Back in 2006, Inter Milan made an extravagant offer of 130 million pounds for Lionel Messi, then aged 19. The fee was unheard of, at the time, and had it been accepted, would’ve made the FC Barcelona striker the most expensive player of the world, by a long margin. But despite’s Messi’s apparent interest in playing for Inter, and the Nerazzurri’s willingness to place such a bet in a teenager, the deal never materialized. How different things could’ve been……
So yeah. That’s about all the sentimentality I could find between us and them.
Thursday’s UEFA Champions League draw saw Inter placed in Group B, with Barca, Tottenham, and PSV Eindhoven. Of all the groups Inter could’ve landed in, this is probably one of the worst. Of all the Serie A sides, only Napoli had worse Karma, getting with Liverpool, Paris Saint Germain, and Red Star Belgrade. What’s more ironic this year is the fact that so many groups are Hunger Games-style brawls, while everyone at group D is chilling (Schalke 04, Galatasaray, Lokomotiv Moskow, FC Porto). I mean, just look at how unhappy the Turks were:
So now Inter will have to face the Spanish champions, the squad who just humiliated Jose Mourinho, and a team with a guy named Chucky, in a group that Italian media is already labeling as “Hell”. We’re fine, people!
This group is gonna be hard. Games are gonna get tough. But this is what we were hoping for, fighting for. After six years, Inter’s back in the Champions League, even if we had to wait the last game of the past season to confirm it. Even though the first two games of the Serie A haven’t been satisfying, there’s undeniable quality in this squad, and in the coaching staff. The other guys should take note too, cause we’re no slouches: I mean we do have the Serie A Capocannoniere, two World Cup finalists, a ninja, a six-year undefeated run in the Champion’s League, and the best social media team of all-time. As Rorschach put it, “I’m not locked in here with you, you’re locked in here with me!”.
Feeling that blue and black blood boiling already? That’s what I thought.
As I said, this group is gonna get hard. Barcelona are the reigning Liga Santander champions, having won the competition by quite a margin last year. They were almost invincible, losing only one game, and finishing with the 2nd best defense (29 goals, only bested by Atletico Madrid’s unbelievable 22), the best attack (99 goals), and a 14-point gap ahead of Atletico. Lionel Messi was unstoppable, earning the Pichichi and European Golden Boot awards with 34 goals in 32 appearances. Barca was a clear-cut favorite for the European title last year, and while Messi was carrying a Herculean workload, it didn’t seem like they could be stopped. And then, the 2nd leg of the Quarter Finals vs AS Roma happened, also known as the-day-Barca-pulled-a-PSG:
So they can be beaten, after all. Messi is still playing on another planet, even at 31 years old; Last year, he was: La Liga’s top passer (12 assists), the aforementioned top goalscorer, best dribbler (5.1/ game), player with the 2nd-most key passes (2.4/game), and best playmaker (86 chances created). The squad’s tendency to rely heavily on his shoulders might have already been addressed this summer: the additions of Clément Lenglet, Arturo Vidal (remember that one?), Malcom (well, Roma DOES remember that one), Arthur, and the maturation of players like Phillipe Coutinho (to think that he was a Nerazzurro one day), and Ousmane Dembélé might be a problem. And despite last year’s epic meltdown at the Stadio Olimpico, Los Culés have an impressive record against Italian teams, while Messi has scored 12 times in 21 appearances against Serie A sides, but never against Inter. At this point, it’s fairly obvious that Barcelona is the team to beat if we want a chance to survive this. This is a priority.
Tottenham, while not packing the same kind of muscle as Barcelona, is a heavyweight, too. Since the departure of Gareth Bale in 2013 to Real Madrid, Tottenham has grown into a permanent English contender, after a brief period of mediocrity. For three years now, Tottenham has never finished lower than 3rd in the Premier League standings; During that timespan, the Spurs have the 2nd best defense of the Premier League (97 goals, behind Manchester United’s 92), and scored 229 goals. Harry Kane has been a real beast, finishing as the league’s top scorer in 2015-2016 and 2017-2017. So yeah, this Champions League group doesn’t lack goalscorers, if you haven’t noticed yet. Tottenham has always been close to winning the English championship, falling just short.
Emphasize on close, falling, short.
This is one the main knocks on the Spurs: they seem to always fall short of any sort of meaningful achievement. While playing extremely good football, the Lilywhites have spent three blank seasons. They have a tendency to fail whenever the going gets tough, spectacularly. The fact that Tottenham got beat in the title race in 2016 by a miraculous Leicester City team is telling. I wouldn’t call them chokers, but this debate has been going on for some time now. Just look at some of their performances. Last year, Tottenham disposed of eventual European champions Real Madrid 3-1 at Wembley Stadium. They looked like a team destined for great things, capable of going far. Well, uh, they got kicked out by Juventus on a 4-3 aggregate score, after conceding two goals in three minutes in the second leg. I mean, sure….
And last but not really least, it’s PSV. While everyone is somewhat underestimating the Dutch champions in this group, I wouldn’t be so sure of their alleged inferiority in this group. They have scored more goals in league competition (87) than anyone but Barcelona in this group, have a great defense (39 goals conceded), and have a habit of punching above their weight, surviving a group that included Wolfsburg and Manchester United, and dragging Atletico all the way to penalties, two years ago. Hirving Lozano just had a fascinating World Cup with Mexico and he brings unquestioned value to this PSV squad:
He’s the kind of player Inter have struggled mightily to contain recently *cough Gelson Martins, cough cough Domenico Berardi*, amazingly fast, great dribbler and passer (2.6 key passes per game, 2.1 dribbles), goalscorer (17 league goals last year), and hothead. That’s some player. With the ever-imposing Luuk de Jong, other promise Steven Bergwijn, I sense that this PSV squad can hurt us bad, if we’re not careful.
We were longing for this. So many years without European football meant that the squad played a lot of time outside of football’s elite, never reaching levels that were taken for granted in the past. But now, the Nerazzurri have a real chance to make an impact and play meaningful football against Europe’s best. Let’s make this happen.
What do you think? Post your comments below!