Inter target improved defence in quarters


MILAN – Inter Milan will be hoping to produce an improved defensive display when they host Schalke 04 in the Champions League quarter-final, first leg at the San Siro on Tuesday. Defensive solidity was one thing missing from their hugely disappointing 3-0 top-of-the-table derby defeat to AC Milan in Serie A on Saturday.
Coach Leonardo believes Andrea Ranocchia, who only joined from Genoa in January as cover for Samuel, has the potential to be a mainstay at both club and international level for many years to come. “Ranocchia is doing great this year, he’s taken a big step up since January,” said the Brazilian. “He has a huge future here at Inter and with the Italian national team. The game against Milan was a test of maturity for him and he did very well.”
Inter have conceded the most goals of any team left in the competition from the group stages onwards — Tottenham’s three goals conceded in the last qualifying round would otherwise mean they have leaked one more than Inter. They have also lost three times: at home to Bayern and away to Spurs and Werder Bremen, whereas Schalke’s only loss came away to Lyon.
The Italians, the reigning champions, come into the game low on confidence following their crucial derby defeat that leaves their hopes of winning a sixth Serie A title in a row looking bleak. But captain Javier Zanetti is staying positive. “Now we have to look forwards, there are still seven games left (in the league), we’re in the Champions League quarter-finals and the Cup semi-finals,” he said.
But there is much to encourage a Schalke side whose coach Ralf Rangnick was at the San Siro on Saturday night to run the rule over their European opponents. “With the successful experiences and performances this team has produced away from home this season, it will make things easier for us and we go to Milan with great anticipation,” he said.
Meanwhile, Real Madrid saw their flawless home record come to an end on the weekend and Tottenham Hotspur will hope they can become the latest side to win at the Santiago Bernabeu as they travel to Madrid on Tuesday for the first leg of their Champions League quarter final tie. Jose Mourinho has guided Real to the last eight of the competition for the first time since 2004 but watched on as his 150 match unbeaten league home record was surprisingly ended by Gijon and Madrid, now eight points behind Barcelona in the league, must dust themselves off for the Tottenham clash.
Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp has never come out on top against Mourinho when the two pitted their wits against each other in the Premier League, although Mourinho was at big-spending Chelsea, while Redknapp was in charge of Portsmouth and Southampton. “He (Mourinho) has beaten me the five teams that I have faced him, but Chelsea beat everyone and don’t forget I was with Portsmouth,” said Redknapp.
Tottenham start as underdogs but can take heart from their 1-0 win at AC Milan in the last round and the fact that Madrid have lost their last two Champions League knockout matches against English opposition, crashing out at the last 16 stage to Arsenal in 2006 and then Liverpool in 2009.
Mourinho, bidding to become the first ever manager to win the Champions League with three different clubs, has injury problems for the home tie with Brazilian full back Marcelo, French forward Karim Benzema and star man Cristiano Ronaldo all doubtful.
The absence of top-scorer Ronaldo, struggling with a hamstring injury, is the biggest concern and Mourinho said the two would sit down and decide if they should gamble on his fitness against Tottenham. “If he (Ronaldo) has a chance to play, it’s because he and his coach are taking a risk,” said Mourinho. “The information from the medical department is that he can’t play and that he can only play in Athletic Bilbao. I will talk with the injured players and decided if we will risk them.”
“Tottenham are an ambitious team with very good players and a good manager. You sense it is a happy team and happy teams are dangerous teams.” Redknapp, 64, has said he believes Ronaldo and company will play and Madrid also have Argentine striker Gonzalo Higuain back fit after he played his first game since late November as a second half substitute in the 1-0 loss against Sporting.