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The league leaders of Italy and England lock horns in the Round of 16 first leg fixture.....

Kick-Off: Wednesday, February 24, 2010, 20:45 CET.
Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, Milan.

Lingering European Dreams

Inter might have been dominating Serie A with ease and comfort but when it comes to performing in the Champions League, the Nerazzurri have been a huge disappointment. They might have won the Scudetto for the past four seasons in a row but for the last three years they have not gone beyond the Round of 16 in Europe's premier club competition.

Interestingly, in the last two years Inter have fallen to English opposition. In 2007-08 it was Rafael Benitez's Liverpool who knocked them out of Europe's most prestigious club competition while last year eventual finalists Manchester United defeated them 2-0 on aggregate in the pre-quarter finals. This time too the Beneamata have a Premier League side to contend with and it will be interesting to see how they cope, especially as Jose Mourinho will be on the bench against his former club.

Inter's form has taken a dip towards the south too in recent times. Their fiery, controversy-laden 0-0 draw with Sampdoria on Saturday night was their third draw in a row in the league and the second Serie A match in succession in which they have failed to score. Roma's and Milan's respective victories at the weekend mean that Inter's lead at the top of the table has now been trimmed to five points, which could be down to four if Milan win their game in hand against Fiorentina on Wednesday evening.

However, Jose Mourinho's side cannot be dismissed until the final whistle has been blown at Stamford Bridge in the second leg. Perhaps Chelsea will start the tie as slight favourites but Inter haven't lost at home yet this season - in fact, the last time Mourinho lost any domestic home game was way back in 2002 - and this time they have a more compact, well-knit team that is not over-reliant on any one particular player. Of course, except Wesley Sneijder, the former European champions do not have a single world class ball-playing midfielder but their two main strikers Samuel Eto'o and Diego Milito are exceptional and Inter should give themselves a good chance of destabilising a strong Chelsea defensive unit.

Basking In Hope And Expectations

Chelsea might be a 'nouveau riche' club with not much European pedigree but they have certainly been more prominent and successful in Europe than Inter since the turn of the century. The Premier League side have failed to make it to the semi-finals only once in the past six years and reached the final in 2008.

Last season the Blues were knocked out of the competition on the away goals rule. Guus Hiddink's side did a great job in restricting Barcelona from scoring in the first leg of their semi-final tie at Camp Nou and although they took the lead at Stamford Bridge in the ninth minute, Chelsea conceded an injury time equaliser to go out on the away goals rule.

Therefore, this time Carlo Ancelotti's Chelsea will be more motivated and eager to perform in the Champions League. They have been doing great in the Premier League and went four points clear of Manchester United at the top of the table at the weekend with a 2-0 win against Wolverhampton Wanderers away from home. The Blues' defence has been superbly watertight this term, as they have shipped in just 22 goals in 27 matches in the league and four in six in the group stage of the Champions League.

However, Chelsea haven't come up against very stiff competition in Europe so far this campaign. Inter were drawn in a group that was comprised of the domestic champions of Spain, Italy, Ukraine and Russia, and they still managed to progress through to the knockout stages, finishing just two points behind Barcelona, while the only truly competitive team that Chelsea had to face in their group was Porto.

Ancelotti knows all about the current Inter side, having been involved in several games against them during his eight-year coaching tenure with Milan. The Italian will also be aware that Inter can be cynically defensive at times at home in order to not concede any goals, but with Didier Drogba in red-hot form the 50-year-old will expect his side them to score at San Siro on Wednesday night.


FORM GUIDE


Inter

February 20 v Sampdoria (H) - DREW 0-0 (Serie A)

February 14 v Napoli (A) - DREW 0-0 (Serie A)

February 10 v Parma (A) – DREW 1-1 (Serie A)

February 7 v Cagliari (H) - WON 3-0 (Serie A)

February 3 v Fiorentina (H) - WON 1-0 (Coppa Italia)

Chelsea

February 20 v Wolverhampton (A) - WON 2-0 (Premier League)

February 13 v Cardiff City (H) - WON 4-1 (FA Cup)

February 10 v Everton (A) - LOST 2-1 (Premier League)

February 7 v Arsenal (H) - WON 2-0 (Premier League)

February 2 v Hull City (A) - DREW 1-1 (Premier League)


TEAM NEWS

Inter

Cristian Chivu is out until March with injury while Marco Materazzi and Davide Santon are doubtful for this fixture. Mario Balotelli should be back in contention for a place in the Inter squad after missing the weekend game against Sampdoria. First-choice custodian Julio Cesar has suffered bruises to his face after smashing his Lamborghini in a road accident near the San Siro on Sunday night. His injury is not said to be serious but there is still a doubt whether he can start against Chelsea on Wednesday night.

Probable Lineup (4-3-1-2): Julio Cesar; Maicon, Lucio, Samuel, Zanetti; Cambiasso, Muntari, Thiago Motta; Sneijder; Eto'o, Milito

Chelsea

Chelsea have received some welcome news ahead of their trip to Milan as both Alex and Juliano Belletti have made the squad. Alex has overcome his knee injury and Belletti is back in action after a month out with a knee injury. Jose Bosingwa, Michael Essien and Ashley Cole are long-term injury concerns and have not been included in the squad and neither has Yury Zhirkov. Deco is also unavailable but Frank Lampard is back for Wednesday night's fixture.

Probable Lineup (4-3-3): Cech; Belletti, Terry, Carvalho, Ivanovic; Mikel, Ballack, Cole; Lampard, Drogba, Anelka.

 

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Samuel Eto'o (Inter)

The two-time European Cup winner might not have been too prolific this season, which is indicated by him dropping two places to 34 in the Castrol Rankings, but he remains a world class striker. Eto'o has a huge European pedigree and he will be a key player for the Nerazzurri on Wednesday night. Eto'o couldn't manage to do much against Chelsea for Barcelona in the semi-finals last season, and so will be raring to do better this time around. Although the Blues have a very strong defence, Eto'o's ability to bring his team-mates into play and his work rate and athleticism could unravel Carlo Ancelotti's side.

Didier Drogba (Chelsea)

Many say that Didier Drogba is the best striker in the world at the moment and they cannot be dismissed easily. After all, the 31-year-old has scored 19 goals and provided six assists in 22 matches in the Premier League. Drogba has been ripping apart defences in England as well as in Europe, where he has three goals in three appearances in the Champions League. Inter's defensive unit is one of the best in Europe but they do not have to face a physically strong and bullish striker like Drogba week in week out in Serie A. The Ivorian, ranked eighth in the Castrol Rankings, will be raring to go out against the Nerazzurri and Inter cannot afford to give him even half a chance.

PREDICTION

This is a very difficult match to call but given Inter's imperious home record, it will take Chelsea producing something special to garner a win at San Siro. However, the Blues can get a goal, especially if Drogba is given time and space on the ball, but in all likelihood the Nerazzurri should just edge past the Londoners in Wednesday night's first leg encounter.

Inter 2-1 Chelsea

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