Insecurities for Inter Milan seem to be infectious

Manager Claudio Ranieri picks up his predecessor Jose Mourinho's habit as undercurrents of conspiracy against his players abound ahead of Saturday night's game against Juventus.

Claudio Ranieri’s Inter Milan are struggling.
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There is not a lot of resemblance in the outward characters of Jose Mourinho and Claudio Ranieri, as Mourinho used to like to point out.

The Portuguese would disdain the older man's shortcomings in the trophy cabinet when they compared to his own set of medals.

Sneering like this made Ranieri seem the more dignified, and certainly the more charming of the two through their years of rivalry, first when Mourinho succeeded Ranieri at Chelsea, and then when Mourinho's Inter Milan jousted with Juventus and Roma while the Italian was in charge of those two clubs.

But as Ranieri's stint in charge of Inter spurts and stutters into its third month, something of the old Mourinho posture can be detected in Ranieri's dark looks and angry words into microphones.

"A penalty awarded against us?" he spat after Wednesday night's 1-1 draw at Atalanta, who were denied a victory when Luca Castellazzi saved a German Denis spot-kick. "Pah, we're used to that by now."

Inter have indeed suffered an alarming number of penalties awarded against them - five already - this season.

And, although Ranieri and Massimo Moratti, the Inter president, have mostly tried to be more careful about nourishing conspiracy theories than the studiously suspicious, even paranoid figure, that Mourinho used to be, Sunday's meeting with top-of-the-table Juventus is already coloured by Inter's insecurities about official decisions going against them.The derby d'Italia, as Inter versus Juve is known, has been heavily cloaked by this theme for the past four years, ever since the clubs were reacquainted with one another after the year's gap when Juventus served their punishment - demotion to Serie B - for their directors' involvement in unfairly influencing referees.

The Calciopoli scandal left the Turin team embittered. They feel angry that Inter were later awarded the 2006 scudetto, taken away from Juve, who had finished top of the table that May.

Four days after Saturday night's collision at San Siro, the Italian Court for Sports Arbitration will hear Juve's arguments that Inter should be stripped of the 2006 title, alleging that they too were implicated in the systematic manipulation of match officials.

Mourinho, who won the 2009 and 2010 Serie A titles with Inter, used to refer to some unseen force that penalised his team with rough refereeing.

He famously made a touchline gesture with his arms, as if his wrists were handcuffed together, on an evening when two Inter players were sent off in a goalless draw with Sampdoria, the implication that Inter were prisoners of untrustworthy officialdom.

Moratti, prone to the odd hot-tempered outburst on the subject, was trying to sound circumspect when he said after the Atalanta trip: "The number of penalties against us is frustrating, but it's just a coincidence."

Not so according to Ernesto Paolillo, the club's managing director: "It's become the norm to have penalties given against us." And red and yellow cards. Inter have collected 18 cautions and two dismissals in their eight Serie A matches so far.

This goes beyond conspiracy theorising. Inter are on edge; Christian Chivu, the Romanian defender, is becoming a hot-spot for rashness and risk in defence.

Ranieri's job, as the "fixer" who came in after the campaign had begun badly, is not to construct a new team but to raise morale, develop the best strategy for his mix of been-around-the-block former Champions League winners and the younger players that have the talent to genuinely refresh Inter.

Four seasons ago, he achieved something like that with Juventus, whom he guided back into the top four the first season after their return to Serie A. Ranieri must smile wryly at seeing Juve now at the very summit. But if they guarantee staying there with a win on Saturday night, it means his Inter could drop into the relegation zone by the end of Sunday.


Messi has backing

All eyes will be on Lionel Messi when Barcelona look to get back to their best at home to Real Mallorca on Saturday.

The Argentine has been below par recently as Barca have failed to perform to their usual high standards. They face a mid-table Mallorca looking for a repeat of the 1-1 draw they managed in Catalunya last season.

Pep Guardiola may include Cesc Fabregas in the side alongside Messi, and the midfielder ridiculed criticism of the forward's recent showing.

“He scores goals every game, makes them, always plays. He’s a fabulous player, physically and mentally,” said Fabregas. “If there are doubts about Messi, I don’t know how they see the rest of us.”

Mallorca have not won in four games and suffered a home defeat against Sporting Gijon in midweek. Real Sociedad face Real Madrid on Saturday night.


Dortmund plan well

Jurgen Klopp insists his Borussia Dortmund side will not become a victim of their own success as they prepare for their fifth game in the space of 16 days against Stuttgart on Saturday.

The Bundesliga champions are playing a game every three days, but Klopp says his only concern is ensuring he has 11 fit men on the field.

He said on the club’s website: “We are planning things in a way that the lads don’t think on Saturday ‘not more football’.”

His preparations have been aided by two comfortable victories in the past week.

“It is a lot easier to prepare for the next game when you won the last one,” he said. “We want to extend our winning streak, but we know it is going to be hard work.”

Dortmund have won their last four league matches and are second in the table. However, Stuttgart are also in good form and lie just two points behind Dortmund in fifth.


Bordeaux like Arsenal

Francis Gillot, the Bordeaux manager, has compared the club's fall from grace in the French league to Arsenal's demise in the English Premier League.

Gillot’s team, who won the title three years ago, currently lie third from bottom of Ligue 1 after winning just once in 11 league matches this season.

They face a relegation-zone battle with bottom side Ajaccio on Saturday, and Gillot has called for the fans to be patient and to retain perspective.

“It can happen to all teams, even Arsenal,” Gillot told the club’s official website. “I ask for patience. The championship started only two months ago.

“I am not a magician. Coaches need to work and have time to make things right ... It has been two years since the club plummeted. I cannot do in two months what should be done in one year.”


Altidore ‘rested’

Gertjan Verbeek, the AZ Alkmaar coach, has denied there is an issue with striker Jozy Altidore.

The Eridivise leaders are four points clear of PSV Eindhoven and Twente, and Altidore, the US international, has been a hit this season, scoring seven goals in all competitions. However, the striker was on the substitutes’ bench for the Europa League match against Austria Vienna in midweek.

AZ travel to Heracles on Sunday aiming to extend their lead at the top of the table, and Verbeek said resting players is the key to his team’s success.

“It really is not that we have put Jozy in a forgotten corner,” he said. “In this way we try to get Jozy to function the best he can. It seems it is still uncommon in the Netherlands to rest players. That happens with Ragnar Klavan, who plays fantastic and yet I sometimes say to him: ‘You won’t play the next game’. In my view it is one of the reasons we are top.”


Celtic deal with injury

Goalkeeper Fraser Forster has accepted the fact that the only constant in the Celtic defence this season has been change.

Injuries and loss of form have forced manager Neil Lennon to tinker with his back four on an almost game-by-game basis.

Charlie Mulgrew, the stand-in captain, has recovered from an ankle knock, so there could be changes again on Saturday for the visit of Hibernian.

Forster, in his second spell on loan from Newcastle, admits it is not an ideal situation but knows there is little that can be done.
"Ideally you would want to try to keep the same back four as much as you can," he said.

“But we have had a lot of injuries this season and the back four has changed so much, but whoever has come in to play has done a terrific job.

“Thomas Rogne came in on Wednesday night [in the Scottish Communities League Cup quarter-final win over Hibs] and was absolutely superb.

“We didn’t have the injuries last season, but things change in football and you have to get on with it and do your best.”

League leaders Rangers travel to face Aberdeen on Saturday hoping to extend their lead over second-placed Motherwell, who are away to Inverness, at the top to 12 points.