New Leonardo era should revive Inter's title challenge, says Milito

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The Independent Football

Internazionale coach Leonardo faces his first test tonight when he makes his debut against second-place Napoli as Serie A resumes after a 17-day break.

Recruited to replace Rafa Benitez after Inter won the Club World Cup, Leonardo leads an Inter side that is only seventh in the table, 13 points behind leaders Milan. Led by Edinson Cavani and Marek Hamsik – who have scored a combined 17 goals – Napoli head to San Siro trailing Milan by three points.

Making matters more difficult for Leonardo is that striker Samuel Eto'o is still suspended after head-butting a Chievo opponent last month and goalkeeper Julio Cesar could be out for another month after injuring his right leg in training on Tuesday.

But there are already signs that Leonardo has changed Inter's outlook. "He's a great person and his message is quite clear," Inter striker Diego Milito said. "The squad will follow him and I hope he can help us to reach our big goals."

Tonight's other games also see Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri visiting his former club Cagliari, third-place Lazio at Genoa and fourth-place Juventus host Parma.

With a few matches postponed last month due to the Club World Cup, Inter will play nine games over the next month. "Already starting with Thursday we've got to pull out victories that can put us back in the fight for the title," said Milito, who scored both goals in Inter's Champions League final 2-0 win over Bayern Munich in May, then struggled with his form and injuries during the first half of this season.

"We're in good form, we're happy and we're training well," Milito added. "Winning the Club World Cup has definitely given us more motivation for what's ahead, starting with the match against Napoli. We need victories."

Making his Inter debut should be centre back Andrea Ranocchia, who signed from Genoa on Monday. His arrival gives the Nerazzurri some tinely defensive relief after Walter Samuel was ruled out for the season with a knee injury.

Milan also have a couple key changes, with Antonio Cassano having joined from Sampdoria and Ronaldinho having left the club with a possible move back to Brazil.

"Cassano is the most talented Italian player," was the typically extravagant claim of Milan president and Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi. Cassano will likely be on the bench with Brazil forwards Alexandre Pato and Robinho spearheading Milan's attack. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is suspended for a game.

Allegri has confirmed Ronaldinho is set for a move back to Brazil. The forward, who had been a ambitious target for Premier League side Blackburn, is close to joining home-town club Gremio. Allegri said: "We are all sorry to lose a player of the quality of Ronaldinho. But he has made a life choice by going to Brazil."

Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon is expected to play for Juventus for the first time since injuring his back during the World Cup, but will likely stay on the bench with coach Luigi Del Neri preferring Marco Storari.

Juventus forward Vincenzo Iaquinta is out for a month with a thigh muscle strain, leaving Del Neri to choose from Fabio Quagliarella, Amauri and Alessandro del Piero in attack.