FC Porto travel to the San Siro on Wednesday to take on Italian giants Inter Milan in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16. To get the lowdown on Inter ahead of this clash we caught up with Nima Tavallaey, Italian football journalist and expert, founder of English language Inter Milan site Sempre Inter and 1/2 of The Italian Football Podcast.
Inter, one of Porto manager Sérgio Conceição’s former clubs during his playing days, come into this clash with just one defeat in their last 13 matches and are currently sit second in Serie A behind Napoli but Nima explained to us that those numbers do not paint the whole picture.
“The stats don’t tell the whole story. Inter beat Napoli, were held to a draw by Monza, beat Milan in the Supercoppa Italiana then lost to Empoli then beat Milan in Serie A before drawing with a Sampdoria team destined for the drop. This tells the story of Inter’s inconsistent season. They started the season losing the big games but beating smaller teams and then since the Barcelona game Inter have been winning nearly all of the big games (except Juventus away) but dropping points against the smaller teams. However, what is encouraging for Simone Inzaghi is that in the last three big matches (v Napoli and Milan x2), Inter have not just won all three but also kept three clean sheets. They’ll need to keep this run going against Porto.”
After winning the title in 2020/21, Inter finished in second place the year after, the same position they currently find themselves in this season.
“Overall as I said above it’s been a very frustrating season due to the lack of consistent results in Serie A. The team exceeded expectations in the Champions League, finishing as group runners-up thus eliminating Barcelona, they also won the Supercoppa Italiana and are in the semi-final of the Coppa Italia, a competition they are the defending champions of.
But trailing Napoli by 15 points in the Serie A despite being the only team to defeat them this season leaves a bitter taste in Nerazzurri mouths.”
Despite their inconsistency this season, Inter have proved on multiple occasions that on their day they are a force to be reckoned with and this clash will not be easy for Os Dragoes.
“The two key men going into this clash that Porto will have to limit can be found in Inter’s midfield: Nicolò Barella & Hakan Calhanoglu. The latter has developed into if not a world-class deep-lying playmaker then world-class adjacent since stepping in that role due to Marcelo Brozovic’s injury. His set-piece delivery, shooting from long distances as well as free-kicks are a big threat.
Barella on the other hand is having the best season of his career so far, turning into what in Italy they refer to as a tuttocampista, a box-to-box midfielder that is comfortable doing every single role in the midfield and can do so at a very high level. His finishing, crossing, driving with the ball, link-up play, creativity and defensive reading of the game has never been better than it is now. Porto must neutralise these two players because everything, in both phases, begins with them.
Inter last won the UEFA Champions League in 2009-10 under the tutelage of José Mourinho. After exceeding expectations and making it to the knockout stages, are Inter beginning to dream of glory in Europe?
“Inter had budgeted for the Europa League after being drawn into the group of death. So already they’ve exceeded expectations. Despite Porto being a very able and capable side coached by a very good coach, there is a feeling that a spot in the quarter-finals is there for the taking. However, there is respect for Conceicao & his Porto, as Inter are aware of the results during the reign of the former Inter winger. No one at Inter is underestimating Porto or Conceição. Porto are a tough, gritty side that are very tactically disciplined, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this tie went to extra time and was decided by a penalty shootout at the Estádio do Dragão.”
FC Porto take on Inter in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday 22nd February at 20:00 Portugal and UK time.