Tottenham Hotspur: 4 Inter Milan Players for Spurs to Fear in Europa League
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The two clubs memorably met in the group stage of the 2010-11 Champions League. Inter Milan won at home 4-3 having gone four goals up, but had their thunder stolen after Gareth Bale's pride-saving hat trick. In the return game, Tottenham won 3-1, with Bale again the standout performer.
In case you had not noticed, the Welshman is still plying his trade in North London these days. The makeup of the team around him has changed somewhat, though not as dramatically as it has at the Nerazzurri.
Few remain from the squad that took on Spurs just over two years ago. The group that won the treble the season before has been dismantled, as club president Massimo Moratti has embarked on a rebuilding process not centered around throwing huge sums at star names.
Inter are not the force they were, and they are currently in a tough race to finish third in Serie A with city rivals AC Milan. However, the capital club still possess considerable talent Tottenham should be wary of.
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One of the more recent recruits to Inter's Argentine contingent, Rodrigo Palacio's role at the club has taken on even more significance in the wake of compatriot Diego Milito's season-ending injury.
Palacio's vital double in Inter's 3-2 win over Catania on Sunday took him joint top of the Nerazzurri's Serie A goalscoring chart with Milito.
The striker has already been the main man for his team in Europe this season. Palacio has struck seven in eight appearances, including a brace in the first leg against 2-0 defeat of Cluj in the Round of 32. Only Anzhi Makhachkala's Samuel Eto'o has scored more.
Palacio will certainly be eager to add to that tally at White Hart Lane on Thursday. Lively and not prone to staying in one place, he is a player for whom the Spurs defense will have to remain alert to his whereabouts.
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After being left out of the squad for Catania in the wake of a dust-up with manager Andrea Stramaccioni (though not necessarily because of it), Antonio Cassano is set for a return to action against Tottenham.
Andre Villas-Boas will be aware of the importance of his team stifling the Italian forward. Cassano has scored eight times this season and set up a further 10 goals.
Keep the 30-year-old quiet and Spurs can rob Inter of a major attacking outlet. Leave him unattended and Cassano will soon find the space to inflict punishment on his opposition.
For all of his flaws as a character, Cassano remains a top player. He is certainly of the caliber Spurs hope to soon be facing on a regular basis in the Champions League. From that perspective, he will provide a tough test for the aspirational North Londoners.
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Despite advancing in years, Esteban Cambiasso remains an integral part of this Inter side. Along with Javier Zanetti, he is one of the veteran leaders of the outfit.
The 32-year-old is also still a fine footballer. Left unchecked, he is someone still well capable of influencing games, as is partly indicated by the four goals and six assists he has contributed this season.
Absent the last time Inter faced Tottenham in 2010, Cambiasso was missed in the second leg as Spurs won the midfield battle. The personnel will be different this time, but there is still an engaging battle in prospect as the Argentine comes up against the likely midfield pairing of Scott Parker and Mousa Dembele.
The latter pair had their work cut out against Lyon in the previous round. They will be hard worked this time too, not only dealing with the advances of Inter's attacking talent, but also in attempting to get the better of Cambiasso.
If they come up short, the Inter midfielder still has the know-how to help get his team up and running. Cambiasso will also be a tricky obstacle to navigate for Gareth Bale, or whoever plays in Spurs' advanced central role.
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Fredy Guarin is not new to European football, having previously played with Saint-Etienne and Porto. But it is fair to say the Colombian has had a tricky time establishing himself in Italy.
Understandably so—Serie A is a tough league. But amid these difficulties, Guarin has shone frequently enough to prove himself a valuable player for Inter. In the wake of Wesley Sneijder's departure, his importance to the team has increased.
Along with Cassano he is one of Inter's most creative players, and definitely someone Spurs must work to stop from taking a hold of Thursday's contest.
As if to emphasize Guarin's comfort at this level, he has recorded a further three assists in Europe to the two he has in Serie A this season. Spurs will provide tougher opposition than that he has faced in the Europa League so far. But he may find himself a tad more comfortable in a competition slightly less oppressive than the Italian league can be (even in a comparatively looser age compared to decades past).
If Spurs can do as effective a job restricting space between the lines as they did against Arsenal, Guarin might struggle to find a way through. As it was with Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere, this will be a 90-minute job.