THERE are two things I think of when looking forward to Sunday's friendly against Inter Milan.
The first is simply the quality we're up against. We're all now aware that they have been named Italian champions for last season and that adds a little extra dimension to what is already a fantastic fixture for us.
The second is the name. When you think about the big Italian teams you think Juventus, AC Milan and Inter Milan almost in the same breath. They've all had periods where they've been the best teams in Italy and it's a very, very strong team. Irrespective of what type of season they've had or the form they are in, the name always has pulling power and is one of the most famous names in world football.
I remember watching them in a pre-season friendly at Portsmouth last summer and they were very impressive. When I saw them they were up against a Pompey side that had new faces and they were trying to bed those players in whereas Inter were up and running very quickly. They kept a good shape in a 4-4-2 and showed real quality on the day.
This is the best side we've been up against so far in pre-season. We have played good opposition though including the three games in France and Birmingham, who have only just been relegated from the Premiership. For us, in terms of pre-season, it's the continuation of what we started in the Peace Cup last summer because we felt our success in South Korea certainly helped us get off to a good start in the Premiership.
Inter have players who were involved in the World Cup and, of course, Grosso and Materazzi went all the way to the final. There are also players invoved in the earlier stages like Adriano, for instance, and lads that weren't involved at all. That being the case, there is every chance they will field a strong side. Looking in the forward areas, Adriano and Martins are two powerhouses up front with Martins the smaller of the two and Adriano packing that wonderful left foot. Figo might play as well. They are strong in midfield with Dacourt who we know from his time at Leeds and Everton. Zanetti, a very experienced Argentinian player, is in the wide position, Cambiasso, Solari who was at Real Madrid and in defence Walter Samuel, who is very strong.
Most clubs would now have their World Cup players back, depending on how far they went in the competition. Grosso and Materazzi couldn't have gone any further, of course, but others came home earlier and it's normal in football terms that you have to evaluate the players in terms of fitness. There is no point bringing a player back who hasn't had a long enough break.
It's a big game but one we want to win and it also has that added edge because we're back in the UEFA Cup next season. This is almost like playing a big game in the UEFA Cup and if you asked our players if they wanted to face the strongest possible Inter team or not, they certainly would. They are up for it, want to win it and that's been the case in all the friendlies so far.
Chris Hughton kicks-off his regular assessment of our forthcoming opponents for 2006-07 with a look at Inter Milan.