Bayern Munich v Inter Milan, Champions League, March 15, 2011
One weekend, and things look very different ahead of Inter Milan’s trip to the Allianz Arena on Tuesday night in the Champions League.
Prior to last weekend’s matches, Inter, trailing 1-nil in the tie following Mario Gomez’s 90th minute winner at the San Siro, were confident of turning the last 16 match at Bayern. Despite looking to be just the second team in Champions League history to lose a first leg at home and yet still manage to progress (Ajax are the only team do have done so, way back in 1996 when theyÂ overturnedÂ Panathiniakos in the semi-final), there were plenty of signs of encouragement for the reigning champs.
Since their Italian triumph, Bayern had slumped dramatically. Home defeats to Dortmund and Schalke were followed by a horror away day at Hannover. And, as if three defeats on the spin wasn’t shocking enough, it was then announcedÂ that Louis van GaalÂ would beÂ abdicating his throne at the end of the season leading to further rumours that Bastian Schweinsteiger and Arjen Robben would also walk out the door this summer.
And just as the gates of hell appeared to be beckoning Bayern into it’s bosom, Hamburg – Munich’s bogeyÂ team – were then coming to town. The writing coould barely have been more on the wall had Banksy notÂ graffitiedÂ it there.
By contrast, since losing in the Champions League, Inter were very much on the up.
A 2-nil away win at Sampdoria and then a brilliant 5-2 thrashing of Genoa had blown away the cobwebs of the Munich smash-and-grab, and Samuel Eto’o’s 13th goal in 15 matches during the first half at Brescia on Friday night appeared to set up yet another triumph for the Nerazzurri.
Then everything turned upside-down.Â Brescia levelled late on against Inter, and the hosts could have taken all three points save for Julio Cesar’s late penalty save.
Contrasting Inter’s soft underbelly at Brescia, Bayern put in one of their performances of the season overturning Hamburg 6-nil. Arjen Robben chipped in which a hat-trick, Franck Ribery and Thomas Muller also got on the scoresheet, and suddenly the dark clouds over Munich had subsided for sunnier skies.
No longer are the Bavarians mourning the winter departure of Mark van Bommel (who some had cited as a reason for why Bayern had lost three on the spin). No longer are the Bavarians waiting for their next disaster to strike. Rather, one 90 minute turnaround has reinvigorated Bayern’s season and, beyond the Inter game, there is the quiet belief that Munich are the dark horses for theÂ ChampionsÂ League this term.
Inter’s draw at Brescia also came at a cost on the playing side of things. Centre-half Lucio picked up a muscle strain in the stalemate, and the Brazilian is unlikely to have recovered come kick-off. Ivan Cordoba is the natural stand-in, but after his terrible performance at Brescia few have confidence in the Colombian. Elsewhere, striker Giampaolo Pazzini is cup tied for the Champions League.
Inter, nevertheless, still have a star-studded side though to roll out in Germany. Cesar, Maicon, Zanetti, Ranocchia, Sneijder, Cambiasso, Stankovic and Eto’o should all line up in aÂ formidableÂ starting eleven.
But Bayern’s squad also looks shiny ahead of kick-off. Rib-Rob finally look like they are approaching their best again, Mario Gomez remains the league’s top goalscorer (despite his recent mini-drought), Thomas Muller is again amongst the goals, while Luiz Gustavo is slowly getting to grips with his new teammates following his purchase in the transfer window.
Should Inter be knocked out against Bayern – note, Inter have failed to win any away match in the tournament this season (drawing with Twente, losing to Spurs and Werder) – theÂ repercussionsÂ will likely lead to a wider conversation on the decline of the standard of Serie A as the Europe’s premier club competition would lose it’s last Italian participant. Could Ligue 1 snatch Italy’s fourth Champions League spot? It’s not a million miles away from happening.
At the same time, victory for Bayern would go some way to avenging their Champions League final loss to Inter last season, while also teeing up the Germans for yet another run at the top prize this year.
101g predicts: Bayern Munich 2 – Inter Milan 1