The Italian Job

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On Wednesday evening at the San Siro Arry’s Eleven need to be at their slick best to escape with the goods. A point, although feasible, is still unlikely. Then there’s the heist-of-the-century three. The mighty Tottenham Hotspur conquer Europe’s conquerors? I can’t see it, but as journalists and pundits roundly agree – it’s going to be unmissable.

The fascinating thing about such an encounter is the individual battles. Having spent years considering ourselves a better club than we were, we’ve finally become a formidable outfit. Lesser teams now weigh up their options against us. How do we nullify the threat of Bale? How do we stop Huddlestone spraying Hoddle-esque passes the length and breadth of the pitch? What in God’s name do we do about the marauding Dutch master van der Vaart?

‘Arry has already (thankfully) considered the fact that we cannot employ our usual gun-ho style of attack. But given Inter’s continuing defensive set-up, Sneijder and Eto’o aside, many of the battles are between our attack and their defensive. I can’t see them turning us over, but it’s whether we can penetrate their defensive. An unlikely scenario, perhaps, for a Spurs side who ship goals in both ends.

Redknapp vs Benitez

Rafa got a bit of stick after leaving Liverpool. This is the same manager who won the Champions’ League, reached the final two years’ later, won the FA Cup and deserved to win the Premier League in ’08. The man deserves a huge amount of respect, and he’s inherited a wonderful side from an even better manager. So far he’s led Inter to their best defensive start for 20 years and, having pushed him into the centre, has seen Eto’o in explosive form. This is his competition and he will be at his tactical best.

‘Arry for all his successes over the last couple of years could be found out here. We wait and see.

Maicon vs Bale

‘Arry has often claimed that Bale – along with Modric and van der Vaart – could get into any team. Such statements will be firmly put to the test. Is Bale as good as we think he is? We’ll soon find out when he faces up against one of the finest right-backs in the world. We know Bale has the confidence to take-on anyone, and I’m sure he’ll relish the challenge, but whether or not he comes out on top is another matter. Lennon – if he plays down the right – will need to find the dazzling form of last season. He showed glimpses on Saturday, and maybe he can continue it on Wednesday.

Eto’o vs Gallas

Losing Milito to injury – last season’s star player and scorer of both goals in the Champions’ League final – seemed like a massive blow. But the Cameroonian international Eto’o has stepped up and really looked the part for Inter this season. Hopefully Gallas – who has experience at this level – will be fit enough to face him. But serious questions will be asked of Bassong and Kaboul, who no doubt struggle. As said, I can’t see us being thrashed, but if Eto’o is on form, this could happen, and we should be cautious to prevent this happening.

Crouch vs Lucio

The 6ft 2 defender is a legend of the game and a rock in the imperious Inter defence. Can Crouch – who will likely to start upfront alone – continue his fantastic Champions’ League form on Wednesday night? For all the criticism Crouch attracts, he has been outstanding for us this season, particularly when paired with van der Vaart (who will be sorely missed). I expect Crouch to spring a surprise again and be one of our best performers at the San Siro. Whilst we may rely on the pace of the likes of Lennon and Bale from the distribution of Huddlestone, we need to pose an aerial threat. I can’t see us passing our way through Inter.

Sneijder vs Huddlestone

Here is a Dutch Real Madrid cast-off that has flourished elsewhere in Europe. Sound familiar? I’ve heard our own Dutch master as being described as a poor man’s Sneijder. But if you had to be a poor man’s version of anything, it’d be the diminutive attacking midfielder. A few seasons ago, Huddlestone looked at home against weaker midfields, comfortably pulling the strings. On Wednesday he’ll be up against one of the finest midfielders in the world, and we’ll really get to see whether he’s able to balance defensive and attacking duties like the best of them. We should see Jenas, Huddlestone and Modric in the middle. But maybe he’ll shock us all and stick Bale at left-back and bring Palacios in the mix too.

By Anthony Pearce

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