Barcelona and Inter Milan clash in a Group C UEFA Champions League encounter that is pivotal as to who will be eliminated from this season’s competition, with current group leaders Bayern Munich all but guaranteed a spot in the Round of 16.
The reverse fixture saw the Italian giants run out 1-0 winners at the San Siro, making this a must-win game for Barcelona if they’re to stand any chance of progressing to the next round.
The Blaugrana have been in tremendous form in La Liga this campaign, sitting top of league on goal difference whilst still being unbeaten. Xavi’s side also have the best defensive record in Europe, only conceding a single league goal this season.
However, Barcelona are struggling to replicate that form in Europe, only beating Viktoria Plzeñ in the Champions League, and losing to both Bayern and Inter in the aforementioned reverse fixture.
The Catalans were in a similar position last season, where they ended up finishing 3rd in their group and were sent to the Europa League. They were subsequently knocked out by eventual winners Eintracht Frankfurt in the quarter-finals.
Barcelona boss Xavi is desperate to not once again drop into Europe’s second-tier competition, labeling the clash with Inter as a final.
“We expect Inter to play very similar to how they played in Milan. They have a low block, but we have alternatives. We are ready, we have to look like the Barça of the last 20 minutes in Milan. It’s a final for us. We’re in an uncomfortable situation but we’ll give it all,” said the Barça manager ahead of the game.
A defeat in front of their home fans would be demoralizing for Barcelona, especially since they travel to the Santiago Bernabeu to face archrivals Real Madrid on the weekend.
Furthermore, Xavi claims his side are driven by revenge after the outcome of the return fixture in Italy, one where he feels that the referees may have had too much of a say in.
“This is a special match, we did not do our homework well by losing the away games,” said Xavi in a press conference on Tuesday.
“Now we are at home and we can put ourselves back together. We know the pressure is on us, what is expected of us, and we’ll give everything.
“Logically we were indignant after the game but that’s it. Tomorrow we have to play better, if we improve our performance maybe we don’t need to talk about the referees.
“We have to compete in the best way possible, there’s talent, there’s desire – for revenge too after what happened in Milan.”
Inter boss Simone Inzaghi knows that a win for his side would go a long way to ensuring the Nerazzurri a spot in the next round of the UCL. This would come as a much needed morale boost to the Club off the back of a disappointing start to the season, sitting 7th in Serie A, 8 points behind leaders Napoli.
“There’s no point saying that we’d take a result or not, every match must be played and we play to win,” said the Inter boss leading up to the game.
“We know that it will be a decisive match, and we’ll throw everything we have at it, while also respecting the quality of our opposition, like in the last match.
“The reverse fixture had been an opportunity, a great evening. But we have to follow it up. This will be a different match, full of potential pitfalls.
“We will have to play another great game because we know what lies ahead.”
Both sides are aware of the importance of the fixture. And with Bayern likely to pick up another 3 points against Viktoria Plzeñ this evening, the loser of the game is likely to be playing their European football on a Thursday night when the knockout stages commence in February.
FC Barcelona 2 – 1 Inter Milan
Visitors Inter know that a draw is a good result for them, given they currently have a 3-point buffer over Barcelona and both teams face Bayern and Viktoria Plzeñ in their final 2 group stage games. For this reason, the Italian side may sit back and decide to defend and play on the counterattack, something synonymous with Italian football.
However, the home crowd are bound to spur Barcelona on and keep them motivated until the job is done. Despite a few injury issues, the Blaugrana still have strong attacking options, more than capable of breaking the Inter defence.
Barcelona are playing well at the moment and have looked strong at the Nou Camp. They’re sure to take their form with them into the fixture and have a right go as they aim to reach the knockout stages of the UCL once again.