Can Inter stop Bale?

Posted by Mike Whittaker

With Juventus currently sitting a massive 12 points clear of Inter in this season's league standings, and the Nerazzurri's form being, shall we say, less than reliable. It would take a miracle of epic proportions for the black and blue side of Milan to even come close to fighting for the title, this leaves just the Coppa Italia and the Europa league as their only chances of claiming silverware in Andrea Stramaccioni's first full season at the helm of the club.

- Horncastle: Villas-Boas, Inter meet again
- Fitch: Spurs have no need to fear Inter


With Roma holding the advantage for next month's Coppa Italia semi-final second leg match, Europe could be the only possibility to provide a surprise honour for the team that has faced huge criticism throughout this season.

Whether this dream can become a reality for us Inter fans will all depend on the result from Thursday's round of 16 first leg game in London against the most in-form English Premier League side, Tottenham Hotspur.

Coming into this fixture both teams are currently undefeated in their last nine Europa league matches, but without wanting to sound disrespectful to Inter's previous opponents, Tottenham are the first team from one of Europe's top leagues that the Nerazzurri have encountered in this seasons competition so they will really have to up their game to progress any further.

This is a worrying thing for me. It would be fair to say Inter have been lucky at times to beat their lesser opponents, and of course the memory of the two Champions league group games against Spurs in the 2010-11 season are still a sore point for me. It was painful to see the North London team run rings around Inter's treble winning legends.

In the first of these two meetings, Inter dominated the possession during the game holding on to the ball for a huge 62% of the game, during which time they made an incredible 23 shots on the Tottenham goal. This domination was partly due to the visitors going down to ten men after just eight minutes when their goalkeeper, Heurelho Gomes, was sent off for fouling Jonathan Biabiany in the box.

Inter managed to win the game 4-3, but a headline winning performance and hat trick from Gareth Bale made sure the world took notice of the Welshman. Inter were hard pressed to hold on to this victory, which they should've easily won if not for Bale's contribution.

In the return match, Inter once again controlled the stats at White Hart Lane, but a rampant Bale helped to secure a 3-1 victory with two assists and a man of the match performance. No matter what the Nerazzurri tried they just couldn't contain the Tottenham winger in either game. In fact I would even go as far as to say that Inter had less trouble containing Lionel Messi in the season before during the Champions league semi-final against Barcelona.

We are now over two years on from those last meetings, and a lot has changed for both teams. Unfortunately Inter's fortunes have been on a major decline since 2010, and only a few of that legendary ‘triplete’ squad remain.

Tottenham, however, have continued to grow as a team, and are currently the most in-form side in England. Just last month their manager Andres Villas-Boas won manager of the month and Gareth Bale won player of the month, this doesn't bode well for the Nerazzurri in the upcoming visit to White Hart lane.

The biggest challenge for Stramaccioni's squad will be finding a way to neutralise the threat of Bale, after all the only right sided defensive players Inter have available are the new boy Ezequiel Schelotto, 39-year-old Javier Zanetti, or the player most fans would agree is a complete waste of space, Jonathan. None of these are anywhere near the standard of ability Maicon possessed back in 2010, and if the Brazilian couldn't handle him then how will the current choice fare against a player who is arguably one of the best left wingers in the world at the moment?

The key in my opinion will be to combine the experience of Zanetti with the strength and power of Fredy Guarin in an attempt to stop the ball arriving at Bale's feet. Unfortunately, after spraining his ankle in Sunday's win against Catania, it still isn't definite that Guarin will be part of Stramaccioni's squad on Thursday. This means the Tottenham winger will put the Nerazzurri backline under a lot of pressure, so Andrea Ranocchia and Samir Handanovic will need to be on their very best form.

Of course Bale isn't Tottenham's only threat to Inter, they also have the likes of Aaron Lennon (who has been linked with a summer move to Inter), Mousa Dembele, Emmanuel Adebayor and Jermain Defoe who are all capable of punishing any mistakes made by the Nerazzurri. Thankfully the return of a rested Antonio Cassano, and of course Rodrigo Palacio's recent goal scoring form should give AVB's Spurs side a few problems of their own too.

If Inter can bring the same grit and resolve to the game as they showed in the second half of Sundays game, making sure they come away from this first leg game with one or two away goals while trying not conceding more than two, then I am confident that in the return game next week in Milan, Inter are capable of holding on to their advantage to progress to the quarter finals.

I have wondered though, considering the race for the third and final Champions league qualifying place is so tight in Serie A, would it tip the advantage into Inter's favour to be knocked out of the Europa league at this point so they can concentrate fully on their all important league objective for the season's final run-in?

ESPN Conversations