Pazza Inter have never seemed quite as mad as they have during recent weeks. We’ve seen Esteban Cambiasso burst into tears. Wesley Sneijder has been experimenting with scream therapy, yelling at his teammates every time a pass goes astray. Dejan Stankovic has began hallucinating, claiming that “the football becomes a golf ball during a string of defeats,” and appears to have been left in a catatonic state by it all. Asked what inspirational message he would convey to his colleagues before tonight’s Champions League last 16 second leg against Marseille at San Siro, the Serb simply replied: “Silence.”
Presiding over it all is Claudio Ranieri, like an older wiser but no less eccentric equivalent of Randle P McMurphy, the protagonist of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The parallels are there – just don’t ask who’s playing the part of Nurse Ratched in this analogy...
Perhaps a better comparison can be found in the Bible. Not since the trials of Job has anyone managed to maintain such a positive outlook despite such endless disasters befalling them. No one can blame Ranieri for emulating Cambiasso when the Serpenti’s nightmare nine match, month and a half long run without a win finally came to a close with victory in Verona last Friday – and turning on the waterworks. The only surprise is he didn’t flood Chievo’s Stadio Bentegodi with tears.
The positive for the Tinkerman and his recuperating squad is that just as they begin to emerge from what full-back Yuto Nagatomo describes as a “long, dark tunnel,” tonight’s opponents are headed in the opposite direction, headfirst into crisis.
A very familiar looking crisis. “Marseille are facing a moment similar to the one we experienced ahead of the first leg,” according to Ranieri. For Lecce, Novara and Bologna read Brest, Evian and Ajaccio – just like the Nerazzurri Marseille have suffered some humiliating losses to their Division’s lesser lights of late. Their League positions are practically identical also, Inter 7th with 40 points in Serie A, Marseille 8th with 39 in Ligue 1. Having gone into that first leg at the Velodrome three weeks ago on a 15 game unbeaten run Didier Deschamps’ charges have now lost four on the bounce. On the other hand Les Phoceens did collect seven points from an available nine on their travels in the group stage, and defeated Inter 1-0 at San Siro in the 2003-04 UEFA Cup.
“On Tuesday we practically have an entire season in the balance,” admits Marseille President Vincent Lebrune. “It’s the biggest game of our season,” says that man Stankovic. Refreshingly no one is trying to play tonight’s clash down, there’s an acknowledgement on the part of both clubs that this is it, the last chance for them to turn miserable seasons around, for the Coaches, Ranieri and his predecessor at Juventus Deschamps, to save their jobs.
Even with a 1-0 deficit to overcome Ranieri is preaching caution. “The important thing is to not concede. We have to win but to do it carefully.”
And Marseille? Their first leg win was more to do with the persistence of Andre Ayew than Deschamps, who seemed quite content to draw 0-0. With Ayew, France’s top assist provider Matthieu Valbuena and fit again Loic Remy in attack, L’OM have the potential to be a Ferrari, but Deschamps drives them like a Skoda.
So expect tension at the ‘Scala Del Calcio’ tonight, expect atmosphere. Just don’t expect excitement.
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