Inter Milan will start their current bid to go past the UEFA Champions League (UCL) last 16 for the first time since 2010/11 in good form, after a five-match unbeaten streak in all competitions, but being 15 points behind leaders Napoli in their domestic league (W4, D1). Since playing four times in 2005 (Inter: W2, D1, L1), including a 4-2 aggregate victory for the Italians at this point in the 2004/05 season, this will be their first encounter with Porto.
The Italians could control the tie at the San Siro, where the last seven UCL meetings they’ve hosted were won by the team scoring first, while they’ve lost only one of their last 12 competitive home games (W11) (Inter: W4, L3). Given that Simone Inzaghi was able to change his team for Saturday’s 3-1 victory over Udinese, his team had no justification for getting off to a sluggish start.
As they have won their last ten competitive games and are undefeated since late October (W19, D3), Porto is up against it but few teams in Europe are in better shape as they compete with Benfica and Braga at the top of Portugal’s Primeira League. Despite losing twice, they were the only team this semester to top its UCL group thanks to four of those victories.
Two of those victories came “to nil” away from home, and considering they held Milan to a 1-1 tie here last season and Juventus had to win in overtime to defeat them in Turin in 2020–21, they shouldn’t be afraid to travel to Italy again. As they attempt to reach the quarterfinals for the third time in five seasons, the fact that they have kept six clean sheets in their previous seven competitive away games (W6, D1) will also be encouraging.
Players to keep an eye on is Pepê who has scored in two of Porto’s past four games and all five of his competitive goals this season have come after the 40-minute mark.
Romelu Lukaku has scored three goals for Inter this season, two of which have come before the 25-minute mark. In none of Inter’s previous 16 UCL contests, a goal was scored before to the 15th minute (W8, D3, L5).
Inter coach Inzaghi should only be without thigh injury sufferer Joaquin Correa for Porto’s visit, but the Nerazzurri manager is still faced with a significant attacking conundrum.
Under Inzaghi’s 3-5-2 formation, a rested Martinez can anticipate joining the two-man strikeforce, and a revitalized Lukaku might just edge over Edin Dzeko despite the latter’s three goals and assist in the group stage.
Hakan Calhanoglu, Milan Skriniar, and goalie Andre Onana should all play after receiving rest over the weekend, displacing Matteo Darmian, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and shrewd veteran Samir Handanovic from the starting lineup.
For the journey to Italy, however, Porto manager Conceicao is juggling a little injury issue because all of Evanilson, Fabio Cardoso, Gabriel Veron, and Francisco Meixedo are anticipated to be sidelined.
Mateus Uribe and Galeno will need to be evaluated but are also likely to be added to the injury list. To make matters worse, Martinez, who scored the game-winning goal on Saturday, was forced to be substituted after suffering an injury in the closing seconds.
Martinez’s condition may or may not be serious, but Danny Namaso will be on standby while the 39-year-old center back and 25-year-old attacker, both named Pepe, are expected to start.
Possible starting lineup for Inter Milan includes Onana, Skriniar, Bastoni, Acerbi, Dumfries, Barella, Calhanoglu, Brozovic, Dimarco, and Martinez and Lukaku.
Costa, Mario, Pepe, Carmo, Sanusi, Franco, Eustaquio, Grujic, Pepe, Taremi, and Namaso are possible starters for Porto.
We predict: Inter Milan 1-0 Porto
Two of Europe’s tightest rearguards facing off should surely result in a tightly contested match, and Porto have shown grit and will to overcome adversity throughout their injury crisis.
Yet at the San Siro fortress, where Inzaghi’s team can dismantle the resolute Dragons backline and snap their visitors’ unbeaten run to take a slim lead to Portugal for the second leg, Conceicao’s mounting fitness problems may finally work against him.