Tottenham Hotspur vs. Inter Milan: Complete Europa League Preview

Thomas CooperFeatured ColumnistMarch 6, 2013

Gareth Bale is one of the few remnants from the last time Tottenham Hotspur and Inter Milan met.
Gareth Bale is one of the few remnants from the last time Tottenham Hotspur and Inter Milan met.Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

Tottenham Hotspur welcome Internazionale to White Hart Lane on Thursday night. The two clubs met in the Champions League in 2010 and, unsurprisingly given it has been over two years since then, plenty has changed for both.

Their presence in the Europa League rather than Europe's premier club tournament is one indicator of changed circumstances, particularly in Inter Milan's case. The lofty heights the Nerazzurri reached at the turn of the decade have given way to harsher realities of the present financial climate.

Club president Massimo Moratti is focusing on building a more sustainable Inter, and for now that has meant an unavoidable dilution of resources for current manager Andrea Stramaccioni.

Still, the side that will travel to North London still possess some considerable talent (a few of whom were outlined here, earlier this week). Though without injured first-team regulars Diego Milito and Yuto Nagatomo, maverick forward Antonio Cassano is back in contention after missing the Catania game last weekend.

Likely to be up front alongside Cassano is the in-form Rodrigo Palacio, while veteran Argentinian pair Javier Zanetti and Esteban Cambiasso should be in tow too. For all these players, success in the Europa League is a chance to remind the football world of Inter's relevance even in this comparative down-spell for the club.

Tottenham boss Andre Villas-Boas knows the Milanese club are still an outfit to be taken very seriously.

Thus far they have comfortably progressed through the competition, knocking out Romania's Cluj 5-0 on aggregate in the Round of 32. Inter's only real slip-up came away at Rubin Kazan in the group stage—few though would relish a trip to Russia in late November. Villas-Boas, who worked in Italy for a time as a member of Jose Mourinho's staff, had this to say about his team's opponents (via ESPN FC):

We have to be very cautious about Inter Milan. They have been European champions very recently and they are going through a tremendous reshuffle of their squad, which they have done properly and invested in young players.

Still they are continuing to challenge for titles like they used to so this is why I see in the last-16, Inter Milan represent the best of the best. This gives us another chance to play at a level of a Champions League tie, like we had against Lyon in the last round

Tottenham are, like Inter, currently attempting to qualify for next season's Champions League so as to get more of those big games AVB described. While the league is their priority, you only had to look at the delighted reaction of the Spurs players after they beat Lyon to see they have eyes on the Europa League too.

Lyon were not easily beaten. Spurs were on their way out until Mousa Dembele's long-range goal in the dying minutes of the second leg gave them a 3-2 aggregate lead. The Round of 16 should prove no less difficult, and they will be keen to head into the San Siro next week with some sort of advantage.

That stadium is a hard place to go and get something from, regardless of Inter's current state. Tottenham will fancy their chances of getting a good result out in Italy, but they can make their job more comfortable with a bright start in the first leg.

Villas-Boas has boldly stated (via ESPN FC) his intention to field a strong side, even with a trip to Liverpool ahead on Sunday.

We don't need to rest anyone. The distance between the Europa League game and the Premier League is fine. There is a problem when you get into the later stages of the season that the overall tiredness of the players can be affected, but at this moment, we are not thinking about this.

Despite going off injured in Sunday's defeat of Arsenal, Mousa Dembele has been declared fit to take on Inter.

Emmanuel Adebayor, who also went off, could be in contention, but Clint Dempsey remains out.

Tough tests for both Tottenham and Inter are not going to let up any time soon with the business stage of the season well underway; this clash will give both teams an idea of the sort of progress they have made.