Unpredictable Inter face tough examination at Marseille
Reuters Wednesday, February 22, 2012, 12:03 am TWN
MARSEILLE, France -- Inter Milan's season has been so up and down few fans would be shocked if they put on a stunning show at Olympique Marseille in Wednesday's Champions League Last 16 first leg despite poor recent form.
The 2010 European champions have lost their last two Serie A home games in embarrassing fashion, going down 1-0 to relegation-threatened Novara and then being outplayed 3-0 by strugglers Bologna.
The defeats have led some supporters to call for coach Claudio Ranieri's dismissal despite the former Chelsea, Juventus and AS Roma coach having previously revitalized the club after a dreadful start to the season under Gian Piero Gasperini.
Inter rose from the lower reaches of Serie A to the top four but now they are back down in seventh, with the Champions League looking like the only trophy they can win having also been dumped out of the Italian Cup as holders.
"There is a good team here and the club is healthy and strong," Ranieri told Italian TV.
The coach then turned his attentions to fit-again Dutch midfielder Wesley Sneijder who has been in and out of the team in recent weeks.
"He's not a problem but a solution — but at the right time," said Ranieri. "I think an Inter coach is duty-bound to try to integrate players with a special quality.
"I'll have to take some decisions and I will," added the coach who may be glad his aging team are away in the first leg.
Models of Consistency
In contrast to Inter's rollercoaster form, Marseille have been models of consistency of late and have not lost in any competition for 15 games stretching back to November's Champions League group stage defeat at home to Olympiakos Piraeus.
The Champions League is one arena where the 1993 winners have not outshone Inter, Didier Deschamps's side scraping through with a last-gasp 3-2 victory at Borussia Dortmund while the Italians advanced as group winners.
Inter lost twice though, notably in their San Siro opener against Turkish debutants Trabzonspor.
Ranieri has no new injury worries to complicate an already difficult task of reviving his team for the Stade Velodrome clash although defender Walter Samuel could return after injury and Diego Forlan is finally available having been cup-tied.
Marseille are without France striker Loic Remy who has been ruled out for three weeks with a thigh injury.
Jordan and Andre Ayew have come back from the African Nations Cup, where they reached the semifinals with Ghana, and at least one of them should start up front.
France midfielder Alou Diarra, replaced at halftime in the fourth-placed team's 1-1 home Ligue 1 draw against Valenciennes on Saturday after taking a blow on his toe, is expected to be fit.
"He was better on Sunday but we have to wait a little bit. It doesn't seem to be serious so we hope he will be there against Inter," assistant coach Guy Stephan told the club's website.
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