INTERNAZIONALE will treat tomorrow night’s Europa League encounter as their most important game of their season, according to Celtic assistant manager John Collins.
Historically, Italian teams haven’t always given their full attention to second-string continental competition. However, the Serie A struggles of Roberto Mancini’s tenth-placed side means the tournament now offers them the best chance of obtaining European football next season. And the fact this takes the form of a prized Champions League berth for the winners has Collins convinced Inter will see the Europa League as their potential season-salvager.
“Inter will now think this is their route to the Champions League,” said the Celtic No 2 of a Milan club that have claimed six European honours. “So all their focus, trust me, will be on this tie no matter what we think or what they say. They’ll be ready for it. They will be doing everything possible to get a result. I think all teams will be taking it unbelievably seriously now because you get access to the Champions League if you win it. A fantastic move by Uefa. That changes the mindset of every team that’s in the tournament now.”
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The mindset of Celtic to the first leg tie will be “positive”, Collins said. But while club manager Ronny Deila stated at the weekend he would not seek to modify his team’s accent on attack, his assistant offered caveats as to how expansive the home side could afford to be.
“We are at home and are at our best when we are on the front foot and pressing our opponent, trying to control the game with possession. But we have to be realistic – we are up against a quality opponent,” he said. “This is not the SPFL so they will have possession of the ball and it is important that when they do, we have to drop off a little bit and be more compact. But our attitude is that we are at home so we have to start the game well and take it to our opponents.”
In Inter, Celtic are facing opponents who have found their mojo with, as Collins pointed out, four-goal and three-goal returns in posting back-to-back wins following a three-game losing streak.
“This is a massive step up from the SPFL, no disrespect to these teams, This team is full of international players worth a fortune, on huge salaries, and if we make mistakes or switch off against this type of opponent, they’ll create a chance or score a goal. That’s the reality.
“In the SPFL, you can make a mistake or give the ball away and they don’t punish you. Here, we will be punished and we will have to be switched on for the full 90 minutes.
“The top teams try to stretch you and play through you, so it’s important that we stay nice and compact.”
Collins highlighted two players in particular that could dish out punishment to their Scottish hosts tomorrow. “Mauro Icardi is the one who scores the goals but they’ve good players in midfield as well. Fredy Guarin, the Colombian midfielder, scored a couple at the weekend [in the 4-1 victory at Atalanta] from outside the box. One right, one left foot, so we will be aware of their individual talents.”
Celtic’s talismanic attacking talent Kris Commons is not a player that Collins expects to be able to play a full part in the first leg as he recovers from a hamstring injury that has sidelined him for the club’s last two games.
“Kris did another session with us [yesterday but] not a full session,” the Celtic assistant said. “We’ll check him every day. I don’t think he’ll be fit enough to start. He might be fit enough for the bench, which might be good for us.
“But it’s a hamstring and it’s important we don’t make it worse. He’s experienced and will decide if he’s ready. He’s trying his best.”
Collins did his best yesterday to play a straight bat when asked about the decision of Rangers to allow Inter the use of their Milngavie training facility on the morning of the game.
He said: “It’s a good venue.
It’s a good choice. I’m sure everyone at Murray Park will be desperate for a good Scottish victory.”