Well everyone, here it is. Tomorrow Inter starts their defense of the Champions League. For Twente, they will be playing their first every Champions League group stage game, ever. Emotions will be running high all around. Both teams want to make a good start to the campaign but only one of us can win. This game will also be a test for Rafa. After Inter's terrible showing in the UEFA Supercup, he has to show that he has what it takes to motivate the team, even one rattled by injuries. On paper, Inter has the stats to win this tie, but we all know that football is played on paper. This will be a battle of mentalities - whoever wants it more will take the day. I admit, I am nervous (I always am before big games), but I also have faith in the talent of our squad. We just need to believe. All of us. Right now.
What: FC Twente v Inter, Champions League Group A Matchday 1
Where: De Grolsch Veste Stadium, Enschede
When: Tuesday, September 14, 8:45pm local time (11:45am pacific, 2:45pm eastern)
How to Watch: Live on Fox Soccer Channel, ppv on UEFA's web site, or find a stream: MyP2P, Rojadirecta, Ustream, and ATDHE.net.
I will be at work so Kirby has kindly offered to host the liveblog on his board.
He will go live 15 minutes before kick off (11:30am pacific, 2:30pm eastern).
The Dutch Eredivisie has been in session for a couple weeks now and Twente already have 5 league games under their belt (a far cry from Inter's measly 2). They sit in third place right now, with a record of 3 wins and 2 draws. They have scored 9 goals while only allowing 1 (also a far cry from Inter's measly 2). Twenty won their last fixture 1-2, on the road against VVV Venlo. Twente's two big scorers are Luuk de Jong (4 goals in 2 games) and Marc Janko (3 goals in 2 games). Clearly, they know how to find the back of the net. Given that they have only conceded one goal, I think it is fair to say they also know a thing or two about defense.
Twente's stadium, the setting for tomorrow's epic encounter. It only holds 24,000 - what do you bet it is full to the gills.
Much like Inter, Twente lost their championship-winning coach over the summer when Steve McClaren moved to Wolfsburg. That makes comparisons with last year's team, the team that qualified for the champions league, a little difficult. I know they lost Blaise N'kufo, one of the top scorers for the club (he now plays for the Seattle Sounders), but that is basically the limit of my Twente-lore. According to what I have read, Twente usually play a 4-4-2, but given that this is their first Champions League Group stage game, ever, they may go for something a bit more defensive, like a 4-5-1, with Janko, De Jong, and Parker vying for a place up top. Or maybe not.
To muddy the waters further, they played a 4-3-3 on the weekend, which was much more attacking as the formation managed to include both of Twente's high scorers.
No matter who is out there, there are a couple things we can know for sure:
1) They will be young. All but 5 of the first team is over the age of 25, and that includes the two reserve keepers and the captain of the team and even he is only 30. If their weekend game is any indication, Wisgerhof, that 30-year old captain will be the oldest player on their squad.
2) To say this team is motivated is an understatement. They are clearly the Cinderella team in the bunch and they want to make the most of this opportunity.
Despite the huge chasm between Inter and Twente on paper, Defender Wout Brama insists Twente can win, saying:
"I'm looking ahead with a lot of excitement. It'll be hard but we have a chance. We always create chances at home. The most important thing is not to approach this match like it's a little bonus. It's the UEFA Champions League and we're the Dutch champions. We have to show that."
That is to say, they are totally going to bring it.
That's what I like to see - game faces all around.
Rafa has already chosen his group to go the Netherlands, and a happy surprise, Maicon is on it:
Goalkeepers: Julio Cesar, Castellazzi, Orlandoni.
Defenders: Cordoba, Zanetti, Lucio, Maicon, Materazzi, Samuel, Chivu, Santon.
Midfielders: Sneijder, Muntari, Mariga, Cambiasso, Obi, Coutinho.
Strikers: Eto'o, Milito, Pandev, Biabiany.
Stankovic is still suffering from his muscle fatigue while Thiago Motta and Mancini are also still injured (remember, Suazo isn't on the CL list). Although all three were called up, Chivu, Maicon, and Santon will have to pass a late fitness test tomorrow before they play*. As Rafa says, we still have 24 hours. Everyone cross your fingers because, as you will notice, all three of those players are full backs - a position we have very little coverage for anyway. Plus, even if Santon is finally ready to come back, is this really the game for him to test his legs? I dont envy Rafa. He must be pulling what little hair he has left out over this.
UPDATE: Training is over for the day and both Maicon and Stanton played the whole session with the squad. Chivu trained apart with physical therapy and light aerobics.
As for formation, there isn't too much to say here. The only question is: will Rafa stick with the 4-2-3-1 or, given that Eto'o is in much better form than Milito, switch to the 4-3-1-2. (When asked if he would play Eto'o closer to the goal, Rafa joked: "He keeps scoring, so if I move him closer to goal he'll have to play as goalkeeper...") Basically, at this point, your guess is as good as mine. Oh, who am I kidding, your guess is probably better than mine. I will admit, I think I might prefer the 4-3-1-2, only because it seems a bit more defensive and will maybe provide a bit more coverage for those fast counters that we have so much trouble with. So, the formation may not be exactly this, but the players will likely be:
Maicon (fingers crossed) Lucio Samuel Chivu/Zanetti
Pandev Sneijder Eto'o
If Zanetti isn't needed in defense, Mariga could start instead of Pandev, playing in a 3-man midfield, then Sniejder as the pivot, and Eto'o and Milito up top, but it is still pretty much the same old thing. Not that this is bad, only there really isn't all that much to discuss. It is what it is. Once Thiago Motta and Santon fully recover, then maybe we could see a little switching around. Until then, the line-up is pretty much set.
Come on guys, lets look a bit more confident.
Rafa has said that it is all "down to us," and:
"We have studied Twente. They play good and intense football and it will be crucial to face them with the right mentality because they will want to celebrate their first game in the Champions League. But the most important thing is us. If we do well we can win the match. I don't like talking about opponents much or adapting to them. The important thing is us and what we do, and this goes for tomorrow's game and the future, too."
I would love to say I had any idea what Rafa's Inter looked like. By necessity, it contains almost the exact same players as Mou's, but how his changes will manifest themselves, who can say. I can say what he seems to like, though. He seems to want more possession, although as we all know, possession does not equal goals. He seems to want a more tika taka game, although why that is better or more effective than what the team had been doing, I just dont know. Rafa says he needs weeks and weeks to work it out, well, we dont have weeks and weeks. We have a matter of hours before we play our first Champions League game of the season. And frankly, if we cant get out of this group, we dont deserve to be in the competition any way.
THE PEP TALK
Sure, they are young, but Inter has experience and in a tournament like the Champions League, that counts for quite a bit. Until they award the trophy to some other team, Inter are still the European Champions, and, quite frankly, that trumps the Dutch Champions hands down. If Inter play like the European Champions they are, then we will win this game. In fact, I will go one further: if Milito scores a goal, we will win this game. Inter just has to go out there like they did against Moscow and Chelsea and Barcelona at the San Siro - Inter needs to go out there like they own the place and know in their hearts that each and every one of them are the very best at what they do. Yep. This game will all be in the head. Think it, believe it, know it. Luckily, now that the boys have a taste for glory, they find they like it (follow the link, watch the video). I think they want it, I just hope they have the legs to grab this victory.
Because I would really rather win this game than not. So no mistakes. Lets start this tourney out on the right foot.
Just to remind ourselves what is at stake: