When Uefa bungled the draw for the last 16 of the Champions League in December, Liverpool had good reason to feel hard done by.
Having originally been paired with Salzburg, knockout stage debutants and arguably the weakest side left in the competition, Jurgen Klopp’s team were handed a tie against European royalty in Inter Milan when the draw was re-run.
“It is a tough draw, definitely. They are the league leaders in Italy; a good team in a good moment,” said Klopp at the time.
Inter were riding high domestically – against some expectations – and looked set fair to win a second successive Serie A crown despite a summer of upheaval.
Manager Simone Inzaghi had continued the success he enjoyed at Lazio, who he led back into the Champions League, quicker than expected and was moulding an exciting, new-look team.
Belt-tightening led Inter to sell two of the pillars of Antonio Conte’s title-winning side, Romelu Lukaku and Achraf Hakimi, while Christian Eriksen was let go for health reasons.
But Inzaghi replaced them with reliable goal-getter Edin Dzeko, Dutch Euro 2020 star Denzel Dumfries and Hakan Calhanoglu, who made the controversial move from rivals AC Milan.
Inter really hit their stride in the autumn, starting a run of 12 wins from 14 games in all competitions and reaching the Champions League last 16 for the first time in a decade.
Yet there were warning signs, notably their results in the biggest matches. In Serie A, Inzaghi’s men dropped points against Atalanta, Juventus and AC Milan. In Europe, they lost home and away against Real Madrid.
That trait has caught up with them in recent weeks and is threatening to derail their title defence. They followed a costly 2-1 defeat against Milan with a 1-1 draw at Napoli on Saturday, which allowed Milan to knock them off the top of the table.
While Inter may be wobbling slightly, Liverpool are flying ahead of the first leg of their tie on Wednesday in Italy.
Klopp’s team have won six fixtures in a row, conceding just twice, having found their feet against after a stumble over the festive period.
They took a tough Champions League group that also included Milan, Atletico Madrid and Porto by storm, winning all six games and scoring 17 goals in the process.
The Reds have Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Naby Keita back from international duty at the Africa Cup of Nations and have bolstered their formidable attacking options with the £40m signing of Colombia winger Luis Diaz.
Inter have favoured a higher defensive line in Inzaghi’s 3-5-2 than under Conte. It remains to be seen whether the hosts risk that approach against Liverpool.
“They have great players in every position, a great manager, a great squad. If we miss a pass, they can counter at any moment,” said Inzaghi.
“They have [Virgil] Van Dijk and Alisson who are great long-throwers. The two full-backs have great feet. They can cause problems on every part of the pitch.”
Inzaghi called Liverpool “top of my list of teams to avoid”. His opponents might have harboured similar thoughts when the draw was made for a second time.
Two months later, however, the tie has tilted slightly further in their favour.