Barcelona v Inter Milan, Champions League semi-final second leg, April 28, 2010
Doing a disservice to both Bayern Munich and Lyon, the winner of Wednesday night’s mouthwatering semi-final second-leg between Barca and Inter will be left licking their lips at the prospect of being the champions-elect in this season’s Champions League.
To many, the greatest disappointment this week will be that the meeting of the Catalans and the Nerazzurri isn’t the final itself. The first-leg, in which Jose Mourinho lead his Milanese charges to an outstanding 3-1 victory, was a match of the highest quality, skill, tactics and excitement, and the fear is that in comparison the final may well be a bit of a let-down.
That said, counting ones chickens is never an advisable thing to do, and neither Pep Guardiola nor the Special One will be looking too far in the distance ahead of the match of the season to-date.
In preparation for their semi-final it was noticeable how both Barcelona and Inter – both of whom are still gunning for their respective league championships – made wholesale changes to their line-ups on the weekend. Fielding a host of fresh-faced squad members, both sides managed to record 3-1 wins in their domestic championships.
Barca overcame Xerez, however Guardiola’s makeshift side suffered some nervy moments at 2-1 before Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored the all-important third goal after 55 minutes. With Lionel Messi (3.50 to score first, 1.52 to score) starting on the bench along with Pedro (6.00 to score first, 2.37 to score) and Sergio Busquets, while Dani Alves missed out through suspension, the match started well for the Catalans as Jeffren Suarez and Thierry Henry took advantage of rare starts to put the hosts 2-up early on. Barca’s backline, missing Gerard Pique from the off, however conceded midway through the first half, and it wasn’t until Zlatan struck that the basement club began to wilt.
That Zlatan (2.00 to score) was the star of the night against Xerez threw a potential spanner in the works for Guardiola ahead of the visit of Inter. The Swede was coming off an awful week at the Nou Camp after an inept performance in the first-leg at the San Siro in which Ibrahimovic looked uninterested, and distinctly off the pace. Although carrying a knock, Zlatan’s horrendous performance at Inter was encapsulated by the stat that he he only managed to run 400 meters further than keeper Victor Valdes in the match.
While Messi and Pedro will more than likely start against Inter, Zlatan’s starting berth could yet go to young Bojan Krkic or even Thierry Henry (2.50 to score). Further back in midfield, responsibility will fall on the fantastic puppeteer Xavi Hernandez (4.50 to score) to pull the strings, while Busquets and Keita should provide the muscle. While in defence, with Adibal still out through injury, Maxwell will continue at right-back with Carles Puyol, Gaby Milito and Dani Alves filling out the backline in front of the excellent Victor Valdes.
While Barca were ringing the changes at the weekend, so were Inter Milan in their 3-1 victory over Atalanta. Jose Mourinho made six changes to the side that beat Barcelona, with only keeper Julio Cesar, captain Javier Zanetti, Welsey Sneijder, Diego Milito (2.50 to score) and Samuel Eto’o (9.00 to score first, 3.60 to score) retaining their places.
The victory at the weekend came at a potentially heavy price for Inter, as their star of the season Welsey Sneijder was forced off early with a hamstring strain. The playmaker will presumably be given until the last minute to prove his fitness before kick-off on Wednesday, but in all likelihood the Dutchman will be missing with his injury. Â Sneijder’s potential absence is made all the more worse for Inter considering Dejan Stankovic will also be out through suspension. Inter’s selection headaches deepen as troublesome forward Mario Balotelli appears to have played his last match for the club after his tantrum at the end of the first leg, while striker Goran Pandev (4.35 to score) is also a fitness doubt having missing the match at the weekend with a thigh injury.
Thankfully for Mourinho, he has one of the largest and most talented squads in Serie A at his disposal in order to cope with his missing in action.
Depending on whether Sneijder pulls through though, Inter’s midfield could be significantly weakened. While Zanetti is a certain starter alongside Esteban Cambiassio, question-marks remain over who will be the creator in the middle of the park in the Dutchman’s absence. It seems hugely doubtful the peripheral players such as Marko Arnautovic or Ricardo Quaresma will be handed a chance to shine, while the likelier option being the inclusion of the more defensive options of Sulley Muntari (8.00 to score) or Thiago Motta.
This could set up a classic Spanish versus Italian scenario in which Inter may look to soak up pressure from the Catalans and look to hit their opponents on the counter-attack. Such tactics may not be the preference of the Special One, however having brought Inter this far in the competition he will surely be confident of taking them to the final too.
101gg predicts: Barcelona 2 – Inter Milan 1 (8.00)