It would be safe to say that Antonio Conte’s first months at the helm of Inter could’ve hardly gone any better.
After six rounds of Serie A football, the Nerazzurri have a perfect record and deservedly sit at the top of the table with 18 points. The Beneamata have scored 13 goals and conceded only two and although it’s way too early to jump into conclusions, they already look like a genuine title contender.
In fact, the Nerazzurri have played just one poor game so far, which is not nearly enough to overshadow the fantastic work that was done since the start of the season. However, considering that it was Conte’s first Champions League game at the helm of the club, inevitably a few eyebrows were raised.
In arguably the toughest group alongside Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund and Slavia Prague, Inter’s home game against the Czech champions was supposed to be the easiest one. However, Conte’s men nearly suffered an embarrassing defeat at San Siro with only Nicolò Barella’s last-gasp volley salvaging a point.
Inter’s next European test seems to be the toughest of them all, as the Beneamata travel to Camp Nou where they will face Barcelona. With the game promising to be one of the highlights of this year’s competition and a boon for Champions League betting online, it’s worth taking a look at the opposition’s strengths and weaknesses before tomorrow’s clash.
When we talk about Barcelona’s weaknesses, it’s impossible not to mention their form in La Liga, as unlike the Nerazzurri, Ernesto Valverde’s men have been far from convincing domestically. The Catalans won only four out of their opening seven games and have conceded a massive 10 goals, so Inter should try to take advantage of the hosts’ leaky defence.
Valverde’s team only registered their first La Liga clean sheet during this weekend’s 2-0 win against Getafe away from home and are yet to avoid conceding a goal at Camp Nou.
On the other hand, Romelu Lukaku came off the bench in the second half of Inter’s 3-1 victory against Sampdoria at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris on Saturday, so fatigue should not be a problem for the Belgian, despite the busy schedule.
Jordi Alba’s absence means that the inexperienced Junior Firpo will deputise at left back for Barcelona, so Lukaku’s physicality and the width of Conte’s 3-5-2 formation should give Inter plenty of chances to trouble Marc-Andre Ter Stegen.
Speaking of Lukaku, the overall physicality of the Nerazzurri is another advantage that Conte’s men should try to exploit. Only Gerard Pique can compete with the aerial prowess of the Belgian, not to mention Inter’s defensive trio of Diego Godin, Stefan de Vrij and Milan Skriniar.
However, undoubtedly Inter’s biggest advantage is the question mark surrounding Lionel Messi’s fitness, as the Argentinian superstar has only managed to start one game in all competition since the start of the campaign.
It is more than obvious that the Catalans are a completely different animal with Messi on the pitch and injuries are the main reason behind the unconvincing displays of the team lately. Regardless of the fact that UEFA’s 2019 Player of the Year has never scored against Inter, his reported absence from the starting XI on Wednesday would be a huge advantage for the Nerazzurri.
Of course the hosts have plenty of reasons to be optimistic too, as the Spaniards have won their last five games against Inter at home, with the Nerazzurri failing to score in each of those. Barcelona’s ridiculous record of 32 Champions League games without a defeat at tCamp Nou also speaks for itself, as their last loss was in 2003 against Bayern Munich.
It is also worth mentioning that the game on Wednesday is right before the Derby D’Italia, as Inter host Juventus in a mouth-watering clash at the top of the Serie A table this weekend. It is absurd to think that Conte’s men will be distracted against Barcelona, but having to deal with arguably the two toughest fixtures of the campaign in the same week is a completely different level of pressure.
Inter have plenty of reasons to believe in their chances of coming away with a result from Camp Nou, as even a draw would boost the team’s confidence even further. On the other hand, a defeat will not only take away the momentum before the game against Juventus, but will also give more reasons to doubt Conte’s ability on the Continent, which will spread negativity around the club.
Considering Conte’s poor record of only nine wins out of 24 Champions League games and the upcoming clash with Juventus, this week will show what his new-look Inter is really made of. With so many high-profile fixtures in just a few days, the Barcelona match will be the first part of the ultimate test for Antonio Conte and Inter’s character.