An eagerly-anticipated Champions League contest will take place at San Siro on Wednesday night, when Scudetto holders Inter Milan play host to six-time European champions, Liverpool, for the first leg of their last-16 tie.
The Reds were one of three teams in this year’s competition who completed the group stage with a 100% record, while the Nerazzurri finished second behind Real Madrid.
For the first time in a decade, Inter Milan will be competing in the knockout rounds of the Champions League, and while hopes are high of progressing to the latter stages of the competition, they will have a difficult task in overcoming one of the tournament favorites Liverpool over two legs.
As mentioned earlier, Simone Inzaghi‘s side finished second in Group D with 10 points from their six matches, five points behind group winners Real Madrid. The Nerazzurri won home and away against tournament debutants Sheriff Tiraspol and secured four points from their two encounters with Shakhtar Donetsk, but they were unable to claim any points or score against Los Blancos.
Inter head into Wednesday’s contest after failing to win their last two Serie A matches, losing 2-1 to city rivals AC Milan and drawing 1-1 with Napoli last weekend. These results have seen Inzaghi’s men knocked off their perch at the summit by Milan, but they do have a game in hand.
The Nerazzurri will be keen to bounce back with a positive result in midweek, though grinding out results against English clubs in Europe has proven challenging over the years.
Since the 2003-04 campaign, Inter has been eliminated from two of their previous three two-legged knockout ties against English opposition; all three of these have been in the last 16, suffering defeat against Liverpool in 2007-08 and Manchester United in 2008-09, before losing out to Chelsea in 2009-10.
Inter will face another tough challenge on Wednesday but their home form should provide them with confidence, as they have lost only three of their 30 competitive matches at San Siro across all competitions since the beginning of 2021.
Liverpool extended their winning run across all competitions to six matches with a slender 1-0 success in the Premier League away at basement club Burnley last weekend.
Fabinho‘s close-range strike on the stroke of halftime helped Jurgen Klopp‘s men move back to within nine points of league leaders Manchester City, and the Reds have a game in hand.
Liverpool now turns their attention to the Champions League and they will be hoping to improve on their last two knockout performances in the competition. Since clinching their sixth European crown in 2018-19, the Reds have been eliminated in the last 16 against Atletico Madrid in 2019-20, before losing out in the quarter-finals to Real Madrid last season.
In this campaign, Klopp’s rampant side have been in formidable form, scoring 17 goals and winning all six of their Group B matches, including both encounters with Inter’s rivals AC Milan. Liverpool could become just the second team after Tottenham Hotspur in 2010-11 to win against both Inter and AC Milan in the same season if they were to prevail on Wednesday or in next month’s second leg.
Liverpool’s midweek clash will be their fifth against Inter in European competition; the Reds suffered a 4-3 aggregate defeat in the semi-finals of the 1964-65 European Cup – the same season Inter went on to win the trophy – before getting their revenge 43 years later in the last 16 of the 2007-08 Champions League, winning 3-0 on aggregate thanks to strikes from Dirk Kuyt, Steven Gerrard, and Fernando Torres.
Liverpool was initially set to face Red Bull Salzburg in the last 16, before a UEFA fiasco in December’s draw proceedings forced a re-draw to take place, with the Reds now facing Inter Milan. A two-legged contest with the Nerazzurri will be viewed by Reds supporters as a more challenging affair as opposed to facing Salzburg, but nevertheless, Klopp and co will still be strong favorites to come out on top.
Inter Milan will be without Joaquin Correa and Robin Gosens, as they continue to recover from thigh injuries, while Nicolo Barella is suspended following his dismissal against Real Madrid in their final group game.
In addition, Aleksandar Kolarov is ineligible to play after being removed from their Champions League squad, allowing January signings Gosens and Felipe Caicedo to be included. Stefano Sensi is the other player removed after joining Sampdoria on loan last month.
Centre-back Alessandro Bastoni is currently serving a domestic suspension, but the Italian is available to play in midweek and he is expected to replace Federico Dimarco on the left side of a back three, starting alongside Stefan De Vrij and Milan Skriniar.
Former Manchester City striker Edin Dzeko, who has scored in each of his last three appearances against Liverpool, is set to lead the line in attack alongside Lautaro Martinez, with Alexis Sanchez an option from the bench.
Arturo Vidal, who has started only five games this season, is expected to replace Barella in center-midfield, joining Marcelo Brozovic and Hakan Calhanoglu in the middle of the pitch.
As for Liverpool, Klopp may decide to make one or two changes to freshen up his starting lineup after last weekend’s win at Turf Moor, with the likes of Thiago Alcantara, Naby Keita and James Milner all fighting for a place in centre-midfield alongside Jordan Henderson and Fabinho.
Diogo Jota should be in contention to start despite beginning on the bench against Burnley after picking up a dead leg in the build-up.
The Portugal international could therefore replace Roberto Firmino in the first XI, joining Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane in a formidable front three, with January signing Luis Diaz set to begin on the substitutes’ bench.
A back four of Trent Alexander-Arnold, Joel Matip, Virgil van Dijk and Andrew Robertson is set to remain intact, shielding goalkeeper Alisson Becker.
Inter Milan possible starting lineup:
Handanovic; Skriniar, De Vrij, Bastoni; Dumfries, Vidal, Brozovic, Calhanoglu, Perisic; Martinez, Dzeko
Liverpool possible starting lineup:
Alisson; Alexander-Arnold, Matip, Van Dijk, Robertson; Henderson, Fabinho, Thiago; Salah, Jota, Mane
We say: Inter Milan 1-2 Liverpool
While Liverpool will be the favourites to win on Wednesday, Inter will also fancy their chances of securing a first-leg advantage in front of their home supporters.
The Reds have conceded in each of their last four Champions League away matches, but they should have enough quality in the final third to outscore their opponents and return to Anfield with a slender lead.