UEFA Champs League |
Inter feeling the heat
Inter Milan are under a familiar pressure ahead of tonight's Champions League quarterfinal, first leg, match against Spain's Villarreal.
Saturday's defeat to Parma left Inter in third place, trailing Serie A leaders Juventus by 13 points and Roberto Mancini's side are now five points adrift of second placed Milan.
Mancini knows that failure in Europe would leave him with little to show for his efforts at the San Siro this season and intensify speculation about his future.
But the coach, who despite the result said he was pleased with Inter's performance, is determined not to let Saturday's setback turn into the kind of crisis the club have frequently had to deal with in the 16 years since their last Serie A title.
"We can't have a drama every time that the team loses, especially after a game like the one at Parma where we played well. I am looking closely at the team and I would be worried if we had played badly," said the Inter coach.
"In fact the only worry I have is that the team are finding it hard work to score but that is a problem that we have had since the first day of the season. We are in good shape and playing well so I don't have any big worries," added Mancini.
The poor form of Brazilian Adriano has been a major factor in Inter's lack of sharpness in front of goal and Mancini may be tempted to look at an alternative in the form of Argentine Julio Ricardo Cruz while Nigerian Obafemi Martins will compete with Uruguayan forward Alvaro Recoba for a place in the starting line-up.
Whoever Mancini opts to play in attack will almost certainly be without the creative support of Portuguese winger Luis Figo whose muscle strain looks likely to rule him out.
Without Figo, captain Javier Zanetti will probably push forward into midfield.
Villarreal's Argentine playmaker Juan Roman Riquelme said his side would have to show a marked improvement from the weekend, if they were to have any chance against Inter.
Struggling Betis went 2-0 up inside the opening 24 minutes in the Madrigal on Saturday, before Juan Pablo Sorin pulled a goal back for Villarreal near the end.
"It is obvious Inter are the clear favourites to progress to the semis, and they will be even more so if we play like we did in the first half against Betis," Riquelme was quoted as saying in sports daily AS on Monday.
"We made schoolboy errors and now it will be very difficult to qualify for Europe again next year.
"Inter are a side with a lot of experience in this competition, much more than us, and it could show."
The Betis defeat left Villarreal eighth in the Primera Liga, three points short of the lowest UEFA Cup slot available through the league, with eight games left.
The only good news for coach Manuel Pellegrini was the return to action of Sorin after nearly a month out with injury.
Defender Rodolfo Arruabarrenna, and midfielders Josico and Alessio Tacchinardi are suspended for tonight's game. Defender Josemi is cup-tied having played for Liverpool earlier in the competition.