Champions League preview: Marseille v Inter
Claudio Ranieri will be praying his Inter Milan team rediscover their winning touch away to Marseille in the Champions League round of 16.
Ranieri guided Inter to an eight-match winning streak during December and January, but their form has since deserted them and they have now lost five of their past six matches in all competitions.
The slump has left Inter seventh in Serie A, 14 points back from league leaders AC Milan and six points outside the Champions League qualification places.
With the prospect of Inter failing to secure a spot in next season’s tournament increasingly likely, it will be up to Ranieri and his players to prolong this campaign for as long as possible.
It remains to be seen if they will be able to do so, with the surviving members of Inter’s 2009/10 treble-winning team seemingly unable to reproduce their form of two years ago.
Chief among the out-of-sorts stars contributing to Inter’s slump is Netherlands international Wesley Sneijder.
The playmaker was heavily linked with a move to Manchester United in the off-season, and although he ultimately remained with Inter, Sneijder has struggled to match his output of previous campaigns.
The 27-year-old was sidelined with injury from November to January, and in his absence Ranieri adopted a new formation, one which Sneijder has thus far failed to adapt to.
On Wednesday Inter are likely to be greeted by a typically hostile atmosphere at the Stade Velodrome, where Marseille’s fanatical supporters will demand nothing less than a victory on home soil.
After a slow start to the Ligue 1 season, Marseille coach Didier Deschamps has dragged his team to fourth place on the table.
A distant 12 points back from league leaders Paris Saint-German, Marseille are unlikely to regain the title they surrendered last season.
But with just three points separating them from third-placed Lille, Champions League qualification remains a realistic ambition.
If either of Wednesday’s protagonists can extend their participation beyond the last 16, the latter stages of this competition will be familiar territory to the respective coaches.
They squared off in the 2003/04 semi-finals, when Deschamps, then in charge of Monaco, inflicted a 5-3 aggregate defeat on Ranieri’s Chelsea team.
That loss effectively cost the Italian his job, with Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich bringing in Jose Mourinho as his replacement.
Both men have since enjoyed spells in charge of Juventus, but 1998 World Cup winner Deschamps is now back in his native France.
Deschamps will be looking to take Marseille one step further than last season, when his side exited the round of 16 at the hands of Manchester United.