Tonight’s Champions League last 16, first leg sees Inter face Bayern Munich in a repeat of last year’s final.
However, since last year’s encounter in Madrid the fortunes of both clubs have plummeted; Inter were completing a historic treble, but now lie five points adrift of leaders Milan, while Bayern, who had already wrapped up the Bundesliga title, are currently 13 points behind runaway leaders Borussia Dortmund.
The European champions, who fired coach Rafa Benitez earlier in the campaign, have revived domestically since Leonardo became coach, although the Brazilian admits that European football is another matter entirely.
“The league is one thing, the Champions League is something else,” he said. “We have some options, not as many as in the league, but still a few options for tomorrow’s game. I saw the Madrid final last season and I was supporting Inter because they were the Italian team. I was happy to see Inter win, even though I was working for their city rivals.
“The team have reacted well after a difficult time and now we are very motivated for this game. Every team have strengths and weaknesses. In the Champions League there are big players, big teams and big goals. It’s as if there’s more desire to play in this competition.
“The games are more open and I like this attacking mentality. We are the defending champions and we can beat anyone. We will fight with all our strength and we have already proved we can react against any difficulties – this gives me belief. We will perfom like champions.”
Diego Milito, who scored both goals in last May’s final, is out with a thigh problem but Bayern old boy Lucio has returned from a similar injury. Wesley Sneijder, rested at the weekend along with Lucio, is also available and in midfield Esteban Cambiasso and Dejan Stankovic are fit.
Bayern Munich’s form has picked up in recent weeks, with coach, Louis van Gaal, saying the return of the likes of Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry has turned their season.
“We can’t compare a final with the round of 16,” the Dutchman said. “The team have changed, some players have arrived, some others left. Maybe some players are still thinking about that game, but everybody knows we want to win and last season’s final has nothing to do with that. After [José] Mourinho left I don’t think Inter changed that much.
“Some players are still injured, some recovered but that’s not important, probably the only big change is the coach. The most important thing is that they did not change how they played. If you watched the final or if you watch Inter playing every week, they play defensively.
“If I’m the coach of a team, I always want three or four creative players in my team and I don’t want them to get injured. We were missing some of our quality players in the first part of the season but now things have changed – with them back we’re doing better, you can see it in the results we’re getting. Someone says our back line has problems, but I don’t agree. Just look at the statistics.”
Ivica Olic remains a long-term absentee after knee surgery, but fellow striker Mario Gomez has overcome an ankle complaint and is available. Toni Kroos returned as a substiture at the weekend following a metatarsal injury sustained in December.