PREVIEW-Soccer-Depleted Inter seek miracle against Liverpool
By Mark Meadows
MILAN, March 10 (Reuters) – Inter Milan have problems in defence for Tuesday’s Champions League last 16, second leg against Liverpool where the Serie A leaders must overhaul a 2-0 first-leg deficit.
Marco Materazzi is suspended after his harsh red card for two first-half bookings in the first leg at Anfield while fellow centre-backs Walter Samuel and Ivan Cordoba are probably out for the season after knee ligament injuries.
Cristian Chivu missed Saturday’s 2-0 win over Reggina with a shoulder injury but is set to be fit for Tuesday when he may partner usual right-back Nicolas Burdisso in central defence.
Inter, who celebrated their centenary this weekend, did have some good injury news on Saturday when striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic returned from two weeks out with a knee problem.
First choice striker partner Julio Cruz also made the bench after injury and will be available against Liverpool but Hernan Crespo took a knock to the head and is a slight doubt.
Captain Javier Zanetti, a right midfielder nowadays, started at left back against Reggina with Maxwell injured and is expected to do the same on Tuesday unless Chivu plays there.
The Italian champions hope to repeat their 1965 European Cup semi-final performance when they lost 3-1 at Liverpool before winning 3-0 at home in the second leg on their way to lifting the trophy.
“Tuesday will have to be a special evening, one in which everything goes well,” Inter coach Roberto Mancini told reporters after Saturday’s victory.
“The team’s general state of health is not the best. We will need great concentration but you can be sure we will do our best.”
The second leg is being played a week after AC Milan lost to Arsenal to avoid the San Siro pitch from having two successive days of punishment as well as officials not wanting Arsenal and Liverpool fans in the city at the same time.
Liverpool’s off-field future, with media reports saying the club’s American owners are considering selling to new investors, has not affected their form on the pitch.
They have won five in a row since being dumped out of the FA Cup by Championship (second division) side Barnsley in mid-February, a run kick-started by their confident Anfield showing against Inter in the first leg.
Since then four successive league wins have put Liverpool firmly back in contention for a Champions League place, Saturday’s 3-0 home win over Newcastle cementing fourth spot and taking the Reds to within two points of third-placed Chelsea.
Jermaine Pennant, Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard scored in a performance coach Rafa Benitez said was the perfect preparation for facing Inter.
“We needed to win and we scored three goals and kept another clean sheet. We were also able to rest some players as well so it was perfect,” Benitez said.
Argentine midfielder Javier Mascherano missed the Newcastle game after suffering a dead leg and is an uncertain starter.
“I have confidence that Mascherano will be ok, but it is too soon to say,” the Spanish coach added.
Inter: 12-Julio Cesar; 13 Maicon, 16-Nicolas Burdisso, 26-Cristian Chivu, 4 Javier Zanetti; 7-Luis Figo, 19-Esteban Cambiasso, 5-Dejan Stankovic, 11-Luis Jimenez; 8-Zlatan Ibrahimovic, 9-Julio Cruz.
Liverpool: 25-Pepe Reina; 3-Steve Finnan, 23-Jamie Carragher, 4-Sami Hyypia, 12-Fabio Aurelio; 8-Steven Gerrard, 20-Javier Mascherano, 21-Lucas Leiva, 19-Ryan Babel; 18-Dirk Kuyt, 9-Fernando Torres.
Referee: Tom Henning Ovrebo (Norway) (Additional reporting by Justin Palmer in London, editing by Padraic Halpin)