Inter travel to Bulgaria on Thursday evening to take on Ludogorets Razgrad in the first leg of their round of 32 tie in the Europa League.
The Nerazzurri were disappointingly knocked out of the Champions League after a shock home defeat to a young Barcelona side on matchday six, forcing them into the Europa League competition
Ludogorets, meanwhile, scraped through their Europa League group to set up this knockout tie. The eight-time Bulgarian champions progressed in second place alongside Espanyol, after a 1-1 draw at home to Ferencvaros on the final matchday.
Domestically the hosts have once more been imperious this season. Through 21 games in the top-flight, Ludogorets are unbeaten and already hold a seven-point lead at the top of the table as they go in search of their ninth consecutive crown.
Similarly, Inter have also enjoyed a successful domestic campaign thus far, but defeat to Lazio at the weekend did seriously dent their title chances.
Where to Watch
|When Is Kick Off?||Thursday 20 February|
|What Time Is Kick Off?||17:55 (BST)|
|Where Is it Played?||Ludogorets Arena|
|TV Channel/Live Stream||BT Sport Extra|
|Referee||Carlos del Cerro Grande|
With the Scudetto the overwhelming priority, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Conte make a few changes from the side that were beaten in Rome on Sunday night.
Stefano Sensi and Roberto Gagliardini remain out while it’s unlikely that Samir Handanovic will be risked ahead of Sunday’s home game against Sampdoria.
We should see Christian Eriksen make just his second start since his January arrival while Alessandro Bastoni, Victor Moses and Alexis Sanchez are all primed for returns to the starting XI.
As for Ludogorets, new boss
Other than that, Vrba should have a full squad to pick from for Thursday’s first leg.
|Ludogorets||Iliev; Ikoko, Grigore, Moti, Nedyalkov; Cauly, Anicet, Dyakov, Wanderson; Marcelinho; Keseru.|
|Inter||Padelli; D’Ambrosio, De Vrij, Bastoni; Moses, Vecino, Brozovic, Eriksen, Biraghi; Alexis, Lukaku.|
Head to Head Record
Thursday’s encounter will be the first time these two have ever met. Ludogorets, however, have faced up against Italian opposition on four occasions since their Champions League
The Bulgarian outfit have played both Lazio and Milan twice, winning just one of the four encounters.
Inter, meanwhile, have faced off against Bulgarian opposition just five times in their history. So far, they’re unbeaten – beating both Etar and CSKA Sofia once while the other three games against the two aforementioned sides finished all-square.
The hosts have only played one league game since their return from the winter break – winning 6-0 at home to the lowly Botev Vratsa on Saturday.
Before that Ludogorets had endured a rather patchy run of form during their winter break friendlies. In their six encounters, the Bulgarian outfit won just two.
Nevertheless, their impressive domestic form in the first half of the campaign has seen them build up an impressive seven-point lead at the top of the table – winning 15 of their 21 league encounters thus far, drawing the other six.
As for Inter, well, Conte’s side’s defeat to Lazio on Sunday was a fairly disastrous one, as they dropped down to third in Serie A
In what was a fascinating chess match between Conte and Simone Inzaghi, the Nerazzurri – for the most part – were stout defensively and certainly looked the greater threat in transition. In the end, however, they were outdone by a rather soft penalty decision and a piece of magic by Sergej Milinkovic-Savic in the Inter
Nevertheless, here’s how these two sides have fared in their last five outings.
|Ludogorets 6-0 Botev Vratsa (15/02)||Lazio 2-1 Inter (16/02)|
|Ludogorets 1-1 Slovan Bratislava (07/02)||Inter 0-1 Napoli (12/02)|
|Ludogorets 0-1 Akhmat Grozny (06/02)||Inter 4-2 Milan (09/02)|
|Ludogorets 0-1 Red Star Belgrade (01/02)||Udinese 0-2 Inter (02/02)|
|Ludogorets 6-0 Kairat (29/01)||Inter 2-1 Fiorentina (29/01)|
Despite Conte fielding what’ll likely be a heavily rotated side, the Nerazzurri should still have enough to get a result in this one.
The Bulgarian outfit scraped through their Europa League group – collecting just eight points from their six games – and in their recent bunch of friendlies over the winter break, they were beaten by Red Star Belgrade and were held by Slovan Bratislava.
Expect the pragmatism of the Italian boss to be on full display on Thursday evening, with Inter taking a slender advantage into the second leg.
Prediction: Ludogorets Razgrad 0-1 Inter