For the second straight season, Inter will participate in Europe’s premier competition - the UEFA Champions League. While last year it was a novelty, consecutive qualifications is exactly what the club needs to return itself to elite status.
This year should be different for three reasons:
- Players will have gained valuable experience from last years participation. Of the starting even against Lecce, only Sensi would be making a debut in the CL. There would also be a great deal of motivation after the manner in which they were eliminated.
- Inter will be able to register a full squad list. Last season we were very light on midfielders, and were forced to exclude players like Gagliardini, Joao Mario and Dalbert. This hindered Spalletti’s ability to rotate the squad and left us under-strength for the final match with PSV.
- Inter moved from Pot 4 Pot 3 for this seasons draw meaning they will not be the lowest ranked team in their group.
With all that positivity, much depended on last nights draw in Monaco. While Inter scored a more favourable group than last year, it is still a huge challenge.
There isn’t much to say about Barcelona that hasn’t already been said. Last years La Liga champions added Frenkie De Jong and
Neymar (oops) to an already stacked squad. For all the negatives, this tie was huge for the club last season and the exact kind of match you want in the Champions League. Inter took a point at home against them and will be aiming to go one better this time around.
Dortmund are the main rival for second place. They sit top of the Bundesliga after finishing second last season. Lucien Favre’s side is built around a devastating attack (81 goals last season), and added the experienced Mats Hummels to help shore up their defence.
Formerly coached by Andrea Stramaccioni and short term home of Jonathon Biabiany, Slavia enter this group as huge underdogs. That said, they’re currently first in the Czech league which is already up to its seventh match day - meaning that their squad will be fitter and has had more time to play together than the other teams in the group. With no expectation around them they will be keen to provide some shocks and are exactly the kind of team Inter has suffered against in the past.
An important point to consider when rating Inter’s chances of progression are the fixtures that surround each CL matchday. Last season, Inter traveled to Turin to face Juve only three days before their ‘knock-out’ match meaning that Spalletti was unable to rest or rotate players. This will not be as important this year as Inter will have a larger squad, but it could still be significant.
The key fixtures for the club will be Dortmund (home and away) and Barcelona (H). All three sides should take six points from Slavia, and it’s hard to see anyone taking anything from the Camp Nou. To make matters worse, Inter host Juve four days after Barca, and Conte may prioritise that match.
Dortmund visit Milan on Matchday 3 - sandwiched between a trip to Sassuolo and a visit from Parma. While the Neroverdi are certainly a bogey side, Inter will fancy their chances of taking six points from those two matches even without a first choice 11. The return leg against Dortmund also favours the Nerazzurri, as it comes after a trip to Bologna and prior to a visit to newly-promoted Verona. Once again, two matches that Inter should comfortably win.
Qualification from the ‘Group of Death’ almost always comes down to the final matchday. Like last year, expect Barcelona to already have qualified by this point. This could suit Inter as Valverde may choose to rest some players the same way he did versus Tottenham. Unfortunately, this tie comes between two very tricky matches for Inter - a visit from Roma, followed by an away trip to Fiorentina. Both sides are a bit of an unknown now, but we can expect them to be performing well under new managers and present a real test for Conte.
Obviously, it could have been easier. For the second season in a row Inter find themselves in the ‘Group of Death’ and facing two teams with European pedigree. That said, Inter will be better for their experience from last season and have built a squad capable of challenging. Recently the side has always shown up for big games and so a tough group may be exactly what is needed. Inter should progress in second place, but Interisti will probably need to wait until the final whistle on matchday six for it to be confirmed.