Inter miss their marvellous munchkin

When a struggling side come visiting you want to put them to the sword before half-time and then inflict the coup de grace early on in the second half before deciding to sit back and relax.

However, when you’re forced to remove your best player with the opposition still showing signs of life, then you can run into trouble.

Serie A’s most exciting team at the moment, Sampdoria, were home and dry at half-time against Bologna, thanks in part to Antonio Cassano<’s spellbinding control of the ball and ability to produce more angles than a pool hustler.

Inter have an equally sublime operator in Wesley Sneijder, but with the score at 2-0 heading into the final quarter of the game against Catania, Jose Mourinho was forced to substitute the Dutchman, who was feeling the slight pull of a warm shower (although he claimed it was a muscle).

Without the attacking midfielder’s deft touches and jack-in-the-box ability to pop up just about anywhere, Inter forgot how to keep possession and once again the San Siro had to suffer a nervy finale as Catania clawed a goal back.

With Sneijder on the pitch the Sicilians had hardly seen a sniff of the ball; no wonder Inter have won each of the seven league games in which the former Real Madrid man has played.

What Real were doing selling him in the first place is anyone’s guess but it is Spain’s loss and Italian football’s gain.

Sneijder may not have Cassano’s rapier-like dribbling ability, but like the Samp man he loves the ball at his feet and inevitably the crowd on theirs.

What else would you expect from someone who came through the Ajax academy?

He may be a munchkin in Inter’s land of the giants but size doesn’t matter when you possess flair, technique and a nasty little streak that ensures no one is going to take you for granted.

Ask Argentina’s boss.

The truth is that talent comes out on top just about every time, so while Mourinho was forced to keep the creaking Patrick Vieira and huffing-and-puffing Sulley Muntari on the pitch, earlier on Saturday evening Gigi del Neri was giving Cassano the keys to the Ferrari and telling him to let it rip.

The Bari ball-wizard could easily have come off at half-time, having set up two and played a part in another goal to leave Samp 4-0 up, but Del Neri knew that his star man would be happiest out on the pitch and not milking the adulation in the stands.

Bologna were down to 10 men and so lacking in direction it’s a wonder they found their way out of the dressing room.

However, they still had to chase Cassano all over the pitch for the full 90 minutes.

Whereas, unburdened by not having to shackle Sneijder, Catania could concentrate on passing the ball around and freeing up players to attack in numbers.

Of course, it’s always helpful to have a tractor that’s still running on a full tank after three years and Javier Zanetti is such a machine – playing his 139th consecutive match for Inter at the weekend.

Football is certainly a game for all shapes, sizes and but there is something about the slick little model that gets heads turning.

Juventus have one as well but he has been stalling of late – although at least Diego set up the winner at Siena to sort of get the Old Lady on the road again.

Fabrizio Miccoli’s jinking runs have helped Palermo up into the top four but it’s a man more accustomed to stopping attackers who has been AC Milan’s star.

Great to see Alessandro Nesta back to his majestic best and scoring goals to boot: the defender has been the Rossoneri’s best player all season and just when it looked as if it was going to be shame in Chievo after the merriment in Madrid, the Roman popped up to score twice late on.

Dida even made a save that, if it hadn’t been from Dida, would have had everyone lauding the Brazilian blunderer as one of the best keepers in the world.

Apart from Samp and Palermo being in the top four, the league is starting to take on a more familiar appearance.

And with a midweek round on Wednesday the old guard could well reinforce their positions at the top.

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