How they got here: Finished first in Serie A (Scudetto winners), automatic berth into group stage of CL
Previous Best Showing: Knocked out at the semi-final stage in 2002-03 by AC Milan, who went on to win the competition
Strengths: When at full strength, Inter have an enviable pool of defenders to choose from
Weaknesses: Inconsistent strikers – the grouping of Zlatan Ibrahimovi?, Julio Cruz, Adriano and Hernán Crespo spearheaded a dynamic offense in Serie A as the team racked up 80 goals – tops in the league. However, they struggled in the CL, only scoring 7 goals in 8 matches. The hope is that new signing David Suazo, who broke the single season scoring record for Serie A club Cagliari with 23 goals, will add a new dimension to the offense.
X-Factor: Júlio César or Toldo. Who’ll be in goal? The two have been trading the #1 spot back and forth over the last couple of seasons through loss of form or injuries. It’ll be interesting to see if coach Roberto Mancini can get one of them to have a season-long run of form.
How they’ll fare: This is a group where I think an upset will occur and one of the less-fashionable sides will advance. Inter could be the club to take the fall in this group.
Big summer signing: Cristian Chivu (signed from Roma for 16-18m euros). Chivu was at the center of one of the more controversial transfers in Serie A this summer. Previous club Roma were reluctant to sell one of the top defenders in Italy, especially to a rival such as Inter. However, after a protracted negotiation a deal was struck and Chivu moved to the San Siro. He is comfortable at either centre-back or left-back. If used in central defence, he is at his best when operating with a more rugged, physical centre back. Chivu has good passing and offensive skills and has been known to score the odd goal from a free-kick. Unfortunately for Inter, Chivu has picked up a shoulder injury and will miss the first Matchday for certain. Coach Roberto Mancini is now deprived of five defenders for their first fixture against Fenerbahçe as Marco Materazzi is out with a long-term injury and Nicolás Burdisso, Maicon and Iván Córdoba are all suspended.
Star Performer: Zlatan Ibrahimovi?. When he is motivated and hungry to score goals, he can be unstoppable with his combination of size and dribbling ability. However, he has been known to, shall we say, sulk from time to time. He has had a good start this season and scored twice in Inter’s last league match against Empoli.
Keep an eye on: Luis Figo. The Portuguese veteran had originally been set to join Arabian side Al Ittihad in the summer, but he said they “broke promises” so the deal fell through and he signed on for one last season with Inter. Can he help deliver a CL trophy to the club? He’s experienced the thrill of winning it all before with Real Madrid in 2001-02 and though 34, I think he still has a few moments of brilliance left.