Eurozone: Leonardo rejects revenge factor as Inter aim to dethrone Milan

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The Independent Online

The coach of Internazionale, Leonardo, will complete an incredible personal transformation tonight if he guides his team to victory in the Milan derby.

Three points will take Inter above their city rivals and put the Brazilian ahead of his old team in the race for the Scudetto and on top for the first time since taking over.

Last night he was playing down the importance of his chance to put one over on his former employers. "It's an exaggeration to say this is the coach's war. It is the players who will be the protagonists and decide where the points end up. It is not about revenge for me. Now my ties are with Inter, even though Milan formed such a big part of my life. Football for me is about enjoyment and I am just planning to enjoy this game."

The coach also looked to dismiss the idea that the match will decide the destiny of the title." It will be an extraordinary game," he said. "This derby always is and now we have the two top teams in the table playing each other and with just two points separating them. Psychologically the result could have a bearing on the rest of the season but mathematically nothing will be decided."

Milan have picked up just one point from the two games played in Serie A against Bari and Palermo after being bounced out of the Champions League by Tottenham and have missed the suspended Zlaten Ibrahimovic who, despite having his three-match ban reduced to two games will still miss tonight's showdown.

Inter have their own problematic forward in Samuel Eto'o but the Cameroon international always manages to keep his occasional outbursts away from the pitch. He is in trouble this week for insulting a reporter but his form on the field of play has been superb both in the league and the Champions League.

Eto'o was asked by a journalist after Cameroon's defeat to Senegal whether the result signaled the end of the "Eto'o generation". The former Barcelona forward replied: "You only express negativity. I will talk with your boss because you don't deserve to have your job. People like you should not exist. Some journalists do not want Africa and Cameroon to advance."

It was not the first time that Eto'o had attacked journalists. In 2008 he was accused of headbutting the radio reporter Philippe Bony in a press conference.

Eto'o has 27 goals in all competitions this season and will start with Goran Pandev and Giampaolo Pazzini up front with Diego Milito expected to be named among the substitutes. Milan will pair the Brazilians Alexandre Pato and Robinho in attack and pick Kevin Prince Boateng to play just behind them if he recovers from the injury problems that ruled him out of Ghana's game at Wembley in midweek. Antonio Cassano is struggling for fitness and likely to start on the bench.

It is Leonardo's first derby at Inter after 13 years with Milan. Rafael Benitez was in charge earlier in the season when Milan ran out 1-0 winners and any improvement on that showing will further enhance the wisdom of Massimo Moratti's decision to replace the Spaniard at the start of the year.

Last season Jose Mourinho's Inter strode to a 4-0 victory in this fixture and Milan can wipe out that memory and go five points clear of their rivals with a win – a draw could even allow Napoli back into the race. They face Lazio at lunchtime tomorrow with the league's top scorer, Edinson Cavani, going up against his Uruguayan international team-mate Nando Muslera.

Ronaldo 'will miss Tottenham game'

Jose Mourinho last night claimed that Cristiano Ronaldo would miss Real Madrid's Champions League quarter-final first leg against Tottenham Hotspur on Tuesday.

Having confirmed that Ronaldo, along with Karim Benzema and Marcelo, would not play today against Sporting Gijon, Mourinho was asked whether they would have been able to play had Madrid been playing Barcelona. He replied: "No, the medical staff have told me they are only fit for Bilbao [Real's next league game after the first leg against Tottenham]".

Asked whether he was resting players with one eye on the visit of Spurs, he added: "This game is more important than Tottenham. I can't rest anyone. If we lose this, we lose the league. If we lose on Tuesday we can turn things around in London."

Ronaldo has a left thigh strain while Benzema picked up a similar problem playing for France in midweek against Croatia and Marcelo returned from Brazil with injured ribs.

It seems unlikely Mourinho would do the Tottenham manager, Harry Redknapp, the favour of confirming three absentees ahead of next week's match and after his Arsenal counterpart, Arsène Wenger, ruled out Robin van Persie of their tie against Barcelona in the previous round only to pick him to start, Mourinho's words were not being taken wholly seriously.

Regardless of whether Ronaldo plays on Tuesday, it is clear he is not fully fit. "I felt limited physically," he said after his last league outing against Atletico Madrid, when he was substituted. "I want to get back to being 100 per cent. When I am injured it goes around in my head and I don't want it to end up affecting me psychologically."

There are fears that playing the whole of every league game until the turn of the year has left him drained – he has already played more minutes this season than during the last one.

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