Inter did their part, beating Juventus 2-0, but even Douglas Maicon’s wonder-goal was not enough to see the Nerazzurri top Serie A again for more than 48 hours. Lazio managed their job for 45 minutes, but ultimately the Giallorossi – and specifically Claudio Ranieri’s tactics – proved too good for the Biancocelesti to manage.
So now Inter have to play catch-up, winning all their games and hoping that Roma drop points. Both sides have a decent run-in, but next week is the one that looks like it could pose problems for la Magica. Inter host Atalanta which, given the Bergamo team’s poor season so far should be three points, and Roma face Sampdoria who are in fourth place and coming off a great win over Milan, should be full of confidence. Obviously, the other fixtures are not guaranteed points, but this is the one week in which Inter fans should place their hope.
The more pressing issue for la Beneamata is Tuesday’s visit from Barcelona. This is the first-leg of a tie that many people in football believe Inter can win. This shows how much Inter have improved since the start of the season. The Nerazzurri are playing like a totally different side to the one which stuttered through the group stage and failed to score against the Catalan side once in 180 minutes of football, but it should also be remembered that the Blaugrana also started the season poorly and have improved greatly since then.
We know that Jose Mourinho will not send the team out with the same open tactics that saw Arsenal give Barcelona exactly what they wanted at the Camp Nou, but it is still likely that the Catalans will dominate possession and Inter have to be able to cope with long periods without the ball. The key is discipline; containing Lionel Messi will take at least one player who is willing to sacrifice themselves for the team by following him around and it is likely that Esteban Cambiasso will be charged with disrupting Xavi’s passing rhythm. It seems unprofessional to talk about world-class players being used as tools to upset the Barcelona team, but los Cules have, as everyone saw in the quarter-finals, the ability to overcome any team foolish enough to try and beat them at their own game.
A factor that may work in the favour of the Nerazzurri is the lack of air travel, which has forced Barcelona to take a coach journey to Milan, with a travel time of over ten hours. Although the training staff are likely to have made sure that the players feel no ill-effects, it is unusual for the team to have this kind of preparation, and Inter fans will be hoping that some residual weariness is present in the legs of the Catalan side when the game kicks off.
Anything less than a win for Inter would mean that the challenge when they go to the Camp Nou will be almost impossible. To go to Barcelona needing to score goals means that gaps will inevitably be left for the Blaugrana to exploit, but a win would leave Inter with the tactical luxury of letting their opponents come onto them, and trying to snatch another goal on the break. This promises to be one of the most tactically intriguing Champions League ties in years, with the free-flowing brilliance of Barca coming up against the resilience and tactial ability of Inter. The biggest compliment la Beneamata have received is that nobody can pick which side will win.