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Europa Match Preview: Inter Milan vs. Celtic

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Tomorrow Inter host Celtic in the return leg of the clubs' Europa League Round of 32 tie. With the aggregate from the first match standing at 3-3, there is everything to play for at the San Siro on Thursday.

Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

MATCH INFO:

Date: Thursday February 26, 2015

Venue: Stadio Giuseppe Meazza; Milan, Italy

Time: 1:00pm ET / 19:00 CET

Tomorrow Inter will host Scottish side Celtic in the second leg of UEL Round of 32 tie. When you consider their three away goals from the first leg, the Nerazzurri have a slight advantage going into the match, but there is certainly still everything to play for at the San Siro on Thursday and Mancini's men are expected to get the result they need to advance.

Just a quick note about the two sides' current league form: Celtic are top of the Scottish Premierhsip by a 3-point margin with a game in hand, while Inter have now risen to 8th in Serie A, due in large part to having won their last three league matches (and scoring nine goals in the process).

Regarding this match, a positive outcome for Mancini's side will be dependent on a few factors - most notably the overall performance of the back four and defensive midfielders. After experiencing firsthand the pace and strength of Celtic's attack, it seems likely that Mancini will go with a more youthful back line in order to bolster Inter's defense.

Seeing that Inter only need a win or a draw (if they hold Celtic to two goals or less) to advance, a positive result at home certainly seems attainable. But this is Inter we're talking about, and we'd be remiss to assume any result against any opposing side.

Inter will definitely be without long-term absentees Jonathan and Yuto Nagatomo, and will also likely be without Marco Andreolli in defense, as he is are questionable for tomorrow's match. This means that Inter will have to rely on the play of Davide Santon and Juan Jesus, who have both been solid in the Inter defense lately. Though Handanovic has reportedly returned to fitness, it is likely that Carrizo will start this match.

Likewise, both Marcelo Brozovic and Lukas Podolski are unavailable for the match due to UEFA regulations, so it is likely that Rodrigo Palacio will get another start after being left off the bench in Monday's 2-1 victory over Cagliari.

Mauro Icardi's performance will be paramount to a positive result for Inter. The Argentine striker has not performed at the same level in the Europa League as he has in Serie A, and he will need to make his presence felt in this match (and remaining Europa matches) if Inter are to advance.

Hopefully, Xherdan Shaqiri will receive more support from the back, and will be better able to service the wingers and forwards if he makes another start in the trequartista role for the Nerazzuri (as is expected). This support will be dependent on the continued exceptional play Fredy Guarin, who has been fantastic over the last several games for Inter.

It goes without saying that the back line will have to play above their abilities to hold Celtic's hungry attackers. This is clearly Inter's greatest weakness, and the back four will have to be focused and cued in for the whole ninety minutes or Inter could see their slim advantage slip away.

My prediction: Inter 1-0 Celtic

PROJECTED STARTING XIs:

Inter: Carrizo; Dodo, Juan Jesus, Ranocchia, Santon; Guarin, Medel, Kuzmanovic; Shaqiri; Palacio, Icardi

Celtic: Gordon; Matthews, Denayer, Van Diijk, Izaguirre; Bitton, Brown; Commons, Johansen, Armstrong; Guidetti

(Projected XIs courtesy Forza Italian Football)