Straight out of a dramatic Milan derby, Inter Milan on Wednesday face a tough away test in the Champions League against a Barcelona without the now injured Lionel Messi.
On Sunday evening, Inter’s Mauro Icardi proved once again that he can single-handedly affect matches on the very biggest of stages - a Milan derby heading for a 0-0 stalemate won in the dying seconds by a solitary goal from the Argentine hitman.
The Nerazzurri also stayed faithful to their pattern of scoring late goals this season, Icardi’s strike beyond 90 minutes becoming something of an established trend.
“It’s obvious Inter deserved it, we played from start to finish in their half, pressed high and went for it,” revealed a bullish Luciano Spalletti in his post-match comments.
“Therefore, we deserve compliments. Not because we wanted it more, but because we played better. If you say to me ‘The team that wanted it more got the win’, that’s inaccurate, that’s dishonest and disguising the truth. The team that played better football won the game.”
Yet in truth, neither side really looked like winning, and Inter now face a tough test away to Barcelona on Wednesday evening.
The Catalan side are suffering from problems of their own after superstar Lionel Messi suffered a fracture of the radial bone in his right arm during their 4-2 win over Sevilla at the weekend, the Argentina international now set to be out for three weeks.
Such a loss of their key man could not have been timed any worse, with this tough Champions League fixture versus the Nerazzurri looming followed by El Clasico versus Real Madrid at the weekend.
“We have high hopes for this week,” revealed Barca boss Ernesto Valverde after Saturday’s match. “It is difficult as there are two important games. But I look ahead to these matches just like the players."
"Noise from the outside about them is normal and nothing can be done about it. We are just focused on winning against Inter, and then trying to beat Madrid and we will see if we can do that.”
Inter have entered the Champions League this term after a long absence - the last time they played in the elite competition way back in the 2011/12 campaign. With this in mind, you would have to go back to the semi-finals in April 2010 to find their last competitive result versus Barcelona.
The Nerazzurri, then under Jose Mourinho, won 3-1 at San Siro before succumbing to a 1-0 loss to Pep Guardiola’s side in the second leg at Camp Nou, the aggregate score enough to see Inter progress to the final, where they beat Bayern Munich to be crowned Champions League winners.
Yet that home win makes up just one from their last six encounters with the Blaugrana, even those halcyon days under Mourinho failing to produce a win away from home for Inter.
Even without Lionel Messi, Barcelona are expected to be far too strong for Spalletti’s men here, with William Hill offering odds of 1/2 for a home win. Furthermore, the Catalans have kept a clean sheet in each of their last four consecutive home wins versus Wednesday’s opponent, and a win to nil garners better value with 37/20 offered by 888Sport.
Saturday’s 4-2 win over Sevilla is not the first time that Valverde’s men have triumphed with this scoreline, a Champions League victory away to Tottenham ending with exactly the same outcome. A bet on another 4-2 win would give odds of 32/1 with Karamba, yet there are some more conservative options to be had.
With Barcelona having seen over 2.5 goals in their last five Champions League outings, 888Sport allow a great option, with bets on over 2.5 goals just for the home team coming out at 11/8 and over 3.5 at 15/4.
Even with the strength of Barcelona, their opponents on Wednesday – who have already earned six points from their opening two matches – will provide a stern test.
As previously mentioned, Mauro Icardi is in devastating form and a bet on him to score and his side to lose throws up some interesting options. 888Sport’s wincast gives odds of 22/1 on the Argentine to score the last goal and Inter to lose, a good bet considering their habit of finding the net late on.
The striker has fired in five times in four outings for Inter with a goal in each of those matches, and you can bet on him with the same site at 15/2 to score first or last and 11/5 anytime if you prefer not to be tied in to the final result.