Inter vs. FC Porto – pre-match details, players to watch and hot streak
They might be 15 points behind leaders Napoli in their domestic championship but Inter Milan will begin their latest attempt to progress beyond the UEFA Champions League (UCL) last 16 for the first time since 2010/11 in good form, after a five-match unbeaten run in all competitions (W4, D1). This is their first meeting with Porto since they played four times in 2005 (Inter: W2, D1, L1) including a 4-2 aggregate win for the Italians at this stage in the 2004/05 season.
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Losing just one of their last 12 competitive home games (W11) also suggests the Italians could take charge of the tie at the San Siro, where the last seven UCL matches they’ve hosted were won by the side scoring first (Inter: W4, L3). Simone Inzaghi’s side can have little excuse for starting slowly as he was able to rotate his squad for Saturday’s 3-1 win over Udinese.
Porto are up against it then, but few teams in Europe are in better form as they’ve won their last ten competitive matches and are unbeaten since late October (W19, D3), slugging it out with Benfica and Braga at the top of Portugal’s Primeira Liga. Four of those wins enabled them to become the only side this term to top their UCL group despite losing twice!
Two of those successes were away from home ‘to nil’, while holding Milan to a 1-1 draw here last term and Juventus needing extra-time to beat them in Turin in 2020/21 suggests they shouldn’t fear another trip to Italy. Six clean sheets across their last seven competitive away games (W6, D1) will also offer encouragement as they look to make the quarter-finals for the third time in five seasons.
Romelu Lukaku’s (29) return to Inter Milan has been far from what he would have hoped it would be but the Belgium striker is showing signs of life as his team prepare for the Champions League visit of Porto.
Hit by a succession of injuries and ridiculed for his part in his country’s dismal World Cup campaign, Lukaku has been a peripheral figure in what was supposed to be a glorious homecoming season for the 2021 Serie A winner.
The striker has only played the full 90 minutes once for Inter since being sent back there on loan from Chelsea last summer, with seven starts and three goals in all competitions a poor return given all the pre-season hype.
Players to watch: Romelu Lukaku’s penalty against Udinese for Inter was his second goal of three this term to arrive before the 25th minute, while Pepê has netted in two of Porto’s last four games and all five of his competitive strikes this term arrived after the 40th minute.
Hot streak: None of Inter’s last 16 UCL games witnessed scoring before the 15th minute (W8, D3, L5).
Red Bull Leipzig vs. Manchester City – pre-match details, players to watch and hot streak
RB Leipzig headed into February full of confidence after stringing together an impressive run of 18 competitive unbeaten matches (W14, D4) prior to their 2-1 loss to Union Berlin a little over a week ago. Marco Rose’s team bounced back last weekend with a 3-0 win away to Wolfsburg and will hope that result can spur them on to seal a repeat of last season’s 2-1 UEFA Champions League (UCL) success here against Manchester City.
The German side’s success over City in that group stage tie handed them their fourth European success against a Premier League side (L4), with Rose’s men interestingly coming out on top in all three meetings to have taken place in Leipzig. That should boost Leipzig’s confidence somewhat, as should the fact they’ve already beaten the champions of Scotland (Celtic) and Spain (Real Madrid) at home in this season’s competition.
England’s reigning champions are up next, but they’re at risk of losing that crown this year after a 1-1 draw away to league strugglers Nottingham Forest at the weekend left City two points behind leaders Arsenal while having played a game more. The UCL might therefore be a welcome distraction for the Manchester club, who will hope last season’s loss here was just a blip given they had won four successive away games against German opposition prior to that H2H defeat.
Overall, City’s UCL record on the road is one to be admired, losing just five of their last 26 European away games (W15, D6). Their form away from the Etihad in recent weeks though does raise a few eyebrows and potentially hints at an upset, with the weekend’s draw against Forest leaving City with just one win from their last five competitive away matches (D1, L3).
Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne (31) will miss their Champions League last-16 first leg at RB Leipzig on Wednesday due to illness, manager Pep Guardiola (52) said.
De Bruyne has been in good form for City again this season, with 18 assists in 31 matches in all competitions. Guardiola said Aymeric Laporte (28) would miss the game also with an unspecified illness and cast doubt on whether they would recover in time for Saturday’s Premier League match at Bournemouth.
Players to watch: Leipzig forward and former Chelsea star Timo Werner has registered two career assists against City, and intriguingly five of his six personal H2H meetings have been settled by a single-goal margin (W3, L3). Erling Haaland has scored six career goals against RB Leipzig, his joint most against one single opponent.
Hot streak: Leipzig have failed to score in each of their last three knockout stage UCL matches (L3).