Fc Barcelona travels to Milano for a crucial encounter against Internazionale in the Champions League. As both teams have similar results so far (loss to Bayern, victory over Plzeň) in the group of death, the winner of this duel will certainly survive in the finest series of European club football and advance through the knockouts, maintaining their chance to the final victory.
Barca News Network brings you four key points ahead of Fc Barcelona’s Uefa Champions League fixture against Inter Milan.
1. Disappointing start for Inter
If we take a look at the top 5 league standings, we can hardly find a bigger negative surprise than Inter right now. 4 defeats along 4 victories so far doesn’t look like a team that just missed out on the Scudetto in a head-to-head battle with AC Milan. Sitting on just 9th place after 8 rounds, already 8 points behind the league leaders is a huge disappointment for a team predestined much higher.
However, the advanced statistics don’t show such a significant relapse, Inter is still in the elite of Italian football. In terms of their attacking play, the Nerazzurri are up there, competing with the leaders (at least top5) in numerous metrics like their overall possession, which indicates more control over the ball and directing attacks, field tilt, which measures the rate of possession divided only between the final third and defensive third of a certain team, total shots, shots on target and expected goals.
On the other hand, what really hampered the success of Simone Inzaghi’s side was their ineptitude in front of their own goal. Their 7.1 expected goals conceded is top3, however, the identity of the goalkeeper is a present dilemma. While the newly signed André Onana is just warming the bench, the Italian coach inexplicably continues to trust Samir Handanović in goal, which visibly proves to be the wrong choice week in and week out, as the veteran Slovenian’s form is far from impressive (-4.1 G-PSxG), which can cause serious problems in proceedings.
2. Another team with the injury crisis
Just like the Blaugrana, Inter has some sensible absences too. Romelu Lukaku, who came back to the land of his previous success in the summer after a disastrous one-year spell at Chelsea, had a dream start to his return to Milano, but after just a couple of games, he suffered a thigh injury and is having fitness issues ever since. Thus, Džeko is expected to replace the Belgian star to pair Lautaro Martínez in the front duo, who has not disappointed when given the chance, but at 36 years of age, he is not the one to build on.
But what is an even bigger loss to the Nerazzuri is the absence of Marcelo Brozović from the heart of the midfield. The Croatian metronome has become an essential piece of the Italians, dictating the play from deep and ensuring cover to the 3-man defense if needed. The board recognized his crucial role in the squad, and accordingly, signed a replacement in the name of Kristjan Asllani from Empoli, but the young Albanian was not too impressive so far.
3. Wingback clash
As Inter Milan usually plays in a 3-at-the-back system with wingbacks, it will be interesting to see how Xavi lines up his team to face the Black and Blues. When transitioning from defending to attacking, primarily the fullbacks are tasked to push high up the field to support the two attackers upfront and provide the width to the counters, which can be a key point in the game. As presumably, the Catalans will possess the ball more, the question will be how effectively they close down those outside channels while trying to maximize the attacking potential from those positions too.
Therefore, it will be crucial who Xavi decides to put in the starting XI, knowing the sensible absences of Koundé, Araújo, and Bellerín from the defense. Alex Baldé was the one to fill the right-back spot against Mallorca, but his performance left mixed feelings and knowing that Sergi Roberto has already got minutes in the weekend, he might start the game from the get-go. On the other flank, Baldé will face competition back in his natural position as Marcos Alonso is ready to step in and offer more defensive solidity against an explosive Dumfries on the left.
4. Another suffocating opponent?
Just like Mallorca, Inter is playing a 3-at-the-back, which can effectively become 5 with the retracted wingbacks. As we know, Barcelona struggled to break through the strong shield from Mallorca, given the attacking shape utilized by Xavi’s team. Starting from a traditional 4-3-3, the fullbacks usually tuck into the midfield alongside Busquets to ensure defensive cover against counters, while it enables the interiors to push high to basically create a fluid, 5-man frontline with constant rotations.
Thus, if a team utilizes a 5-man defensive line properly – which Inter does – it can easily neutralize our primary outlets in the attack. However, their structure does have some differences from Mallorca’s setup as they utilize just 3 midfielders, but 2 forwards as well. While the latter can be more dangerous as they will be 2v2 against our center-backs at a counterattack, we can benefit from the former element. As we are 3v3 in the midfield, we can easily create a central overload either with Lewandowski dropping deep (which he often likes to do) or involving a fullback, which would ease retaining the ball and creating space by drawing the opposition out of position, and we are already in a chance.
So, plenty of decisions are still left to take, and plenty of opportunities to seize the advantage in Milano. Hopefully, we will be the ones to return to Camp Nou with the comfortable lead in our hands, and in the end, win the right to advance through the knockouts of the Champions League. Visca El Barca.