Inter Milan's head coach Simone Inzaghi arrives for the Champions...

Inter Milan's head coach Simone Inzaghi arrives for the Champions League, round of 16, first leg soccer match between Inter Milan and Atletico Madrid, at the San Siro stadium in Milan, Italy, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024. Credit: AP/Luca Bruno

ROME — Overcoming an injury to forward Marcus Thuram might be one of the last major challenges that Inter Milan faces in pursuit of a 20th Serie A title.

Thuram injured a muscle in his right leg during Inter’s 1-0 victory over Atletico Madrid in the first leg of the Champions League round of 16 on Tuesday.

The France forward is the only Inter player who has featured in all 34 of their matches this season. In Serie A, he’s scored 10 goals and provided seven assists and seamlessly replaced Romelu Lukaku as Lautaro Martinez's strike partner.

Making matters more complicated is that Marko Arnautovic has been an inconsistent replacement.

Before he ultimately scored the deciding goal against Atletico, Arnautovic missed a handful of chances — as he often has lately.

It’s unclear if Thuram will return in time for the second leg at Madrid on March 13. And Inter has a busy schedule with four Serie A matches before then, starting with a visit on Sunday to a Lecce team that has surprised at times.

Inter lost its advantage to Juventus briefly last month when it was in Saudi Arabia to win the Italian Super Cup but has since surged ahead and opened up a nine-point lead over the Bianconeri.

Inter Milan's Marko Arnautovic celebrates after scoring his side's opening...

Inter Milan's Marko Arnautovic celebrates after scoring his side's opening goal during the Champions League, round of 16, first leg soccer match between Inter Milan and Atletico Madrid, at the San Siro stadium in Milan, Italy, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024. Credit: AP/Luca Bruno

Arnautovic was aged 20 on the Inter team that won a treble in 2010 but left after making just three appearances while getting distracted by Milan’s nightlife with then-teammate Mario Balotelli.

Arnautović went on to play for Werder Bremen, Stoke, West Ham and Shanghai Port. He returned to Italy at Bologna and thrived under Sinisa Mihajlovic but then fell out of favor under Thiago Motta and was loaned to Inter in August.

Another option to play alongside Martinez, Inter’s top scorer, is the rarely used Alexis Sanchez, who like the 34-year-old Arnautovic is nearing the end of his career at age 35.

Then there’s right winger Tajon Buchanan, who transferred from Brugge last month. Buchanan became the first Canadian to play in Serie A when he went on for the last 13 minutes of a 4-0 rout of last-placed Salernitana last week.

Inter Milan's Marko Arnautovic, reacts after missing to score besides...

Inter Milan's Marko Arnautovic, reacts after missing to score besides team mate Inter Milan's Lautaro Martinez during the Champions League, round of 16, first leg soccer match between Inter Milan and Atletico Madrid, at the San Siro stadium in Milan, Italy, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024. Credit: AP/Luca Bruno

The good news for Inter coach Simone Inzaghi is that he has a few matches to find the best solution if Thuram can’t return in time for the game in Madrid.

NAPOLI’S NEW COACH

New Napoli coach Francesco Calzona has even more to figure out after replacing the fired Walter Mazzarri on Monday.

But Napoli showed a good response after falling behind in a 1-1 draw with Barcelona in the first leg of its Champions League round of 16 matchup on Wednesday.

“We have a lot to work on. But I need to compliment the team, because we rediscovered the desire to work,” Calzona said.

Struggling in ninth place, 27 points behind Inter, Napoli is on course for one of the worst title defenses in Serie A history and Calzona is the team’s fourth coach in eight months.

Napoli didn’t produce a single shot against Barcelona during the first half.

“I can understand it,” Calzona said. “You can’t create miracles in two days. The team believed it could win the match at the end, and that’s a good sign.”

Calzona had two spells as a Napoli assistant and will make his Serie A debut on Sunday at relegation-threatened Cagliari, which is coached by Claudio Ranieri.

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