Two of Europe’s giants clash in the first matchday of the Champions League, and all eyes will be on two strikers facing their former clubs…
Kick Off: Wednesday, September 16, 20:45 CET
Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, Milan
The Champions League has been Inter’s bête noire in recent times. Although Roberto Mancini found the right formula in the league, he was unable to progress past the quarter-finals in Europe’s elite club competition. Jose Mourinho, who won the competition in 2004 with Porto, was appointed by Massimo Moratti in an attempt to remedy the situation.
One year on from arriving at San Siro, ‘the Special One’ has made his mark on the Nerazzurri. The likes of Samuel Eto’o, Diego Milito, Wesley Sneijder and Lucio were all brought in this summer and, despite the loss of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, many believe that the current Inter side are ready to go the distance in both Serie A and the Champions League.
Group F is far from straightforward, however, as the Beneamata must negotiate ties with Andriy Shevchenko’s Dynamo Kiev and Russian champions Rubin Kazan, as well as European champions Barcelona.
Nevertheless, Inter have already shown their ruthlessness and quality this season, demolishing Milan 4-0 a fortnight ago. Ibrahimovic’s departure has allowed Mourinho to create a new and more fluid style of play, and the Blaugrana must limit the creativity within the hosts’ midfield.
Smiling Samuel | Looking to haunt his old side
Difficult Start For The Champions
Pep Guardiola’s debut season as Barcelona coach brought three trophies, and he has already added the Supercopa de Espana and the UEFA Super Cup to the Blaugrana trophy room this season.
No team has successfully defended Europe’s premier club competition since it was revamped in 1992-93. If Barcelona really needed any further motivation to win the title for a fourth time, this season’s final takes place in the Santiago Bernabeu – home of Real Madrid.
Dmytro Chygrynskiy and Maxwell have been added to the Spanish side’s squad list this summer to provide some defensive cover, while Ibrahimovic will provide a new dimension to their attack.
It will require a great effort from the Barcelona players and staff to repeat last year’s treble and keep Guardiola’s side at the very pinnacle of the modern game. Their task is not an easy one, as they must become only the second Spanish side to beat Inter on their home turf - their previous meeting at San Siro ended in a 0-0 draw in 2002.
September 13 v Parma (H) – WON 2-0 (Serie A)
September 5 v Lugano (A) – DREW 3-3 (Friendly)
August 29 v AC Milan (A) – WON 4-0 (Serie A)
August 23 v Bari (H) – DREW 1-1 (Serie A)
August 16 v Bahrain (A) – WON 1-0 (Friendly)
September 12 v Getafe (A) – WON 2-0 (La Liga)
August 31 v Sporting Gijon (H) – WON 3-0 (La Liga)
August 28 v Shakhtar Donetsk (A) – WON 1-0 (UEFA Super Cup)
August 23 v Athletic Bilbao (H) – WON 3-0 (Super Copa)
August 19 v Manchester City (H) – LOST 1-0 (Friendly)
Dejan Stankovic has overcome the flu that struck him in recent days, while Cristian Chivu should return to left-back in place of Davide Santon. Esteban Cambiasso trained on Tuesday but is unlikely to start.
Probable Starting XI (4-3-1-2): Julio Cesar; Maicon, Lucio, Samuel, Chivu; Zanetti, Motta, Stankovic; Sneijder; Milito, Eto’o
Rafael Marquez is included in Guardiola’s squad, but Chygrynskiy is ineligible after playing in the third qualifying round of the competition for Shakhtar Donetsk. Andres Iniesta still lacks fitness, while Carles Puyol is a doubt and could be replaced by Marquez.
Probable Starting XI (4-3-3): Valdes; Alves, Puyol, Pique, Abidal; Xavi, Toure, Keita; Messi, Ibrahimovic, Henry
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Samuel Eto’o (Inter)
The former Barcelona hitman has slotted perfectly into Inter’s system, hitting the back of the net twice in three games in Serie A after scoring 30 goals in the Primera Division last season. His goal against Parma was of the highest quality, and Guardiola must instruct his defence not to allow Eto’o to have even the smallest chance of firing away a shot, as the 28-year-old is desperate to show Barcelona that they were wrong to let him go.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Barcelona)
The Swede will also feel that he has something to prove when he returns to the San Siro. He is clearly desperate to win the Champions League and decided a change of clubs was necessary after a number of failed attempts to do so with the Beneamata. The fans may treat him with respect, indifference or derision, but the certainty is that ‘Ibra’ will give everything to get on the scoresheet for the Blaugrana.
While Eto’o and Ibrahimovic both have the capacity to turn a game on its head single-handedly, the key area in the match will be in midfield and the extent to which they can supply their star-studded front lines with chances. With the season still in its early stages, they could cancel each other out.
Inter 1-1 Barcelona
Anthony Wright, Goal.com