Claudio Ranieri had waited for some time for the return of Wesley Sneijder. It was therefore understandable to catch a fearful glance from the Coach when the Dutch midfielder placed an ice pack on his knee.
He wasn't concerned about the Lille game, of course, which Inter were leading and comfortably won, but he feared losing the most gifted player in his squad again. If there was any need for it, last night's Champions League game confirmed just how fundamental Wesley is for this side.
Fortunately for Inter, Sneijder has not picked up yet another of those niggling injuries which have been keeping him off the pitch for too long over the past year. "It's ok, I am good," reassured the Nerazzurri star after the match.
He'll thus be available for the Chievo game on Sunday – that is unless Ranieri decides to rest him. It wouldn't be out of the question considering that Inter have been waiting for Sneijder since September and that previously speeding up his recovery has caused further delays.
It is fair to say that Wesley means more to this Inter than ever before. With the departure of Samuel Eto'o, he has become their leader despite having been tempted by a move to Manchester United himself. Wes is simply unique in the Nerazzurri engine room.
As proved against Lille, Wesley is the man who can switch on the light and his involvement in Giampaolo Pazzini's goal was just a little taster of what is to come from this Inter. Furthermore, Sneijder clears any tactical dilemma considering that with him on the pitch Ranieri can certainly opt for a strategy with a trequartista.
Without the Dutch playmaker Inter are simply lacking a valid alternative – Ricky Alvarez and Philippe Coutinho are not ready to fill his boots – and they are forced to switch to 4-4-2, like against Catania. Last night, Sneijder delivered 84 per cent of his passes, but, more than anything, it is his ability to keep the ball and take pressure of teammates than Inter need.
The 27-year-old midfielder was on the pitch for all of Gian Piero Gasperini's defeats against Milan, Palermo and Novara. Despite the good professional relationship between the two, the former Inter Coach made no secret of the fact that Wesley wasn't really part of his plans. If it was up to Gasperini, Sneijder would have left in the summer while Inter would have retained the services of Eto'o. Inter fans can be glad that at least one of the two didn't go.
That wasn't that long ago, but this is already a totally different Inter guided by a Coach who wants to keep it simple by fielding players in their natural position. For Sneijder this can only be great news because it is playing behind Pazzini and one from Diego Milito, Mauro Zarate and Diego Forlan, that he can shine again. And not as a winger or central midfielder in a 3-4-3.
Last night he helped Inter take a step towards qualification in this group stage. But his contribution will be even more important in Serie A where he will need to help secure next season's Champions League qualification. With only four points in six games, an injection of confidence is needed and Wesley is one of the few players around who can provide that boost.
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