New Delhi: Although Inter have started the Serie A season in highly impressive fashion, earning a massive six-point lead ahead of eternal rivals Juventus and Milan, in the Champions League they have almost always disappointed so far.
That they have still managed to qualify for the next stage with one game to spare, after collecting just eight points, only indicates how sub-standard this Group B really is.
What: Champions League Group B - Matchday Six
Who: Werder Bremen (4th, 4 points) vs Inter (1st, 8 points)
When: Tuesday 9 December 2009, Kick-off: 20:45 CET
Where: Weserstadion, Bremen
The Nerazzurri’s dominance in Serie A has perhaps become even more emphatic since coach Jose Mourinho’s arrival, as they have already beaten some top-class opposition such as Juventus, Roma, and Lazio this season.
However, the Portuguese coach was brought in mainly to bring European success - after all, his predecessor Roberto Mancini already led the team to three consecutive league titles, and could only be faulted for Inter’s failures in the Champions League.
Mourinho has been asked a number of times why his side seem to have a different identity in Europe compared to Serie A, where they have thrashed the likes of Roma and Lazio on their own pitch.
The coach has put it down to the fact that Inter were drawn in too easy a group, and that complacency crept into his side after they earned seven points in their first three games.
A lack of concentration in their subsequent games against Anorthosis Famagusta, who held Inter to a 3-3 draw in Cyprus, and Panathinaikos, who beat them 1-0 at San Siro, was cited as the reason for the Nerazzurri’s struggles.
By saying that his team need a big-name opponent to perform well in the Champions League, Mourinho has already put huge pressure on the team and himself for the upcoming knock-out matches.
It seems more evident than ever that Inter and their coach will be almost completely judged on what they achieve in the Champions League. Of course, that may seem cruel, because in this competition you also need a lot of luck and you have to perform at exactly the right time, without needing the consistency that is required to win a league, which is one of Inter’s main strengths.
But the fact is that not reaching the most important European Cup final for 36 years is pretty shocking for a club of Inter’s fame.
The situation in Group B still sees Inter needing a victory in this match to secure the top spot, so this is a good opportunity for the team to show they can do important things in Europe as well.
Beating Werder away from home is not an easy task, even though Panathinaikos showed it can be done by triumphing 3-0 at the Weserstadion on the 4th matchday. The German side, who have yet to win a match in this group, will not be without an agenda of their own, as they still have a chance to seal a UEFA Cup spot by finishing third, although qualfication for the last 16 is no longer possible.
Werder Looking To Salvage UEFA Cup Spot
It’s been a disappointing season so far for Werder Bremen, who finished second in the Bundesliga last season, as they are dangling in the middle of the table with 11 points behind joint leaders 1899 Hoffenheim and Bayern Munich in the German league.
In the Champions League, Thomas Schaaf’s side were eliminated after the 2-2 draw away to Anorthosis in their last match, their fourth draw in five matches in the competition.
Clearly the decisive moment in their demise was the 3-0 home defeat by Panathinaikos in the fourth game, although starting off with a 0-0 home draw against Cypriot debutants Anorthosis was also hardly promising.
They followed that up with a creditable 1-1 draw away to Inter, but ruined everything by earning just one point against Panathinaikos, who had failed to get a single point before facing Werder.
They still have a chance to make it into the UEFA Cup, and they will be certainly motivated to get their first victory of the section against Inter, but they will also be dependent on the result of Panathinaikos-Anorthosis Famagusta.
Anything less than a win against the Italian champions will knock them out of Europe altogether, but even three points would not be enough in the (admittedly unlikely) event that Panathinaikos lose to Anorthosis.
Certainly Werder can take heart from their performance in the earlier game against Inter at San Siro, in which they never looked second best and were always threatening going forward. Still, it must be said that Inter were not in full swing yet as Mourinho was still looking for his best formation.
The Nerazzurri’s defence in particular has improved notably, although it remains to be seen if they will play with the same formation as in Serie A, or if Mourinho decides to rest some players in consideration of the fact Inter are already qualified.
A similar situation occurred in the 2004/2005 season, in which Inter and Werder were also drawn in the same group.
The Nerazzurri, then led by Roberto Mancini in his first season at the club, managed to qualify after just four games, making the fifth one against the German side almost academic, although they still had to secure first place.
On that occasion, Valerien Ismaël opened the score from the penalty spot in the 50th minute, but Obafemi Martins equalised for Inter six minutes later. Werder ended up second in the group and qualified along with Inter.
06/12 (Bundesliga): Karlsruher SC-Werder Bremen 1-0
29/11 (Bundesliga): Werder Bremen-Eintracht Frankfurt 5-0
26/11 (Champions League): Anorthosis Famagusta-Werder Bremen 2-2
23/11 (Bundesliga): Hamburger SV-Werder Bremen 2-1
16/11 (Bundesliga): Werder Bremen-1.FC Köln 3-1
06/12 (Serie A): Lazio-Inter 0-3
30/11 (Serie A): Inter-Napoli 2-1
26/11 (Champions League): Inter-Panathinaikos 0-1
22/11 (Serie A): Inter-Juventus 1-0
15/11 (Serie A): Palermo-Inter 0-2
Daniel Jensen, Martin Harnik, Petri Pasanen, and Boubacar Sanogo are injured, while Diego is suspended.
Possible formation (4-4-2): Wiese; Fritz, Naldo, Mertesacker, Tosic; Baumann, Frings, Hunt, Özil; Almeida, Pizarro.
Christian Chivu, Patrick Vieira, Julio Cruz, and Walter Samuel are out injured for this one. Adriano and Mario Balotelli make their return to the squad after being left out for the match against Lazio.
Possible formation (4-3-3): Julio Cesar; Maicon, Cordoba, Materazzi, Maxwell; Zanetti, Cambiasso, Bolzoni; Figo, Adriano, Balotelli.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Claudio Pizarro (Werder Bremen)
The experienced striker has scored his only Champions League goal of the season so far in the earlier match against Inter at San Siro. The Peruvian also found the net when he faced the Nerazzurri at San Siro with Bayern Munich’s shirt in the 2006/2007 group stage.
It seems he is more comfortable playing in the Bundesliga than anywhere else, as he did not succeed in his short stint at Chelsea, whom he joined in 2007 but left on loan last summer. So far he has already found the net 10 times for Werder, the club he had already played for between 1999 and 2001, before enjoying a successful six-year stint at Bayern.
Mario Balotelli (Inter)
Mourinho has indicated that he will give the promising 18-year-old some playing time in this match after leaving him out of Inter’s last two league games due to lack of training discipline.
The youngster answered his coach’s criticism well by giving a dazzling performance for Inter’s Primavera youth team last weekend. Although he has shown he is able to show his class in important matches last season, having scored a number of important goals for Inter’s Scudetto push, he has also shown signs of arrogance and complacency, which certainly isn’t a good sign.
But if there is anyone who can teach him a good work ethic and discipline, it’s Mourinho.
Inter need a win to finish first, which along with the team’s desire to prove themselves on the international stage, will probably be enough motivation.
Still, with Inter in the Champions League you never know what could happen, and Werder’s desire to at least reach the Uefa Cup will also be strong.
But with Inter’s away form being very impressive this season (they’ve only managed to win by more than one goal away from home so far), I think they will end the group stage on a high and get a confidence boost ahead of the knockout rounds.
Werder Bremen-Inter 0-1