Inter Milan needs to tighten up at the back
Inter Milan coach Leonardo needs to solve his team's defensive problems ahead of the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinals against Schalke on Tuesday.
The deficiencies that have plagued Inter since Walter Samuel was ruled out for the rest of the season returned in the 3-0 loss to AC Milan on Saturday, effectively ending Inter's hopes of a sixth consecutive Serie A title.
Lucio returns from suspension and is likely to partner Andrea Ranocchia in the heart of the defense. Ranocchia was the only bright spot on a night when Cristian Chivu was sent off and Maicon's attacking instincts were nowhere to be seen.
''He has done very well this year,'' Leonardo said of Ranocchia. ''Since January he has done very well for us and made his debut for Italy. Tonight was a real show of maturity from him and he had a really good game.''
Diego Milito, who scored two goals in last year's Champions League final, came off the bench for Giampaolo Pazzini on Saturday and could replace the cup-tied Pazzini in a three-pronged attack with Samuel Eto'o and Goran Pandev.
''Physically and mentally I feel fine and I'm back in good condition even if I might lack a bit of match fitness,'' Milito said. ''It has been a difficult year for me, particularly with all the injuries, but we've still got two months to play.''
Milan demonstrated how to stop Inter's attack, with its midfield trio and back four working hard to smother the best efforts of Wesley Sneijder, Eto'o, Pandev and Pazzini.
''We struggled to get our strikers free and into space,'' Leonardo said. ''We had a lot of difficulty in creating chances, especially at the end of the first half.''
Ralf Rangnick has had a baptism of fire since returning the to the Schalke bench during the international break, having previously been coach between 2004 and 2005.
If playing the defending champion away in his first Champions League game in charge wasn't enough, Rangnick had to watch as his second spell as Schalke coach began in anticlimactic fashion.
Schalke was 2-0 up away to St. Pauli through goals from Raul Gonzalez and Julian Draxler when a full cup of beer was thrown from the main stand and hit a linesman. Following a brief discussion between the officials that match was called off with two minutes remaining.
It would have been the 17-year-old Draxler's first ever goal for Schalke and he is eager to continue his football development against Inter.
''I was only dreaming about such types of matches a few weeks back,'' Draxler said. ''The match at the San Siro is very special and we want to get the best result possible.''
Rangnick also has a number of injury worries to contend with. Mario Gavranovic suffered an ankle sprain against St. Pauli, while Peer Kluge strained an abdominal muscle in the match.
''We have nothing to lose. We are clear outsiders,'' Rangnick said. ''We just want to make the best out of it.''
Defender Christoph Metzelder, meanwhile, broke his nose in a challenge and a decision will be made whether the 30-year-old defender can play with a face mask in Milan.
Former AC Milan striker Klaas Jan Huntelaar is another doubt after not playing for four weeks due to knee ligament damage. He has traveled to Italy, but is not expected to start.
For many Schalke fans, the return to San Siro will bring back happy memories. Their team won the UEFA Cup there in 1997, beating Inter after a penalty shootout at the end of the second leg of the final.
''Schalke is a strong team and we respect them,'' Milito said. ''Schalke isn't in the quarterfinals by accident and it won't be an easy match.