Match day 1 for us in the UEFA Champions League pits two clubs that historically have done a lot of business together and have a great relationship: Inter – Barcelona.
I have a lot of problems with the current format of the UCL – namely that it’s not a tournament of champions anymore - but there isn’t much doubt that this is the marquee match up of the first midweek culling.
More after the jump –
These two clubs have a lot of links to each other in addition to the most recent transfer window. Several players and coaches have made the jump from one club to the other.
Going a ways back, Luis Suarez spent 6 years with Barcelona winning La Liga 2 times and the Inter City Fairs Cup (now the Europa Cup) 1 time. Suarez was named the European Footballer of the Year in 1960 right before he left Barcelona for Inter. With Inter Luis won 3 Serie A titles and back to back European Cups (now the Champions League) and 2 Intercontinental Cups (now the World Club Cup).
Helenio Herrera , otherwise known as HH, was a manager at both clubs. Like Suarez, HH was at Barcelona first, from 1958-1960 winning 2 La Liga titles and 2 Inter City Fairs Cup. HH moved on to Inter and stayed from 1960 to 1968 where he won 3 Serie A titles and back to back European and Intercontinental Cups.
A little closer to recent events, Luis Figo played for Barcelona and Inter. Figo, one of the absolute greats of all time, played at Barcelona from 1995-2000 instead of going to Juventus or Parma– where he had signed contracts with both clubs and was banned from signing for either - during the same transfer window. Figo won a Cup Winners Cup, UEFA Super Cup and 2 La Liga titles. Figo signed with Inter in the twilight of his career in 2005 and played until he retired last season. He won 4 Serie A titles while here.
Of course, a much younger version of Jose Mourinho spent time at Barcelona as an interpreter for their English manager, Bobby Robson in 1995. He stayed on for the next few years and has always proclaimed that he would like to go back to the club as he felt very comfortable there. This is of course Mourinho’s second year at Inter, and he said that the club is halfway in transition from being Mancini’s team to becoming his own.
Ricardo Quaresma played for Barcelona for a season when he was 20 years old in 2003. He made about 20 apps and scored only 1 goal before he injured his foot.
Thiago Motta showed a lot of promise but found limited playing time in a very crowded Barcelona midfield from 1999 though 2006. Thiago had suffered several injury setbacks and was subsequently shipped off to Madrid and from there he spent a year at Genoa until landing in Milan.
Maxwell came to Inter from Ajax in 2006 and immediately took over the left fullback spot. However, recently he has seen limited playing time as both Chivu and Santon have proven to be better at playing defence and we have better options at midfield. A skilled player, but perhaps not too mentally strong.
Lastly of course, we have the Ibra and Eto’o switch which has everyone excited for this most recent game.
According to UEFA.com, Inter have lost just one of 15 home matches against Spanish clubs. The Nerazzurri achieved the first of their two European Cup successes by defeating Real Madrid CF 3-1 in the 1964 final in Vienna.
This is Barcelona's sixth trip to San Siro and their record there is W2 D1 L2. Barça beat Milan 1-0 on their last visit in the 2005/06 UEFA Champions League semi-final, Ludovic Giuly's 57th-minute strike the only goal of the tie.
Barcelona lifted the European Cup for the first time after beating Italy's UC Sampdoria 1-0 in the 1992 final at Wembley. They lost the 1994 final 4-0 to Milan.
Barcelona are aiming to become the first team to defend the European crown since AC Milan in 1989/90. Inter are seeking a first European Champion Clubs' Cup since back-to-back wins in 1964 and 1965.
In the sides' first meeting Barcelona were convincing 3-0 winners in the UEFA Champions League second group stage at the Camp Nou on 26 February 2002. Goals from Javier Saviola, Phillip Cocu and Patrick Kluivert secured an eleventh successive victory, still a competition record.
The return the following week produced a goalless draw and both teams progressed to the quarter-finals, Barcelona as group winners. Yet Inter went further that season, reaching the last four.
Inter's Javier Zanetti and Barcelona pair Carles Puyol and Xavi Hernández played in both matches, with Andrés Iniesta an unused substitute at San Siro.
Mourinho named his squad of 22 for this game today:
Goalkeepers: 1 Francesco Toldo, 12 Julio Cesar, 21 Paolo Orlandoni.
Defenders: 2 Ivan Ramiro Cordoba, 4 Javier Zanetti, 6 Lucio, 13 Maicon, 25 Walter Samuel, 26 Cristian Chivu, 39 Davide Santon.
Midfielders: 5 Dejan Stankovic, 7 Ricardo Quaresma, 8 Thiago Motta, 10 Wesley Sneijder, 11 Sulley Muntari, 14 Patrick Vieira, 15 René Krhin, 19 Esteban Cambiasso.
Strikers: 9 Samuel Eto'o, 18 David Suazo, 22 Diego Milito, 45 Mario Balotelli.
I would anticipate the 4312 formation. Cambiasso is out and Deki is a question mark. If were up to me the team would look like this:
12 Julio Cesar
13 Maicon 6 Lucio 25 Samuel 39 Santon
4 J. Zanetti 8 Motta 11 Muntari
22 Milito 9 Eto'o
But I think that the team will end up looking like this:
12 Julio Cesar
13 Maicon 6 Lucio 25 Samuel 26 Chivu
4 J. Zanetti 5 Stankovic 8 Thiago Motta
22 Milito 9 Eto'o
The tactics are frighteningly simple.
First we must find a way to pressure the Barcelona defence. That’s it. Full stop. We’re not going to stop Messi. We’re not going to stop Ibra. We have to somehow limit their midfield possession and make their midfielders go backwards and pressure the back line. Easier said than done, but there it is.
Second we have to play the width. If Barcelona has an overall team weakness it’s making them play defence near the sidelines. Messi and Henry are useless defensively, the midfielders – like ours - play pinched in and the fullbacks are really average going backwards. Maicon and, I hope, Santon, need to take advantage of the space that they are likely to encounter.
Third we must be physical. There are a lot of small, quick, skillful players on the Barcelona team. We need to gain a tactical advantage and put it in their minds that we will be closing down quickly on them. We need to make them a little jumpy. In the words of Al Davis in my best Brooklyn accent, “Messi must go down, and he must go down hard.”
Lastly, we need to score. Chelsea showed the error of playing the 9-1 formation. Barca is going to score 1. It’s best that we all come to terms with that fact now. We need to score.
"We want to be protagonists in the Champions League until the end," said a confident Javier Zanetti in today's press conference ahead of tomorrow's big match against Barcelona.
"It's a good thing to meet Barcelona in the first match," continued the Inter captain. It's important to start against a great team. We can check our form. This match can tell us a lot and we are making our best preparations for it."
At the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza tomorrow night Zanetti will face his countryman and national team companion Lionel Messi. "He is a fantastic player. We talked about this match when we were with the national team and he is very motivated, but Barcelona are not just Messi so we will have to be careful," said Zanetti. "It's important for Inter to play its game and we are preparing for it so we don't concede spaces to their men who are capable of making the difference."
If Barcelona are not just Messi, Inter were not only Zlatan Ibrahimovic. "I don't know how the fans will welcome him," admitted the Inter captain. "He did very well when he was here with us and we won a lot together. He was part of the team and, as always, the team won thanks to the work of everybody. Now we have Samuel Eto'o who is adapting very well and he has already scored some important goals."
He said: "I don't want to think that Barcelona are favourites, but we can't hide the fact that they have been playing together for a long time. They have two new players while we have five, some of whom arrived two months ago, or a month ago, or even two weeks ago. We are still 'under construction'.
"Barcelona is a school of football which has had the same philosophy for many years. We want to play in a different way and we want to become a school of football, with our characteristics, suited to both Italian and European football. Those who write that we have to win at all costs, don't understand anything about football. There are teams like Barcelona, Chelsea and Manchester United who remain same, and there are others like Inter, Real Madrid who still have to be built."
Inevitably, the Inter coach was asked about his former striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and his new one Samuel Eto'o. "On Ibra I will say the same things I said after the match with Parma. I'm fond of him, I hope he scores and scores, but I can't wish him anything positive for tomorrow, and I can imagine that Barcelona will say the same thing about Eto'o. The Ibra transfer was the ideal deal that made everyone happy: Ibra, Guardiola, me and Eto'o. The club has done a great job on the transfer market. With fifty million euros for Ibra we got Milito, Lucio, Thiago Motta, Sneijder and Eto'o, who are all starters tomorrow.
"As for Samuel, he's not a kid. He's a professional and I don't think he has any special motivations for tomorrow's match. He is always motivated, he's born to win and he left Barcelona without any negative feelings. As for the match, it's not a knockout match or a question of life or death. It's one of six group games."
Mourinho left journalists open-mouthed by announcing his starting eleven to face Barcelona. "Julio Cesar; Maicon, Samuel, Lucio and Chivu; Stankovic or Muntari, Zanetti, Sneijder and Motta. Milito and Eto'o.
Near as I can tell Guardiola has taken 19 outfield players and 2 goalkeepers with him to Milan:
Goalkeepers: Valdes, Pinto
Defenders: Alves, Pique, Marquez, Puyol, Gabriel Milito, Maxwell, Chygrynskiy, Abidal
Midfielders: Xavi, Iniesta, Keita, Toure, Busquets
Forwards: Ibrahimovic, Messi, Krkic, Henry, Pedro, Suarez
My best guess at a formation is a modified 433 with Messi playing withdrawn a bit to the point of making it look a lot like a 41212 with the middle rhombus tight:
Alves, Piqué, Puyol, Maxwell
Xavi, Toure, Iniesta
Messi, Ibrahimovic, Henry
Barcelona midfielder Xavi has praised the impact made by new striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
The Sweden international has scored twice since joining Barca from Inter Milan over the summer in a swap deal which involved Samuel Eto'o going the opposite way. But it is in the dressing room where Ibrahimovic has made the biggest impact, according to Spain midfielder Xavi.
He said: ''He is beginning an adventure that will last for five years. 'He has surprised me because he jokes a lot when I thought he would be more serious.
''Everyone said he was awkward but that is not the case. He is very likeable, he has adapted very well.''
Ibrahimovic makes a swift return to Inter this week as the two European giants lock horns in the Champions League. It will also see Inter coach and former Barca backroom staff member Jose Mourinho come up against his old employers and Xavi sees many similarities between the Portuguese and current Barca boss Pep Guardiola.
He added: ''I had three years with him (Mourinho) when he was an assistant to (Louis) Van Gaal and I learnt a lot. He is like Guardiola in that they are both obsessed by work.
''Perhaps Mourinho is more focused on defence while Pep is more romantic and wants to play well besides winning.''
This game is still only worth 3 points to the winner no matter what happens. It’s important to remember that winning or losing this game doesn’t mean that all the other competitions that we are involved in are over.
But make no mistake that both sides want this win. There is a certain amount of pride for Barcelona to continue to be the Champions and the home office in Milan definitely want some proof that the summer mercato was worth all the grief.
Besides, Moratti desperately wants to bring Inter back to the glory of his father’s reign. That means big eared trophies… or at least getting close enough to think about air fare to Spain in May.
In order to advance out the group stage we will need 8 points minimum. If we win at home and draw away against the Russian and Ukrainian teams that’s 8 points. If we want to have some elbow room we need to get a point or two against Barcelona. History says that we will have a better chance at home than at any other time.
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