Claudio Ranieri's Inter Milan are a shadow of the class of 2010

The Italian side arrive at the Stade Velodrome for a Champions League clash with Marseille 'not in good shape' and with question marks about the form of key player Wesley Snjeider.

Wesley Sneijder has been out of form since returning to the Inter starting line-up after injury.
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One of the best qualities of Didier Deschamps, the head coach of Olympique Marseille, is his candour.

Asked ahead of tonight's meeting with Inter Milan in the Champions League, what he had thought of the performance he travelled to Italy to watch last Friday night, there was no talk of Inter being "unlucky", the scoreline being "not a fair reflection" or any another pieces of insincere manager speak.

Inter, thought Deschamps, are "not a team in good shape, and haven't been for the four matches before then, either, from what I have seen on the television".

At least on Friday against Bologna, the Marseille head coach had stayed around to see the second half. Massimo Moratti, the Inter president, left San Siro at the interval, with Inter 2-0 down. He missed Bologna's third goal, he missed some sorry fumblings as his own team sought goals that never came.

Deschamps, whose close relationship with Italian football developed as a Juventus player in the 1990s and as the Juventus head coach of the 2006/07 season - after which Inter's current coach Claudio Ranieri took over at Juve - identified the curiosity of Inter's predicament.

"If you look at the XI from the Champions League final in 2010 [which Inter won], only Goran Pandev and Samuel Eto'o have left. And when you look who they have added, that is still a great team," he said.

But great teams do not go six matches without a win, which is the form Inter have brought to southern France.

Ranieri, Inter's fourth head coach since the peak of 2010, was given a hint of sympathy from Deschamps when the Frenchman observed how much they had been hurt by the loss of the midfielder Thiago Motta - "a player who gave Inter balance," said Deschamps - who was sold to Paris Saint Germain last month.

Ranieri had said he wanted the player to stay. But what Deschamps did not volunteer was an explanation for the declined influence of Wesley Sneijder, the Dutch star, whose return from injury has coincided with Inter's latest free fall.

Ranieri has laid the ground for excluding Sneijder from the starting XI tonight at the Velodrome.

"For me, Sneijder is not the problem," he told Gazzetta dello Sport, "but the solution, and as a coach of Inter I am under an obligation to always look for ways of best using the most creative players we have."

Patently, Ranieri has struggled to do that, with Sneijder floating around various positions in the attacking half of the pitch without exerting consistent influence.

"The question is," said Ranieri, "when is the right moment to use him?"

In other words, do not be too surprised if his initial role against Marseille is on the bench.

Inter are facing a challenge of a far stiffer calibre than the likes of Novara, the Serie A relegation candidates who beat them at San Siro 11 days ago, or Bologna, who put three goals past them there, or Palermo, who scored four against Inter at the beginning of this month.

Marseille's last outing in the Champions League was a victory in the intimidating Westfalen arena against Borussia Dortmund, close to the start of their current 15-match unbeaten run. The home side have injury problems, though, with Loic Remy, the striker, injured and Andre-Pierre Gignac, another forward, and the defender Stephane Mbia still short of full match fitness. Inter will be relieved not to have to deal with Remy's pace.

Ranieri will be relieved if Moratti lasts the 90 minutes. It may irk the Inter president to see Deschamps patrolling the opposition technical area. The Frenchman had been approached last summer to coach Inter. Deschamps said no, feeling he could build further at Marseille. That currently looks a wise decision.