Sport Soccer

Saturday 17 March 2018

Benitez facing injury crisis for Bremen clash

THE defending champions Internazionale and their opponents, Werder Bremen, enter their Group A match in the Champions League this evening with serious injury problems.

Inter striker Diego Milito strained his thigh in a last-minute 1-0 loss to AS Roma at the weekend, while fellow forward Goran Pandev is also doubtful. Captain Javier Zanetti, Walter Samuel, Marco Materazzi and Thiago Motto are all unavailable.

Milito and Pandev were included in Inter's squad announced yesterday, although coach Rafa Benitez said he wouldn't decide on their status until match day.

Bremen will be without forward Claudio Pizarro, captain Torsten Frings and defender Clemens Fritz.

Both sides began the group stage with 2-2 draws. Inter were held at Dutch champions FC Twente and Bremen battled back from two goals down to rescue a point against Tottenham.

Inter have not lost two consecutive matches since February 2006, when current Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini was in charge.

New manager Rafael Benitez has had to face constant comparisons to Jose Mourinho, who guided Inter to an unprecedented treble last season with the Champions League, Serie A and Italian Cup titles.

Inter were criticised for playing for a draw at the end of the loss to Roma, having wasted several scoring chances earlier on.

"The squad is still dangerous when it has the ball, when it attacks and on the counter-attack, but we've got to work on being more compact as a team and improving the defence," Benitez said.

With a match against Juventus looming on Sunday, Benitez doesn't have much time to switch things around.

Bremen have already tasted success in Italy this season, having eliminated Sampdoria in the final qualifying round in August courtesy of an injury-time goal from Pizarro.

Another coach under pressure is Lyon's Claude Puel, whose side travel to Hapoel Tel Aviv tonight after Saturday's defeat to Saint-Etienne which plunged the seven-time former champions into the relegation zone.

Puel has the backing of Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas -- for now-- but there are reports that several players no longer want to play under him and another defeat will seriously weaken his position. "I am still the right man for the job. I don't ask myself any questions about resigning," Puel said.

Lyon are still without Argentina striker Lisandro Lopez, who has a thigh injury, so Bafetimbi Gomis is likely to start up front with Yoann Gourcuff pushing forward to support him. Gourcuff has so far failed to shine since signing from Bordeaux in the summer.

Puel will also be without holding midfielder Jean II Makoun and winger Cesar Delgado. With Brazilian defender Cris still out injured, Pape Diakhate and Dejan Lovren are likely to continue at centre-half.

"We've had no luck since the start of the season," Lyon midfielder Jeremy Toulalan said. "We just have to keep going, it's only through perseverance that we'll get there. We have to keep working hard."

Irish Independent

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