Inter Milan v Barcelona, Champions League, September 16, 2009
Without question, this is the match of the week in the first round of the Champions League.
Reigning champions Barcelona visit Inter Milan on Wednesday night as the group stage of the Champions League starts with a heavyweight clash. Adding extra spice to what would always be a much hyped encounter is the almost immediate face off between Barca’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic (7/4 to score) and Inter’s Samuel Eto’o (11/2 to score first), both strikers facing their former employers having swapped clubs in the summer.
Consensus opinion points to Jose Mourinho’s Inter as having completed the far better business in the swap deal with the Catalans. Dogged by his reputation of being a YouTube footballer rather than a true great who is able to deliver on the grand stage, by offloading Zlatan to the Spanish giants Inter freed themselves of being forced to play through Ibrahimovic – a style which had failed to reap rewards in the Europe despite working brilliantly in Serie A.
Not only did Inter rid themselves of the problematic Zlatan, they also signed arguably the finest goalscorer in world football in Samuel Eto’o (Barcelona’s third highest goalscorer of all time), as well as trousering a whopping 40 million euros as part of the deal. Its little wonder that Jose Mourinho is known as the Special One.
How to play Zlatan is now Pep Guardiola’s problem, yet with two goals in two games, the opening weeks of the Swede’s life in Spain has been hugely encouraging. Without Eto’o (three goals in four matches with Inter), a player who was known to have personality clashes with members of the Barca setup including Pep himself, Zlatan has been drafted into the attack alongside Messi (15/8 to score). And if their performance against Getafe last weekend was anything to go by, Zlatan scoring the opener before teeing up Messi for the second, the pair have been quick to strike up a partnership that looks full of promise. (7/1 for both Zlatan & Messi to score.)
There is much more to this match-up though than just Zlatan versus Eto’o. Elsewhere, Inter midfielder Thiago Motta faces his former team while Barca left-back Maxwell, signed this summer from the Nerazzurri, comes back to Milan in a new kit.
Delving into specifics ahead of the contest, reports coming out of Inter suggest that Dejan Stankovic (6/1 to score) has overcome the flu that struck him in recent days, while Cristian Chivu should return to left-back in place of Davide Santon. On the downside, Esteban Cambiasso trained on Tuesday but is unlikely to start.
Barcelona have their own selection headaches to worry about. New centre-half Dmytro Chygrynskiy is ineligible after playing in the third qualifying round of the competition for Shakhtar Donetsk, while defender Carles Puyol is a doubt and could be replaced by the returning Rafael Marquez. Elsewhere, midfield dynamo Andres Iniesta (7/2 to score) still lacks fitness having only played forty-five minutes at the weekend.
The rest of the names likely to be involved in the match just roll off the tongue. For Barca, Thierry Henry (6/1 to score first), Xavi Hernandez and Dani Alves all have the talent to single-handedly turn the match on its head, while Inter also boast their own collection of match-winners with the likes of Diego Milito, Mario Balotelli, Javier Zanetti, Maicon, Wesley Sneijder, and Lucio in their side.
With Ukrainian side Dynamo Kiev and Russian champions Rubin Kazan also in the group, the truth is that the outcome of this match will likely be immaterial with both Inter and Barca odds on to progress to the next round. That said, both teams may be happy to feel each other (under 2 goals in 13/5, exactly 2 goals is 11/4 and above 2 goals is 8/11) out at this early stage of the competition and the match could turn out to be a stalemate.
101predicts: Inter Milan 1 – Barcelona 1 (5/1)
Inter Milan 9/5; Draw 9/4; Barcelona 6/4
Full match odds here.