Inter’s Champions League journey is almost here, 113 days since the Nerazzurri closed out the group stage as runners-up despite falling 2-0 to Bayern on Matchday 6. Simone Inzaghi’s men edged out Barcelona by three points after a memorable draw in Spain and a one-goal victory at the San Siro. Now, though, the focus moves to the other side of the Iberian peninsula, and a Round of 16 series with Porto.
The Dragões (Dragons in English, which I have to admit is a pretty cool nickname) won Group B with 12 points, ahead of the likes of Club Brugge, Bayer Leverkusen, and Atletico Madrid. Despite losing the first two games of the group stage, it turned the burners on and went on a four-game winning streak to progress to the knockouts. That form has migrated to the Primeira Liga, where Porto sits second on 51 points (16W-3D-2L), two short of leaders Benfica.
Led by up-and-coming manager Sergio Conceicao (perhaps already a familiar name after he eliminated Juve from this competition in 2021), the Dragões are on a 10 game winning streak in all competitions. They haven’t lost in 23 games - you’d have to go back to October of 2022 for its last defeat. Porto has scored 48 and conceded just 12 in domestic play, and though the Portuguese league isn’t the strongest, it’s clear that Conceicao’s side is a winning machine. Iranian striker Mehdi Taremi is the main dangerman with 16 goals and 7 assists, but the Brazilian duo of Galeno (10g, 3a) and Evanilson (7g, 6a) form quite the supporting task. That trio generally forms the front three of Porto’s 4-3-3 shape, so Inter will have its hands full defensively, especially up against wingers like Galeno and Evanilson, who aren’t players you see every day in Serie A.
Despite Porto’s status as a club playing in a non top 5 league, underestimating it would be disastrous from an Inter perspective. In recent seasons Porto has eliminated both Juventus (Round of 16 in 2021) and Atletico Madrid (group stage in 2022). Simone Inzaghi seems cognizant of that, hence his major rotation against Udinese on the weekend. With the Scudetto gone, Inter may as well go for it in the UCL, though the odds of winning it aren’t any higher than catching Napoli in the league. Still, a UCL run would be a big boost for Inzaghi’s chances of keeping his job this summer and it’s not every day that Inter plays a Champions League knockout match.
Predicted Starting XIs
Prediction: Inter Milan 2-1 Porto
Inter will take the first-leg advantage thanks to a brace from Lautaro Martinez, though a Taremi strike will mean all is left for play for in the return fixture.