Inter Milan are not the same squad that Rafa Benitez was busy ruining in the fall of 2010, when they last met Tottenham Hotspur, but Gareth Bale is not the same player that made Maicon reconsider his choice of profession two and a half years ago either. He is better.
When the two clubs last met, Bale scored a hat trick at the San Siro, and while it came in a loss, he absolutely stunned the Italian faithful. The Welshman laid waste to the world's best right and when the two teams met on the next matchday, Bale picked up two assists on a pair of wonderful runs and passes to sear himself into the nightmares of Inter.
As the two teams get ready to meet once again, Bale is in the best form of his life and is primed to terrorize Inter, only in a very different way. No longer just a speedy winger, Bale;s finishing is better than ever before and he is playing with supreme confidence from all over the pitch, not just on the left touchline, a prospect that has to frighten an Inter defense that is already in tatters. Javier Zanetti has drawn the short straw and will be charged with facing Bale, something that will be a challenge, even if he the winger doesn't put in his best match.
On Sunday, in one of Bale's poorest games since the new year, he still managed to score in Tottenham's 2-1 win over Arsenal that has the club dreaming big. Now in the driver's seat for third place and a spot in the Champions League, Spurs are riding high and hoping to add silverware to a berth in the world's biggest club tournament. The same can't be said about Inter.
The foremost thought on the mind of Inter manager Andrea Stramaccioni is simply keeping his job. He's come under fire as the team has dropped to fifth in Serie A and had Inter not scored three times in the second half to erase a 2-0 halftime deficit and win over the weekend, Stramaccioni may not be in charge of the club today.
Inter will have the benefit of Antonio Cassano today, someone they missed over the weekend when he was benched after an argument with Stramaccion. But Walter Samuel and Andrea Ranocchia are both out, leaving Inter thin at the back, while Diego Milito remains sidelined, as will be the case for the rest of the season.
Spurs aren't especially healthy either, as Younes Kaboul, Sandro and Tom Huddlestone are all battling knee injuries, while Clint Dempsey is all sideline, but none of them are unexpected injuries nor devastating ones. Neither is the knee injury to Emmanuel Adebayor, who will likely miss the match, but whose absence will be softened by the return of Jermain Defoe to the starting XI.
But for all the injuries, dreams of raising a trophy or fears of firing anyone from either team may have, the focus is on one man -- Gareth Bale. He is back, and this time Zanetti is the man on the other side. Taxi for Zanetti.