Inter Milan will be looking to make an impression in the UEFA Europa League when they lock horns with Ludogorets in Razgrad on Thursday.
Inter Milan have had an extraordinary campaign in Serie A, under new manager Antonio Conte. They are currently just three points behind league leaders Juventus and have a realistic chance of breaking the Bianconeri‘s long-lasting dominance in Italian football by the end of the campaign.
However, it remains to be seen whether or not Conte is willing to commit only on the league title when they visit Razgrad to face Ludogorets in the UEFA Europa League on Thursday. This will be the first leg of their Round of 32 clash, after they finished third in the UEFA Champions League group, during the first half of the season.
The Italians will be well aware of the fact that they could take a massive advantage if they can manage to seal an away win on Thursday. But, things could be tricky against a Ludogorets side who are currently leading the Bulgarian top flight, with a handsome seven-point lead over second-placed Levski Sofia.
Although they finished second, behind Espanyol in the group stages of the Europa League, Ludogorets are more than capable of causing an upset. And here, at the Hard Tackle, we will run the rule over these two sides ahead of this highly anticipated encounter this midweek.
Tactics & Team News
Ludogorets will be relying on the services of club’s top scorer Claudio Keseru. The Romanian forward has netted four goals in the group stages and Inter must be careful of his presence in the final third.
Keseru could be supported by the creative trio of Jody Lukoki, Marcelinho and Wanderson, all of who are capable of providing a threat on the counter. All eyes will be on Marcelinho, who scored a brace in the 6-0 riot over Botev Vratsa. Meanwhile, new signing Cauly is also an option for coach Pavel Vrba.
Club captain Svetoslav Dyakov is more than likely to get the nod ahead of Anicet despite scoring a goal against Botev Vratsa in the last game. Stephane Badji is likely to partner him in the middle of the park.
In defence, Vrba could opt for Cicinho at right-back, with star player Anton Nedyalkov operating on the opposite flank. These two will complement the two central defenders in Dragos Grigore and Rafael Forster while Plamen Iliev is set to start in goal.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Iliev; Cicinho, Grigore, Forster, Nedyalkov; Badji, Dyakov; Lukoki, Marcelinho, Wanderson; Keseru
Conte is almost certain to rest a host of his key players in the trip to Razgrad. Diego Godin is a likely starter but he won’t be supported by the reliable defensive duo of Stefan de Vrij and Milan Skriniar this time. This could pave the way for Danilo D’Ambrosio and Andrea Ranocchia to form the three-man backline.
However, Daniele Padelli is set to retain his place in between the sticks as first-choice ‘keeper Samir Handanovic is out injured.
Elsewhere, Antonio Candreva could make way for Victor Moses at right wing-back. Cristiano Biraghi is also tipped to replace Ashley Young on the opposite flank. This will be an excellent opportunity for these two players to make a good impression on Conte.
Meanwhile, in midfield, Nicolo Barella is more than likely to receive a breather, having started in the defeat to Lazio. As a result, we could see new signing Christian Eriksen make a starting appearance in central midfield, where he will be partnered by Matias Vecino and Marcelo Brozovic.
And finally, in attack, Romelu Lukaku has travelled with the team to Razgrad. But, he is expected to start on the bench, thus paving the way for Alexis Sanchez to spearhead the Inter Milan attack, alongside star striker Lautaro Martinez.
Probable Lineup (3-5-2): Padelli; D’Ambrosio, Godin, Ranocchia; Moses, Vecino, Brozovic, Eriksen, Biraghi; Sanchez, Martinez
- This will be the first competitive meeting between Ludogorets and Inter. The Bulgarian side lost both games the last time they faced Italian opponents, against AC Milan in the 2017/18 campaign.
- Inter have never lost against Bulgarian opposition in all European competition. Though this is their first such game since the first round of the 1974/1975 UEFA Cup (vs Etar Veliko Tarnovo).
- Among the 24 teams to qualify for the Europa League knockout rounds via group stages, no side conceded more than Ludogorets.
- Inter have only won one of their last nine away games in the UEFA Europa League, beating SK Rapid Wien 1-0 at this stage last season.
- Inter striker Romelu Lukaku has scored in each of his last five Europa League matches. The Belgian also scored in Inter’s last two Champions League group games this term.
Player to Watch
Eriksen has endured a slow start to his career at Inter Milan since joining the club in the January transfer window. The highly-rated playmaker has made only one start so far and is yet to be involved in a single goal, despite featuring in five matches in all competitions.
But, a solid performance against Ludogorets, away from home in the Europa League, could be an ideal confidence booster for the Dane. And especially with Barella likely to start on the bench, this could indeed be an excellent opportunity for Eriksen to make an impact in his new colours. Therefore, the ex-Ajax starlet is certainly one to watch out for this midweek.
Ludogorets 0-1 Inter Milan
Inter Milan are likely to return to winning ways following a disappointing defeat to Lazio. But, they could find it difficult to penetrate the Ludogorets side who are expected to defend in deep blocks. A lot will depend on the performances of Martinez and Sanchez going forward. A narrow win for the Italian outfit is what The Hard Tackle is predicting.