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Michael Taylor 19th Apr 2010 - 10:10

Espanyol hand Inter a glimmer of hope

If Barcelona didn't play such beautiful football you could say their recent run had made them a boring team to watch as they seemingly ran riot every week - luckily for Inter then that Espanyol finally proved the beast can be tamed.

Barca's cross city rivals headed into Saturday's game with little to play for other than boasting rites yet you'd never have known it by the way Mauricio Pochettino's side went about their business.

Espanyol hurried, harassed, remained focused and even cut out a few openings in the 0-0 draw and while Barcelona may have been guilty of a lack of focus there's no denying that for the first time in months a few negatives raised their ugly heads.

And if there is one manager who can pinpoint teams' weaknesses then it's the ever shrewd Jose Mourinho, a man who made his name through making nonsense of reputations in his Champions League winning campaign with Porto.

It has been something of a strange season for Mourinho's Inter Milan with the Champions League taking priority over yet another Serie A title for the first time in a number of years - not that owner Massimo Moratti would care though with his team on the threshold of achieving a lifelong ambition.

The Milan giants have fallen a point off the pace in the Serie A with Claudio Ranieri's Roma on an absolute tear but, unlike with Barcelona, I'm not sure how much you can read into their domestic results.

Mourinho is getting paid the big bucks to land Europe's greatest club competition prize and you better believe he'll have been devising a game plan to counter the Catalans awesome threats ever since the tough CSKA Moscow challenge was dealt with.

The biggest question is can Lucio deal with Lionel Messi as effectively as he dealt with Didier Drogba's threat when Inter shocked Chelsea in the last 16.

It's asking a lot of the classy Brazilian to stop the world's greatest player, especially since the entire Arsenal team failed to deal with him, however, if one man is up to the task it could be the man people are considering as the world's form defender Lucio.

The news that Andres Iniesta will be missing is also sure to be met with a sigh of relief meaning the likes of Esteban Cambiasso can focus on trying to stick close to the imperious Xavi.

It sounds almost crude saying the key to stopping Barcelona is by stopping Messi and Xavi from playing but Espanyol really did prove this was the case with neither man getting the opportunity to stamp their usual authority on the game.

As for the home side's chances they'll need ex-Barca frontman Samuel Eto'o to be on top of his game in his blossoming partnership with the classy Diego Milito.

It's wide known that the Catalans can be susceptible at the back as Nickolas Bendtner found to his advantage and if the front two can take advantage of the chances they get then Inter could be in for decent success.

Much relies on another man with Spanish connections, Wesley Sneijder, who has pretty much been the driving force behind the Nerazzurri's attacking threat for a good deal of this season, in particular in Europe.

Barca will be more than aware of his threat after facing off against him in last year's El Classico, but even with awareness they may still struggle for answers on how to stop the Dutchman from creating havoc.

Overall I think for all of Inter's attacking options they won't be set-up with the intention of driving right at the heart of their opponents, rather looking to break forward on the breakdown of play without committing too many men forward.

If most teams set-up like this then I wouldn't back them, however, with Mourinho at the helm this isn't just any other team and I honestly believe the Italians can head to the second leg in Spain with something to defend.

Julio Cesar will no doubt be forced into a few saves but as long as he doesn't make any howlers like he did in the first leg against Chelsea then he could potentially bag himself an extremely impressive clean sheet - priced at a massive looking 21/10.

Also, with Lionel Messi dominating the goalscorer markets (he's a tiny 5/2 first scorer chance or a ridiculous 4/7 anytime) there's plenty of value about Eto'o and Milito netting the first of the game at 9/2 or 6/5 to score at any point during the 90 minutes.

A colossal effort is required but I do think there is hope for Inter making them an interesting prospect 19/10 to win the game outright or my favoured bet is the 23/20 about Inter on the draw not bet market.



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