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Inter Milan 1 - 0 Benfica

A second-half goal by Thuram on a great Dumfries pull-back secures three important points

FC Internazionale v SL Benfica: Group D - UEFA Champions League 2023/24
Thuram scored game winner
Photo by Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images

Inter got its Champions League campaign on track with a strong 1 - 0 win over Benfica at the Meazza. After a somewhat balanced first half, Inter came out of the break with the right attitude and dominated the second half. The goal finally came in the 62nd minute on a quick counterattack that saw Barella send the ball down the line to Dumfries who then pulled it back to Thuram. Inter should have scored several more goals in the half, but after his ‘out of the world’ display against Salernitana, Lautaro Martinez could not score. He hit the crossbar and post on two separate occasions, had two opportunities in front of Trubin (one saved by the goalkeeper, the other cleared by Otemendi), and a couple more shots that were saved by the young Ukrainian. In the end, it did not matter, as Benfica never really threatened in the second half and Thuram’s goal secured Inter three valuable points.

Starting XIs

Inter starting lineup vs. Benfica
Inter starting lineup vs. Benfica

No surprises with Inzaghi’s starting lineup, as he fielded Pavard alongside Acerbi and Bastoni in defense. In midfield, Simone went back to his top three - Barella, Calhanoglu and Mkhitaryan. The wingbacks and strikers were the usual starters.

Benfica starting lineup vs. Inter
Benfica starting lineup vs. Inter

Schmidt put a faster, more attack-minded team with Neres on top and Di Maria/Silva on the wings. The former Inter player, Joao Mario was on the bench for the entire match.

First Half

The first half was relatively balanced, with Inter playing deep and then trying to strike quickly on the counterattack. Inter had a few chances, but nothing that troubled Trubin. Their best opportunities were from Dumfries (headed one cross over the bar, and shot a second one high) and Barella who had his shot saved by Trubin in the 43rd minute. But the best opportunity in the half came from Benfica in the 13th minute, when Inter lost concentration on a throw-in that allowed Aurnes to chase down a long throw-in and confront Sommer one-on-one. Sommer was up to the task and deflected the shot wide of the goal (the ensuing corner, hit the crossbar).

Benfica held a 53%/47% possession edge at the break, but Inter outshot the visitors 5 to 3 and had an xG edge of 0.66 to 0.18.

Second Half

Unlike the Sassuolo match last Wednesday, Inter came out of the break with a determined attitude and dominated the second half. Inter missed chance after chance, starting with a Dumfries header in the 53rd minute that went wide; two minutes later Lautaro hit the crossbar; in the 59th minute Lautaro’s shot was deflected wide by a defender for a corner; and in the 61st first Lautaro hit the post after a great play and through pass from Thuram. You would have expected at least two of those four opportunities to hit the back of the net.

Finally, the Neroazzuri broke the deadlock in the 62nd minute. Barella’s long ball is chased down by Dumfries who pulls the ball back and finds an open Thuram who drills the ball into the goal. The rest of the second half played out the same with Inter missing many opportunities to double the lead. Mhkitarian shot wide in the 64th and Dimarco scored in the 65th but was offside. Lautaro had a breakaway in the 74th minute but instead of shooting he dribbled around Trubin and his shot was cleared by Otemendi a yard before scoring. Seconds later, Lautaro found himself again in front of the Trubin but this time his shot was saved by the young keeper. In the final minutes, Lautaro had another shot saved, and Benfica had a header off a corner easily land in Sommer’s hands. After five minutes of stoppage time, the final whistle blew and Inter secured the three points they very well deserved.

Inter outshot Benfica 16 to 3 in the second half, with six big chances and having hit the woodwork twice. Benfica never threatened Sommer’s goal.

Player Ratings

Sommer - 6.5: Did not have much to do, but came up with a huge save in the first half to keep Benfica off the scoresheet. Ended the night with 3 saves and an 86% passing accuracy rate.

Bastoni - 7: Kept Di Maria in check, winning 3 out of 5 duels, had 1 blocked shot and 1 interception. Was dangerous going forward and had an 88% passing success rate. Led the team with 81 touches.

Acerbi - 7: Was a beast in the center of defense, keeping Neres in check all evening. He won 100% of his duels and had two clearances.

Pavard - 7: Very good game, with 73 touches and winning 100% of his duels. Had 3 clearances, 2 interceptions, and 1 tackle.

Dimarco - 6.5: A very active game from Dimarco as he was constantly attacking from the flank. He was 2 for 2 on long balls, but only connected on 3 of 12 crosses and has a 75% passing success rate. (84’ Augusto - no rating.)

Mkhitaryan - 7: A strong game from Henrikh winning 7 of 8 duels, 83% pass success rate, and connecting on both of his long balls. He had three tackles, 1 interception and 2 clearances.

Calhanoglu - 7.5: Was all over the pitch and had a 91% passing accuracy rate. The team is much stronger when he is playing. (84’ Asllani - no rating: he did impress and seems to be learning a lot from Calhanoglu. Happy to see Inzaghi trust him in an important, tight game.)

Barella - 7.5 (Man of the Match): A very strong game from Nicolo, who had been struggling of late. Connected on 2 or 3 crosses and both of his long balls and had two shots on target. Defensively, he won 8 out of 11 duels and had 2 interceptions and 6 tackles. An outstanding performance! (90+1’ Klaassen: no rating.)

FC Internazionale v SL Benfica: Group D - UEFA Champions League 2023/24
Nicolo Barella
Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

Dumfries - 6.5: Denzel had a beautiful assist but was wasteful in front of goal. He was 0 for 2 on crosses, only had 31 touches, and won just 2 of 7 duels. Not his best game, but he was accurate when the team needed it with his great assist on Thuram’s goal. (73’ Darmian - no rating as he did not have much to do).

Thuram - 7: While his stats were not impressive (53% passing accuracy, 33% of duels won) he was all over the pitch batting for every ball. Scored a nice goal and had a second shot blocked. (73’ Sanchez - no rating: tried to create a spark for the second goal but was not on the pitch long enough to make an impact.)

Martinez - 6.5: It is easy to give Lautaro a low rating because of his missed opportunities, but he did have 4 shots on target, 3 off-target (including two hitting the woodwork), and 3 shots blocked. He was everywhere with an 86% passing accuracy rate and 2 tackles. It was just destiny that he did not score.

Inzaghi - 7.5: Simone had the team well prepared and his strategy to sit back and counter in the first half and then change to a more aggressive second half was perfect. On another day, Inter would have won this match by four goals.

FC Internazionale v SL Benfica: Group D - UEFA Champions League 2023/24 Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images

With Real Sociedad winning 2 - 0 in Salzburg, Inter sit on top of the group on equal points with the Spaniards (but behind on goal differential). In three weeks, Inter host RB Salzburg, and a win in that match would leave them in a very comfortable position to advance to the knock-out stage.

Forza Inter!