After winning the treble under José Mourinho last term, high-flying FC Internazionale Milano went into the 2010/11 campaign believing the sky was the limit. Nothing, they felt, was beyond them, but no sooner had the new season begun than form dipped and the Nerazzurri abruptly fell to earth.
Chastened by their autumn slump, the club have nonetheless benefited from growing confidence since the appointment of Leonardo as coach in December. For striker Diego Milito, that upturn in fortunes could prove vital when they host FC Bayern München in their UEFA Champions League round of 16 opener on Wednesday. "We had a strange start to the season with a lot of injuries, but now things are getting better," the 31-year-old told UEFA.com.
Unfortunately for the three-time European champions, Milito – who scored both goals in the 2-0 defeat of Bayern in last season's final – is set to miss the visit of Louis van Gaal's side after suffering a thigh strain earlier this month. The Argentinian international will not be the only missing link with the 2010 showpiece either, Mourinho having been succeeded by Rafael Benítez – and now Leonardo – after leaving for Real Madrid CF.
"In his two years with us, Mourinho offered much to this team," explained long-serving captain Javier Zanetti. "The mentality he gave the players, his idea of football; the team followed him and that's why we won so much. Now Leonardo is with us. He's a different coach but, like Mourinho, he's very smart and he knows football." Milito echoed that analysis: "When Leonardo arrived here, he gave us confidence and I think that's crucial."
The return of key players that were injured earlier in the campaign has also been important, and there is a feeling that the Bayern tie has come at a good time. "Now that the coach has a lot of players at his disposal and the team is solid, we finally feel strong again," said Milito. "This is one of the things that has changed in the last few months. Winning the FIFA Club World Cup also gave us belief."
"Bayern are the team we played in the final last season and I think that says it all," added Zanetti. "It's the round of 16 now, but these are still two massive games for both clubs because we want to stay in the competition. Even if it's not a final, we have to be 100% focused.
"We're trying to win every competition. We still have a chance in the league, we are through to the Coppa Italia semi-finals and, in the Champions League, it's all down to us," he continued. "It's important to win the first leg but, above all, we don't want to concede any goals. It will be tough because Bayern are a great team."
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