Barcelona travel to Inter Milan to conclude a tough group stage with a game that means far more to the Italian hosts than it does to the Spanish visitors.
Barca have already qualified but Inter know they have to win the game to ensure advancing into the knockout stages, so it will be a nervy night at the San Siro.
Check out all the big talking points ahead of the game.
Hosts in need of victory…or just a draw?
Inter are heading into the game in second place, level on points with Borussia Dortmund but ahead of the German side thanks to their superior head to head record, having beaten Dortmund 2-0 at the San Siro before losing by just one goal, 3-2, in the return match.
Antonio Conte’s men know, therefore, that a victory would secure a second-place finish behind guaranteed group winners Barca, but a draw could also be enough if Dortmund fail to defeat Slavia Prague. The home team players will attempt to avoid following the scoreline from Germany but the mood among fans will make it impossible for them to remain unaware of Dortmund’s progress, and focusing on their own task of attempting to beat Barca will be a significant mental challenge for Inter.
A capacity crowd of 70,000 is expected inside the San Siro to create a vibrant atmosphere, and they will be cheering on an understrength starting eleven with Antonio Candreva joining an injury list which already featured fellow midfielders Stefano Sensi, Nicolo Barella and Roberto Gagliardini.
Fortunately for Inter, though, the visitors will probably be without even more key players…
All change for Barca
With top spot in the group already assured, visiting manager Ernesto Valverde is expected to name a virtual reserve team as he protects his senior players ahead of Saturday’s tough trip to Real Sociedad and next Wednesday evening’s Clasico clash with Real Madrid.
Lionel Messi, Gerard Pique and Sergi Roberto have all been left out of the travelling party, with Arthur, Jordi Alba and Nelson Semedo already sidelined by injury, while goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen is expected to be rested as summer signing Neto gets a rare chance to impress between the posts.
Although several senior players such as Luis Suarez, Antoine Griezmann and Sergio Busquets have been included in Barca’s squad, they could be restricted to a spot on the bench with winger Carles Perez, right-back Moussa Wague and teen sensation Ansu Fati pushing for a starting spot. Young midfielder Riqui Puig and central defender Ronald Araujo could also be involved, while Samuel Umtiti will have the chance to gain further match fitness in place of the rested Pique.
Inter will hope the game proves to be a case of history repeating itself: Barca were in the same position this time last year and played a bunch of understudies in the final group game against Tottenham, allowing the English club to gain the draw they needed to advance…and eventually march all the way to the final.
Martinez’s date with destiny?
One key player for Inter will be Argentine forward Lautaro Martinez…who could also use the occasion as an opportunity to impress his potential future employers.
Barca star Luis Suarez recently urged his club to sign a younger centre forward as his eventual replacement, and Martinez is thought to be very near the top of the Camp Nou hierarchy’s wish list after catching the eye since he joined Inter from Racing Club of Buenos Aires 18 months ago.
The 22 year-old has already netted eight league goals this season for the Serie A table-toppers, and added five more in the Champions League including the opener against Barca at the Camp Nou in a game the hosts fought back to win 2-1.
Martinez’s pace, directness and hard-working attitude appear to make him an ideal candidate to become ‘the new Suarez’, and there have been reports that Barca’s top brass are taking advantage of their trip to Italy to hold a meeting with Inter over the future of the forward – which could also include Arturo Vidal moving the other way.
Martinez, of course, will be focused on the present and helping his side advance to the knockout stages. But if that also happens to strengthen his chances of sealing a big-money move to the Camp Nou in the future, all the better.
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