Slowly but surely Inter has navigated a demanding February calendar, the toughest test yet is still to come. Since the loss to Milan which put a negative tint on the entire month, Inter swept aside Roma in the Coppa Italia and earned a respectable point at Napoli. Next comes a visit from Liverpool, one of the very best teams in Europe, to the San Siro in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16.
It took three straight seasons of disaster on Matchday 6, but at long last Inter has kept its Champions League campaign alive long enough to reach the knockout stages. The Nerazzurri finished second in Group D, five points behind Real Madrid and three clear of Sheriff Tiraspol. Unfortunately, the luck of the draw didn’t smile on Inter in the Round of 16 (though you may remember Inter was initially drawn against Ajax before a snafu only UEFA could concoct), and Liverpool is one of the favorites to go all the way. Nonetheless, it’s well worth celebrating that Inter is even at this stage whatsoever after what happened under Conte and Spalletti. Winning, let alone advancing, against Liverpool is an added bonus.
Liverpool was one of three teams to go completely perfect in the group stage, picking up all 18 points from 18 in a group featuring Atletico Madrid, Porto, and Milan. The Reds’ tally of 17 goals scored was 4th-most while it conceded a mere six in as many games. By its lofty standards Jurgen Klopp’s side isn’t faring quite as well in the English Premier League, currently nine points below leaders Man City in second but 7 ahead of the next closest side. That likely means Liverpool will put even more emphasis on cup competitions to compensate for the lack of a domestic title and Inter will have to be on its best behavior to avoid embarrassment Wednesday. Mohamed Salah (who has an incredible 23 goals and 9 assists this season) and Sadio Mane (10g, 2a) are sure to cause Inter’s back three problems as they drift in and out from the flank, while Roberto Firmino (7g, 4a) could give an out-of-form Stefan de Vrij nightmares. As if that wasn't enough, Diogo Jota (17g, 2a) is a lethal weapon off the bench. Should be fun!
History is not kind with Inter when it comes to Liverpool. The Reds have won 3 of the 4 all-time meetings between the sides, including a 3-0 aggregate sweep in the 2007/08 Champions League Round of 16.
Predicted Starting XIs
Arturo Vidal seems like the best option to replace Barella in the lineup. He has the experience and looked solid in his start versus Roma last weekend. Inter is going to need the Chilean to roll back the years if it wants any chance of advancing. Liverpool’s high press will cause Inter (Brozovic especially) problems and Inzaghi will need the entire midfield trio to be on form to avoid getting played off the pitch in the center of the park.
Prediction: Inter Milan 3-2 Liverpool
Even with Liverpool having a clear advantage on paper, I’ll go with Inter to take the advantage into the second leg (and yeah, a lot of that is probably homerism, but hey, that’s why we’re all here). Edin Dzeko with notch a brace before Alexis Sanchez grabs the winner to cancel out strikes from Salah and Firmino.