Lukaku finally hits stride for Inter as they prepare to face Porto in Champions League

Striker has struggled since his return to Italy but is starting to turn things round ahead of last 16

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Romelu Lukaku's Inter Milan return has so far failed to live up to expectations but the Belgium striker is beginning to turn things round as his club prepare to take on Porto in the Champions League.

The striker has suffered a string of injuries and came under fire for his part in his country's disastrous World Cup campaign.

He has been a marginal figure in what was billed as a glorious homecoming season for the 2021 Serie A winner.

The 29-year-old has only played one full game for Inter once since he moved back on loan from Chelsea last summer. His seven starts and three goals in all competitions are far from encouraging.

On Saturday, Lukaku scored his first Serie A goal since the opening day of the season, netting a penalty at the second attempt that set Inter on the road to a 3-1 win over Udinese.

However, it wasn't the most convincing way to get back on the scoresheet as his first attempt from the spot was struck poorly and he finally scored the retake after an Udinese player was caught encroaching in the penalty area.

And as it stands, Lukaku is behind veteran Edin Dzeko in the queue to play alongside Lautaro Martinez, the other half of the once great "Lu-La" partnership, who has come back from Argentina's World Cup triumph in great form and has even worn the captain's armband.

Martinez has scored eight times in all competitions since returning from Qatar and will be coach Simone Inzaghi's major weapon on Wednesday night.

His buoyant post-World Cup mood goes in stark contrast to Lukaku's state of mind in the Gulf, a smashed dugout and a trail of missed chances against Croatia - which ended the Red Devils' chances at the group stage - the only memories of an awful tournament.

Croatia v Belgium - in pictures

"Croatia was a huge disappointment but I told myself: 'Romelu, you weren't 100 per cent, you'd only had two training sessions'," said Lukaku at the start of the year.

"I was rightly massacred but now I really want to get back out on the pitch."

In the summer, all the talk was how cash-strapped Inter would be able to make his loan move back to Italy permanent given Chelsea shelled out well over €100 million for him in 2021.

But Italian media widely report that, while Inter want to keep Lukaku, they need to see that his physical problems are behind him before they try to convince Chelsea to accept €4m to extend the loan for another season.

Meanwhile, Inzaghi said that he wants his players to end Italian teams' dreadful record against Porto. Inter are aiming to reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League for the first time since 2011 but will have to beat a bogey team for Serie A clubs guided by Inzaghi's former Lazio teammate Sergio Conceicao.

Porto have knocked out six Italian clubs in European competition over the last two decades, most recently finishing a point above AC Milan in the Champions League group stage last season and taking the Europa League spot.

"He's [Conceicao] doing really well right now, his team plays a physical and technical game," Inzaghi said.

"Porto are a really good team, they've won 10 games in a row, conceding only two goals. In recent years they have done really well against Italian teams, against Milan last season, Roma, Lazio and Juventus. Let's hope we can turn the tide."

Updated: February 21, 2023, 2:54 PM