André Villas-Boas is not known for taking things easy. Predictably enough for a man who would occasionally spend all night beavering away at his training ground office when he was Chelsea manager, and who separately owes his broader reputation to success in Europe's secondary cup competition, Villas-Boas will not be sending out a weakened team when Tottenham play Internazionale at the Giuseppe Meazza stadium on Thursday night, never mind the enervating effects of a 3-0 first-leg lead. It is a mark of the occasionally skewed priorities at the peak of European club football that this is even worthy of note but Tottenham's manager wants to win this occasionally unloved competition.
"No chance," Villas-Boas replied when asked if was considering fielding a weakened team." We will play a strong team to make sure we go through in this competition. We take this game very seriously."
Only Gareth Bale, terror of Inter's retreating defence in 2010, is unavailable for Spurs, suspended after his booking last week. "We will miss him but we won't want to prove anything without him because we believe a lot in ourselves," Villas-Boas said, no doubt bolstered a little further in the absence of his outstanding player by the notably hangdog air currently surrounding the hosts ahead of Thursday's tie. For Inter, currently four points off qualification for the Champions League next season, these are difficult times.
Andrea Stramaccioni, their head coach, said on Wednesday he will pick from a squad weakened both by injury and by player rotation. Such is the way at Inter currently. Of the squad that beat Bayern Munich to become champions of Europe three years ago this summer only Cristian Chivu, Esteban Cambiasso and the indomitable cavalryman of the right flank Javier Zanetti are available to face Spurs. Júlio César, Maicon, Lúcio, Wesley Sneijder, Samuel Eto'o, Goran Pandev and Mario Balotelli are among a group of 14 senior players to have left the club in that time, causalities of austerity, age and general wanderlust.
Sixth in Serie A last year and fifth currently, Inter have become a slightly listless Milanese giant, revenues scaled back by a move to collective TV rights negotiation in Serie A, the limitations of their own matchday revenues and some heavy annual losses bound up in salary and transfer trading, the most recent a mere €86m.
Stramaccioni, the gloomily embattled coach, is in his own way a rather hopeful cost-cutting measure, elevated to the job in place of Claudio Ranieri after coaching Inter's juniors to the 2012 NextGen series title (they have just been eliminated by Arsenal from this year's competition) and painted initially as Calcio's answer to the current wave of youthful, technologically literate southern European-inflected coaches, the Villas-Boas genus.
Victory against Milan last season, which would ultimately cost their neighbour the Serie A title, confirmed Stramaccioni in the job permanently. The 3-1 defeat that halted Juventus' winning run in November was another early spike. But the receding prospect of Champions League football next season leaves their coach perilously placed. Few in Italy expect him to last into the summer barring a decisive upturn in Inter's league form.
As such Europe's consolation prize competition has started to look little more than a respectfully endured formality en route to the real endgame of Stramaccioni's tenure. "We want to do well and honour [the Europa League], but we know our situation and our numbers are limited," Inter's manager said on Wednesday, either all but conceding the impossibility of his task or concocting one of footballs more elaborately plaintive rope-a-dope stratagems. "Football is strange. Three-nil is difficult to overturn, but we'll be taking to the field to win."
Inter: Handanovic; Zanetti, Juan, Chivu, Pereira; Gargano, Cambiasso; Benassi, Cassano, Guarin; Palacio
Spurs: Friedel; Walker, Gallas, Dawson, Assou-Ekotto; Lennon, Dembélé, Parker, Holtby, Sigurdsson; Adebayor