that he believes his playmaker will be fit for the game, but if not, the Coach has got some re-shuffling of his side to do. Julio Cesar and Ivan Cordoba are also facing fitness tests to see if they will be able to take part, but both are expected to be available.
From the CSKA side, there has been the usual talk of determination, but the best coment of the week has to go to Alexey Berezutsky, whose declaration that his team have to score against the Nerazzurri certainly wins the “stating the obvious” award. Manager Leonid Slutsky perhaps put it better when he said that the Russian side cannot forget about defence – although they need a goal, conceding would make their task considerably harder. Should Inter score first, then CSKA would need 3 goals, which is a target that would be almost impossible to reach without affording the Italian champions time and space in attack to make more chances.
The tie is currently poised in Inter’s favour, but Mourinho’s side would do well to take a slightly cautious approach to Moscow just as they did to London when they faced Chelsea. Caution does not necessarily connote negativity, but rather the retention of shape and possession, ensuring the Russians must work as hard as possible when they do not have the ball. Inter have the lead in the tie, and have to play like a side in the lead -controlling the game. If they can play as they have done in their last two European matches, their quality should allow them to emerge victorious.