Kicking off an intense autumn of Champions League action, Inter Milan host German giants Bayern Munich at San Siro on Wednesday.
The Group C rivals clash on the opening matchday, with Inter having suffered a galling defeat in the Milan Derby while their visitors were held for a second successive Bundesliga game.
After causing eventual finalists Liverpool plenty of problems in last season’s knockout stages, Inter have awaited their Champions League return eagerly, as they aim to go deeper into the competition this time around.
Since dethroned as champions of Italy by their city rivals – finishing close runners-up to Milan – the Nerazzurri also lost the Coppa Italia final to Juventus last term; ending Simone Inzaghi’s first year in the job on a sour note.
However, a bright to the 2022-23 campaign – in which Romelu Lukaku returned from his brief, unsuccessful stay in London – seemed to suggest brighter times lay ahead. They may well do so, but suffering two losses from their last three league games has put Inter on the back foot ahead of their latest European adventure.
Set to tackle Bayern, Barcelona and plucky outsiders Viktoria Plzen in a testing group over the coming weeks, Inzaghi’s men not only fell to a 3-1 defeat against their coach’s former club Lazio a fortnight ago, but then followed their subsequent win over Serie A new boys Cremonese with a chastening experience on Saturday.
Though they took the lead in the Derby della Madonnina, through a 21st-minute Marcelo Brozovic strike, Inter were ultimately outplayed by a more vibrant Milan side, who went on to record a 3-2 victory when the final whistle blew on a pulsating encounter at San Siro.
The Nerazzurri sit seventh, then, in the early Serie A standings – some four points off the summit – but even in Lukaku’s injury-enforced absence, they are the division’s second-top scorers and have won each of their last six league games as hosts.
Historically at least, Bayern share Inter’s weekend woes against Milan at San Siro, as the Bavarians have never beaten the Rossoneri away from home in three attempts.
By contrast, the perennial Bundesliga champions have been victorious on each of their previous three visits to play Wednesday’s opponents – the most recent being a 1-0 win back in 2011, when current stalwart Thomas Muller was among those that made the trip to the Italian peninsula.
Unlike Inter, though, Bayern have been crowned European champions in the intervening period, as after being beaten by Jose Mourinho’s treble-winners in the previous year’s final and later losing to Chelsea in the 2012 edition, Die Roten lifted the Champions League trophy in the strange summer of 2020.
A key cog in that well-oiled machine finally departed last month, but Bayern had moved seamlessly into their post-Lewandowski era at the start of the current campaign before a couple of recent setbacks – at least by their own exacting standards.
Swiss goalkeeper Yann Sommer put on a jaw-dropping display of last-man-standing magnificence in the fourth round of the new Bundesliga season: pulling off a record-breaking 19 saves in Borussia Monchengladbach’s fortunate 1-1 draw at the Allianz Stadium.
A week later, Julian Nagelsmann’s side were thwarted again, as they found themselves held to the same scoreline by a disciplined Union Berlin outfit, despite Joshua Kimmich firing in a quick equaliser after they had gone behind early on.
Nonetheless, Bayern, who sit third in the table, have already scored 26 times across six games this term: firing in five against both Leipzig and Viktoria Koln, putting six past Eintracht Frankfurt and destroying Bochum 7-0 – each time away from home.
Though Romelu Lukaku re-opened his Inter account with an early goal in the opening-day win over Lecce, the Belgian striker has since sustained a thigh injury, which continues to rule him out of action.
In his absence, Edin Dzeko and Joaquin Correa once again battle it out to partner Lautaro Martinez up front – the latter was selected for the Milan Derby, but the former made an impact by scoring soon after being called on from the bench.
Like several of his colleagues, Alessandro Bastoni endured a difficult day at the office on Saturday, so Federico Dimarco could possibly replace the Italy international in Simone Inzaghi’s back three to face Bayern. Alternatively, Dimarco will compete with Matteo Darmian and Robin Gosens for a place on the left flank of the hosts’ 3-5-2 formation.
Meanwhile, former Borussia Dortmund playmaker Henrikh Mkhitaryan will be fit to face his old foes after returning as a substitute at the weekend, but is most likely to start on the bench.
Bayern welcomed Leon Goretzka back to their squad last week, following a knee injury, and he joins a long list of names in contention to feature for the visitors.
Such is the German champions’ depth this term, after an impressive summer of recruitment, there have been 12 different scorers in their games so far, with star signing Sadio Mane leading the way on five goals. Already, the Senegalese star has netted in the DFB-Pokal, the Supercup and on his Bundesliga debut.
Prodigious midfielder Jamal Musiala has also scored five, and he should start in midfield once again, with any three from Serge Gnabry, Leroy Sane, Thomas Muller and Kingsley Coman supporting Mane up front.
Inter Milan possible starting lineup:
Handanovic; Skriniar, De Vrij, Bastoni; Dumfries, Barella, Brozovic, Calhanoglu, Dimarco; Martinez, Dzeko
Bayern Munich possible starting lineup:
Neuer; Pavard, De Ligt, Upamecano, Davies; Sabitzer, Kimmich; Coman, Musiala, Sane; Mane