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regular-article-logo Monday, 24 June 2024

Champions League: Simone Inzaghi urges Inter to expect the unexpected against rivals Milan

It’s a very important match as other finals have been, says Inzaghi

Reuters, AP/PTI Milan Published 10.05.23, 06:52 AM
Real Madrid supporters outside the stadium prior to the semi-final first leg match against Manchester City at the Bernabeu on Tuesday.

Real Madrid supporters outside the stadium prior to the semi-final first leg match against Manchester City at the Bernabeu on Tuesday. Getty Images

Inter Milan must think on their feet and be adaptable against rivals AC Milan, manager Simone Inzaghi said on Tuesday ahead of his side’s bid to overturn a losing Champions League record against their familiar foes.

Italian rivals Inter and AC Milan, who have won a combined 10 Champions League titles, have faced each other on two occasions in the knockout stages, with Milan emerging victorious in both previous ties — played in 2003 and 2005.

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However, Inter have been more successful in recent meetings, winning three and drawing two of the seven Derbies the teams have played since Inzaghi took over as Inter manager in 2021.

Those wins have included 3-0 victories in the Italian Supercup final earlier this year and last year’s Coppa Italia semi-finals.

“We have played many times, I said it before. Seven. We have won, lost, made semi-finals, finals,” Inzaghi told reporters ahead of the sides’ semi-final first-leg meeting at the San Siro on Wednesday.

“We will have to be very good at using our heads when we need to, because there are always unexpected events in such important matches: in the last ones, we have always been good at being lucid.

“It’s a very important match as other finals have been. It’s not a Derby, but the Derby. We know what it means for us, for the club, for the fans, even for myself. But I’m quite serene, I’ve seen the boys very focused.”

Inter’s hopes of securing a first victory over Milan in Europe’s top competition have been handed a boost by an injury to forward Rafael Leao, who was substituted in the 11th minute of Milan’s 2-0 home win over Lazio in Serie A on Saturday.

Inzaghi said the Portuguese international’s absence will have little impact on Inter’s preparations, adding: “We all know the qualities of the player.

“We know he may or may not be there, clearly we will make some adjustments but it will not affect our game plan.”

Inter’s last meeting with Milan in the Champions League semi-finals came 20 years ago in the 2002-03 season, when Milan beat them en route to a sixth European title.

Midfielder Federico Dimarco, a childhood Inter fan, said he was at the San Siro for that tie but insisted revenge was not on his mind.

“It’s been a long time and we think about the present, about tomorrow (Wednesday), about trying to get a positive result and that’s it,” the 25-year-old said.

Inter’s LuLa attack appears back to its best.

The partnership of Romelu Lukaku and Lautaro Martínez earned the LuLa nickname during the former’s first spell at the club, when their goals drove Inter to the Serie A title in 2021.

While Martínez has continued to spearhead the attack since then, Lukaku had struggled with injury and poor form after returning on loan from Chelsea in the offseason.

However, Lukaku has now struck three goals in as many Serie A games — doubling his tally for the season. He has also contributed further with three assists in those matches.

Martínez has netted five times in his past four games to take his tally to 19 in the league.

Inter appears now to be attacking and defending as a team and that bodes well.

“I think we’ve improved a lot in that aspect,” Lukaku said. “We’re scoring lots and not conceding many. And I think lots of players can make the difference and that’s important.”

Relaxed Pioli

Milan will make a late call on Leao’s participation, manager Stefano Pioli said on Tuesday.

Leao has been one of Milan’s most influential players this season with 13 goals and 10 assists in all competitions, but he lasted only 12 minutes of Saturday’s 2-0 win over Lazio before being taken off.

Pioli said Leao would either start the game or not play at all, adding that Belgian winger Alexis Saelemaekers was a potential replacement.

“Today (Tuesday) he (Leao) trained, tomorrow I will decide what to do,” Pioli told reporters, adding that he was not stressing over the 23-year-old’s fitness.

“I’m going to bed quietly tonight, anyway in the morning Rafa and the doctor will tell me his condition. If he is well he will be called up, otherwise not.

Milan, who were dethroned as Serie A champions last week by Napoli, have had a rough run in the league with only three wins in their last 10 games to slip to fifth – two points behind fourth-placed Inter.

However, Pioli chose to focus on their European run during which they knocked out Tottenham Hotspur in the last 16 and Napoli in the quarter-finals.

“We are talking about Champions League, we have not had ups and downs but an outstanding run,” he said.

“We want to try to overcome this last step before winning a Champions League final, something that hasn’t happened to all of us. Motivation is at its highest.”

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